At some point during your career, you will more than likely be invited to an IEP meeting for a student with special needs in your classroom. It may happen your first year teaching or your tenth, depending on your school and placement, but eventually, it will happen and you'll be a critical part of that student's team on campus.
Having a student in special education in your classroom means you'll participate in at least one meeting during the year to help monitor the student's progress and generate goals based on the student's identified needs. This meeting is commonly referred to as an IEP meeting, although it may have other names depending on your state or region.
Keep reading to find out what you can expect as a first-time participant in an IEP meeting, and how you can best prepare yourself for the process.
What is an IEP Meeting?
To start with let's make sure we're all on the same page. The term IEP stands for Individualized Education Plan, and it is a document that outlines the services and goals that a student will receive.
These goals and services are directly related to the student's present levels of performance, sometimes abbreviated to PLOP or PLAAFP, and their identified disability.
The IEP is written and updated yearly by the IEP team, and it helps monitor the student's progress and realign goals and services to the student's needs.
Who is a part of the IEP Team?
The IEP team consists of all school-based service providers, the child, and their parents. This can include special educators, speech-language pathologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, assistive technology providers, and school nurses.
It also includes you, the child's teacher, and a campus administrator. Sometimes the school psychologist also participates in these meetings or a specially trained IEP meeting facilitator is present.
When it comes to meetings, at a bare minimum one general education and one special education teacher are required to attend. However, other staff may be called to participate based on their interactions with the student.
The child can also attend and participate in their meetings. This is typically only done for older students, but the student is always allowed to be a part of their team meetings if the parents request it.
Similarly, parents can invite special advocates or legal counsel to attend the meeting. This is rare, but it does happen. Most of the time when this occurs, it is due to disagreements between parents and the team in the past.
Parents might also bring a translator, or one is provided by the district if they speak another language.
As you can see, these meetings can have very different members depending on the student and their needs.
What is my role, as the classroom teacher, at an IEP meeting?
At this point, you might be wondering what your role, as the regular education teacher, is at an IEP meeting.
Your role, as a general educator, is to attend the meeting and share relevant information about the student's progress academically and socially. You'll have a chance to share what you've observed are the student's strengths and needs. You might also share the types of accommodations and modifications that appear to be working well in your classroom.
As the meeting progressed, you'll also get information on any changes to the student's accommodations or modifications. The team might generate behavior plans or health support plans during this time.
In addition, the schedule of services will be set or adjusted based on what the student currently needs. This is important information because it can change how you'll plan instruction to best meet the needs of this student and their classmates. This discussion might include conversations about pull-out service minutes or push-in minutes provided by a special education teacher or paraprofessional.
What to expect at your first IEP meeting
Now that you understand your role and purpose at students’ IEP meetings is, you may be worried about what to expect at your first IEP meeting.
First of all, it may seem overwhelming, but this meeting provides an opportunity for all of the IEP team members to work together to develop a plan to meet students’ individualized needs.
At the beginning of the meeting, the IEP team will introduce themselves. The special educator or service provider (speech therapist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, etc.) will be in charge of running the meeting and making sure that it goes smoothly.
Once the meeting starts, you can expect the following things to happen:
Introductions & Parents Share
Typically, IEP meetings begin with introductions of all attendees. Despite knowing most people on the team and the parents, it is important that these introductions occur so that attending family members know who is participating in the meeting.
Once introductions are complete, family members are typically asked to share about their child. They are asked to share about both the child's strengths and progress, as well as ongoing concerns.
Assessment data is collected by a district school psychologist at a minimum of every three years. These assessments and observations are done to determine whether the student still qualifies for services and under what category of disability. This data is then shared at the student's meeting.
Teacher Tip: IEP meetings can often be overwhelming to parents because they focus on the areas their child struggles. Starting with positives can be an important step in building rapport and fostering a positive relationship with families.
However, formal evaluation data isn't the only data that is shared at these meetings. As the teacher, you can bring any relevant assessment data, work samples, or observational data to share with the team. This is important because it demonstrates the student's current levels of performance in the general education setting.
Each participating team member will also discuss the student's present levels of performance. In other words, they'll share data based on their work with the student.
Find out more about documenting data in the classroom:
Review and Create IEP Goals
For students who have been receiving services, current goals will be discussed and it will be decided whether the goals need to be adjusted or are considered mastered and can be removed.
Goals can be adjusted to increase their rigor – such as increasing accuracy or frequency expectations.
They can also be completely changed, depending on the student's needs. New goals will also be written for the student after the goals from the prior year have been reviewed and adjusted.
Typically, a draft of these goals will have been made available to you and the student's parents prior to the meeting. This means that you'll really just be reviewing and discussing any changes that may be necessary to the drafted goals before finalizing them.
If this is an initial IEP meeting for a student who is just qualifying for special education services, goals will be created based on the evaluation data.
The team will also discuss accommodations and modifications during this time to identify and document what adjustments the student may need to be successful.
Schedule of services
The amount of time the student will spend in the special education setting and regular education setting, along with any support personnel will be discussed and documented.
In addition, the team will discuss who will be responsible for the services.
Creation or review of specialized plans
Some students may have IEP documents that include specialized plans. This can include behavior plans for students identified as having a disability that impacts behavior or social domains. It can also include health plans for students who may need specialized nurse care.
These plans will be reviewed and the team will decide whether to keep, adjust, or end the plans based on the student's needs.
Regardless of what point in the year it is, IEP meetings always include a discussion of assessment modifications and accommodations. This includes adjustments that will be made for the student on district- or state-wide assessments.
If the IEP meeting is early in the year, the team will likely also discuss coming back closer to testing time to make any necessary adjustments.
Some students require specialized transportation. This can include a smaller bus, additional staff available during transportation, or even special transportation in a van.
For the majority of students, this part of the conversation is relatively quick, as no specialized transport is needed.
Meeting Review & Wrap Up
Finally, the meeting will end with a quick review of meeting minutes. A short review of the meeting will be followed by a chance for team members to ask clarifying questions.
Once all questions have been answered, the team will sign that they agree or disagree with the team's decisions, and the document will become legally binding for the next school year (or until it is reviewed again).
What teachers should bring with to the meeting
While each meeting will be different, there are some things you should make sure you're prepared with at all IEP meetings. These items include:
- Data on the student's current performance in class including work samples or tests scores
- Records of any intervention strategies you're currently using
- Paper & pen to record notes
- Information about the student's strengths and talents
- A list of any questions or concerns you currently have
Having this information can help you feel more relaxed when it comes to attending your first IEP meeting. If you don’t understand something or have concerns that have not been addressed during the IEP meeting, please speak up.
An IEP team is just that, a group that works together to make sure students receive appropriate services, accommodations, and individualized education plans.
Everyone has an important role in students’ IEP meetings, including you.
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