Don't Dodge the Draft--5 things to look for in the IEP draft

Whether you feel triumphant or more like a survivor, you’re home from the IEP meeting and you have your child’s IEP Draft. You look through your notes and the Draft, highlighter in hand…and now none of it seems familiar. With 14 days (more or less, depending on your state’s laws) to sign your agreement, how will you know if the IEP has what it needs to support your child’s learning?

Use these 5 points as a guide when assessing the IEP Draft for your international adoptee. And make sure you read the Parental Safeguards you were given during the IEP meeting—if you weren’t given a copy and you have no idea what the Safeguards are, email your child’s Special Education teacher or School Psychologist ASAP (like right now) and request one!

 

5 things to look for in your IEP Draft:

 

1. Disability category:

It’s in different places for different school districts, but it should be somewhere on the Draft. The IDEA has 14 eligibility categories. The key is that in addition to proof of the disability, the school must have documentation that the disability adversely affects your child’s ability to learn. Don’t get hung up on which category is indicated—it should not limit your child’s access to appropriate services. Just make sure something is in writing.

2. Evaluation data:

If your kiddo was given an IQ test by the school, the scores should be in the IEP. That goes for any test—Reading, Math, ESL, PT/OT, Functional Behavior, Speech, Language…you get the idea. It’s a required part of the IEP—and it has the most memorable acronym—it’s the PLOP! AKA Present Level of Performance, it’s the best way to preserve data long-term, especially as more schools switch to online platforms to manage student files. Your school’s office will have hard copies of this year’s work on file, but going forward, the IEP is the best place to chart progress or regression. Many assessments are made of several subtests; make sure ALL the subtest scores get in the IEP, not just the below-average ones. The PLOPs will guide the way!

3. ESL support:

If your child’s IEP indicates LEP (limited English proficiency) or that your child had a first language other than English (basically ALL international adoptees, right?), then that information should be on the IEP, as well as which annual test of English language proficiency your child will take. Any assistive technology, modifications, accommodations, behavioral support, or paraprofessional support that your child receives in other academic classes should carry over into ESL (English as a Second Language) support. Remember—ESL is not special education, but your child’s disability doesn’t stop affecting learning in ANY class.

4. SMART goals:

Special education attorney Pete Wright describes a SMART IEP as one that is Specific, Measurable, uses Action words, Realistic & relevant, and Time-limited. If you see a goal that looks like, “Mia will read a passage with 80% correct pronunciation of words as measured by data collection,” it’s too vague. Who collects the data? What curriculum? How and when is data collected? Is the passage teacher-generated or from a research-based test? When and how will the goal be revisited if Mia progresses faster/slower than anticipated? When Asher receives OT, who will provide it, in what setting, and how often for how long each time?

5. Non-academic needs:

Most kids adopted from other countries have physical disabilities in addition to the learning or behavioral issues that prompted the initial IEP. Ideally, a well-done IEP could be handed to any of your child’s teachers and explain the essentials about your child’s unique learning, behavioral, and accessibility needs. If your child uses a wheelchair, his mobility will limit his participation in learning on field trips if the destination isn’t ADA accessible. What’s the school’s plan for that? It should be in the IEP. Your child has a 504 plan for her hearing aids? Great—it should be incorporated into the IEP or attached. Your child’s special transportation needs, annual standardized testing, PE considerations, and transition planning (after age 16) should also be included. These are the details that don't directly impact academic content but could certainly affect your child's overall education!

Basically, you're looking for the nuts and bolts of a solid plan for learning.

If you have questions as you look over the draft, email the team member who conducted the IEP meeting—usually, that’s a Special Education teacher or School Psychologist. Keep the email concise. The more you write, the less you’ll be heard. If you disagree with part of the IEP, like how much speech therapy your child will receive, or whether the paraprofessional should be present in PE, don’t be afraid to ask about it! Do remember to keep your emails to any IEP team members polite and business-like. You don’t want to be written off as a helicopter mom, and you’ll get farther by being professional.

It’s not uncommon for IEPs to run longer than 20 pages. Don’t be intimidated by the technical jargon. So long as you see an identified disability, evaluation data, ESL considerations, SMART goals, and non-academic needs, the IEP will have the information critical to your child’s progress and safety. And that’s a strong place to start!  

Anna Caudill