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Why and How to Read Your Child’s IEP

IEP Forms-Idividualized Education Program I know few parents who look forward to attending their child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) team meeting. IEPs are difficult to read. Comprehending the IEP jargon and legalese can be daunting. Many parents are so intimidated by the document and the process surrounding its implementation that they “give up.” This is a mistake. Parents need to be engaged in this educational journey that will continue until their child’s very last day in high school or a post-secondary special education program. I often ask why it is that only parents of children with special needs have to become experts in how to educate their children. Why do these parents have to understand and synthesize current research-based instruction, data-based decision-making or draft measurable and accountable IEPs? When is the last time that you heard the parents of a healthy, neuro-typical child lament the daily grind of learning how to educate their child or navigate state and federal education laws, rules, and policies?

I am a parent advocate. I have been my son’s advocate for the past twenty-two years, and an educational advocate assisting other parents for almost a decade. I know what it is to sit in an IEP team meeting as both the intimidated parent and as the educational advocate supporting other parents. I have seen parents overwhelmed in a meeting laden with the special education acronyms, rules, regulations, and negotiations that lead to the development of their child’s IEP. In my several decades of on-the-job-training, or “combat duty,” I have come to believe that reading an IEP is nothing short of having to learn and master a foreign language. But it can, and must be done.

Learning the Language of Special Education

As parents of children with special needs we pride ourselves on being experts. Unfortunately, too often we are expected to be experts in the field of public education, special education, and research-based educational best practices, written in a language that we do not fully understand. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004 (IDEA 2004) ensures that parents are equal members of their children’s IEP teams and with that comes an implied responsibility. Our children’s right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and meaningful educational benefit rests upon our willingness to embrace the uncomfortable and learn everything that we can about this special education Holy Grail – the IEP – and the special education acronyms inherent in building this document.

Key Special Education Acronyms
IDEA – Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004
IEP – Individualized Education Program
IEP Team – Individualized Education Program Team
IEE – Independent Educational Evaluation
BIP – Behavior Intervention Plan
PBS – Positive Behavior Supports
FBA – Functional Behavioral Assessment
LRE – Least Restrictive Environment
FAPE – Free Appropriate Public Education
PLAAFP – Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (also known as “PLOP”)
ESY – Extended School Year
CBM – Curriculum Based Measurement
RTI – Response to Intervention