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9 Steps to Write an Effective IEP for Your Child

by Jennifer Greening, Ed.S.

“Since the very beginning of my daughter’s educational career, it was clear that she was going to need extra supports in order for her to reach her full potential.  Since my daughter had identified needs as an infant, her educational career was supported by the school district long before kindergarten. Children with delayed skills or other disabilities are eligible for special services that are outlined in their Individualized Educational Programs (IEP’s) in public school free of charge for families.  This plan is reported and monitored on a government-regulated form.  Everyone on the IEP team must meet yearly to update the plan.  The passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA 2004) made parents of children with disabilities crucial members of their child’s educational team. Understanding how to access these services allows you to be an effective advocate for your child. The educational plan for your child must be clearly written in the IEP document. The more specific and thoughtful you make your child’s plan, the better educational experience your child will have. The educational team (which includes parents) is supposed to write the IEP goals together.  When my daughter was young, I did not prepare prior to the yearly IEP meeting.  Once a year my husband and I attended our daughter’s annual IEP meetings.  I began to notice that every year the “educational team” had met prior to the meeting!  They came with their ideas of goals for our daughter.  Therefore it felt like their minds were made up prior to the meeting.  This made it difficult for us to feel like a part of this decision making. I want my daughter to be fully included in all general education 7th grade lessons.  In 2005, the Michigan State Board of Education approved the Vision and Principals of Universal Design as a framework for giving all children access to general education lessons.  However, my daughter still needs IEP goals.  These goals will be incorporated into her daily classroom lessons.  If the goals are too difficult, everyone will be frustrated.  If the goals are too general, people will have different interpretations about what she is supposed to be doing.  You want goals that will allow your child success so that they hear, “Good job!” all day long. My daughter’s IEP meeting is this week.  I began preparing for the IEP about a month ago. Here are nine steps to make sure your are prepared for your child’s IEP:

1. Review Your Child’s Progress Reports A month prior to the meeting, gather your child’s progress reports from the year.  Which goals have your child mastered?  Children are supposed to be meeting all their goals every year.  However, my daughter always has a few goals that are not mastered–and she learns many things we had not thought to write in the IEP a year ago.

2. Research IEP Goals Three weeks prior to the meeting, research IEP goals using Google.  If you input “sample IEP reading goals” you will find hundreds of ideas for goals.  Do this for each subject area.  I cut and paste the goals that I like into a new document.  Select goals that you think your child will enjoy and have success with.

3. Select Achievable Goals Select goals that you think your child can easily achieve.  If you want your child exposed to a skill, but measuring your child’s success is difficult, change the wording of the goal to, “participate in…” and the goal will be easier.

4. Prep The Teachers The educational team will probably meet a week or two before your scheduled IEP meeting.  Give them your document of ideas for IEP goals about two weeks prior to the meeting.  This way your ideas are incorporated into their ideas prior to the scheduled IEP meeting.  I tell the teacher that I’m not exactly sure what ideas they are considering, so I researched some IEP goals.  I usually explain this to the teacher first in person and then I email the document as an attachment so the teacher is expecting it.

5. Include Social Goals Remember that if you want your child fully included in a typical classroom, then some of your child’s goals should be social goals.

6. Get a rough draft of the IEP When you talk to the teacher about the goals, ask him/her to give you a “rough draft” of the IEP document including your child’s goals prior to the meeting.

7. Review & Compare Read each section of the document.  Compare it to the IEP document from the prior year.  Read the IEP goals.  Cross out the words that reflect judgement such as “appropriate” and “enthusiastic.”  Slightly change wording if needed to reflect a high level of dignity and respect for your child.

8. Return The Revised Draft Return the document a few days prior to the meeting so the teachers have time to revise the document.

9. Bring and Advocate I always bring an advocate with me to the annual IEP meetings.

Once the IEP meeting is done, I type the list of my daughter’s IEP goals.  Give the list to your child’s teacher and ask the teacher to share it with the paraprofessional.  I used to get daily reports–they never included goals from the IEP!  As the year progresses, it is easy for teachers to get busy with activities and daily lessons–and to set aside your child’s goals.  Every time I meet a family that is frustrated with school, one of the first things they mention is that the child’s IEP is not being implemented.  When you talk with teachers about your child’s day and about the lessons, you should be holding the list of IEP goals.”

Written on December 29, 2013 by Jennifer Greening, Ed.S., the author of Opening Doors, Opening Lives: Creating awareness of advocacy, inclusion, and education for our children with special needs. Her book is used in university classes across the country. It received positive reviews from the Autism Society of Michigan and was awarded 2010 Best Books Award Finalist by USA Book News. This article can be found on her website at