IEP Meetings: A Guide for Parents

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By Elise Mitchell, M.S. CCC-SLP

An Individualized Education Program, IEP, is a plan that is put in place for children who qualify for special education services.  Every year, participants of that program sit down to discuss plans in what’s known as the "IEP Meeting.”  This meeting is essential for parents and allows for ultimate understanding about what plans are in place to support their child.  Now, I have been a parent in that IEP meeting and there is potential for it to be overwhelming...I mean, the acronyms alone have potential to create confusion.  So, I thought I would create this guide to help parents see exactly what they need to leave an IEP meeting knowing.

1. Participants

As a parent, you want to first discover who all will be helping your child achieve his/her goals.  This includes the exceptional child/special education teacher, general education teacher, speech therapist, occupational therapist, social worker, etc.  Another participant you’ll see is an LEA, Local Educational Agency, who is a district employee that is well versed in available district resources and the general education process. The LEA typically hasn’t written any goals but is there to obtain necessary resources and be sure the IEP is held out accordingly.

Once you’ve established the participants, you then need to determine who was in attendance in that meeting and who wasn’t.  For anyone who wasn’t in that meeting, you want to get the best way to contact them, so you can reach to them regarding the goals they wrote (if applicable).

2. Long vs. Short Term Goals

You’ll see both short term goals and long term goals.  That long term goal is essentially the overall goal, or the "big picture”, if you will.  The short term goals are the steps you have to take to meet that "big picture” goal.  With intervention on core subjects, for example, the long term goal would be academic achievement that is age appropriate but the short term goal would be those individual reading goals, spelling goals, etc.   Why is it important that you know this?  You want to be able to monitor those baby steps and know that each and every time your child meets one of those baby steps, he/she is closer to that overall goal! Woo hoo!

3. Goal Verbiage

Therapists and educators have an obligation to write SMART goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. Using this format, there are times when the goal gets a little difficult to read.  This IEP meeting is the time to ask the members the following questions:

a.) When are you hoping this short term goal will be met?  

b.) What is the frequency that needs to be demonstrated to be met? In speech, for example, we like for those sounds to be between 80-90% in words, sentences, etc to mark off that short term goal as being met.

c.) What supports will be put in place to help my child meet this goal?

4. Relevance

I cannot stress enough how important this is for a parent to understand. These IEPs are meant to assist with academic success.  Every single piece of that IEP should link back to your child’s education.  EVEN those speech therapy goals that make you think "Hmmm...why is his ability to say the /k/ sound academically relevant?”  That speech therapist can then tell you that not being able to say that /k/ sound decreases your child’s sound-letter correspondence and can result in literacy deficits.  Each goal doesn’t just need to be academically relevant BUT each short term goal also need to be relevant to that long term goal.  As a parent, you want to break down each goal and analyze it to be sure that it’s appropriate and relevant.

5. Contact Information

In this IEP meeting, you want to be sure to have emails/phone numbers/etc for every participant.  It is essential that you know how to communicate with the fellow team members helping with the IEP.

The main thing parents need to understand when navigating an IEP or attending IEP meetings, is to speak up.  You are an active participant in that plan for your child.  You, in conjunction with the fellow educators, will help your child as he/she makes the gains needed for academic success.