Streamlining the IEP Process for Greater Parent Inclusion

It’s no secret that the IEP process is overwhelming for parents unfamiliar with it and can continue to be confusing or complicated for parents with more IEP experience. These feelings may present themselves during those meetings as head nodding, blank stares, asking numerous questions, or tensions rising because parents don’t fully understand the content. As educators, we have the responsibility to ensure our students’ families fully understand the IEP process and include parents as valued members of the IEP team.

Making the IEP process more streamlined and digestible for parents has two major benefits. First, the parent/caregiver feels like a part of the IEP team. Often, parents feel as though there is a significant divide between the school personnel and themselves. This divide can lead to heightened tension and parents feeling excluded from the team driven decisions. Second, it builds trust and rapport with the students’ families. Building strong relationships with the families allows for open dialogue in IEP meetings and encourages carryover from school to home (and vice versa).

The following are some tips to help your school or district make the IEP process less confusing for parents/caregivers:

  • Display the agenda for everyone to see and mark it off as you progress through the meeting
    • This can be done on a projector or a sheet of poster paper, and helps the team stick to the agenda and make sure all outcomes of the meeting are discussed. Any issues or questions which may arise that are not covered on the agenda can be discussed at the end of the meeting or a different time.
  • Send the draft IEP home in advance to give parents enough time to read and absorb it
    • This allows caregivers time to digest the IEP information , prepare questions, and avoid surprises during the meeting
  • Do not read directly from the IEP
    • IEPs are lengthy and dense legally binding documents. Reading directly from the IEP takes away from the team discussion and relationship building and potentially creates a divide between parents and school staff.
  • Fully explain any acronym used
    • The IEP process is like alphabet soup. I find it helpful to reflect on how I felt when I was first learning about the IEP process. I needed the acronyms explained and defined, the caregivers likely need them defined as well.
  • Emphasize that needs drive goals and goals drive services
    • This helpful statement assists with reminding the team of the structure and purpose of the IEP.
  • Explain the components of goal writing
    • Goals should be written as SMART goals. This means the goal is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.
  • Explain that IEPs are a fluid document and can be addended at any time to reflect the needs of the student. Addendums typically occur when goals are met, the student’s needs change, etc.
  • Make sure all school personnel on the IEP team fully understand the IEP process
    • This helps them be active participants in the IEP meeting
  • Use visuals to show progress, break down the IEP, bell curves, etc.
    • IEP meetings can often be information overload. Help caregivers understand information more easily by using visuals to support your statements. Remember that everyone learns differently and taking those styles into consideration when presenting information can significantly improve the chances of the entire team being on the same page.

This year, my school improved upon their IEP process, making it more transparent and digestible. Our principal attended a Facilitated IEP Training and has implemented the practice during our IEP meetings. Our families have given overwhelmingly positive feedback to the changes and have commented that it is now more of a conversation and they feel part of the team.

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