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Monday, March 23, 2009

Top Ten Mistakes Parents Make in IEP Meetings

By: Matt Foley, M.Ed and DeAnn Hyatt Foley, M.Ed., Parents, Lubbock, Texas

(Reprinted with permission from the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the Kentucky School for the Blind)

The following article appeared in Parent to Parent, a quarterly publication of the Kentucky School for the Blind that contains information relevant to Kentucky parents and families of children who are blind and visually impaired.

Editor's Note: While reading through various articles and looking at various websites, a friend of mine came across an article that contained information that would have helped my wife and I immensely when we started down the "IEP Road". I thought it would be very beneficial to share this article with my readers. Although this article is based upon the federal regulations, some of the language or terms used within this article may be slightly different than what is used in your state since new regulations have been drafted. If you have any questions or need clarification, please feel free to email KSB Family Support Specialist Mitch Dahmke at


It can be very intimidating to sit at a table with several educators and professionals. Professionals/educators do bring a great deal of knowledge and experience to the table. Though most parents do not have a background or degree in education, they have a great deal of knowledge and experience regarding their child. Parents are the experts in their own right. They provide historical information and the big picture from year to year. They know what works and does not work with their child and can be a great asset to the IEP team.

Parents also have an intuitive sense as to what is appropriate for their child. After working with parents for nine years, we are still amazed at how parents are usually intuitively correct about what will work for their child. We encourage parents to follow their hunches, if something does not sound right, check it out. Usually after some research parents will discover their hunch was correct.


Any request a parent makes needs to be in writing. This includes requests for assessments, IEP meetings, correspondence, related services, etc. Written requests are important because they initiate timelines that the school district must follow in response to your request. This will also create a paper trail. When you write a letter be sure to send it certified mail. When you have a discussion by phone with a school official, write a letter that briefly outlines what you talked about. Documenting your conversations helps prevent miscommunication.

Documenting requests (i.e., teaching assistant, speech, etc.) for the IEP committee clarifies to the committee what you are requesting and allows you to use your own words (as opposed to the note taker paraphrasing your request). We encourage parents to type exactly what they think their child needs and list why they think it is educationally necessary. This helps parents think through why they are requesting a service for their child. Have the IEP committee record the written request as part of the IEP. At this point, the IEP committee has one of two choices; the committee can accept or deny the request. If the committee denies the request then they must follow the procedural safeguards in IDEA and provide written notice of why they are denying the parents' request. This method makes it difficult for an IEP committee to tell parents "no" without thinking through the options. If the request is not written down then the school district is not obligated to provide the service. Make sure you write it down.


All sections of the Procedural Safeguards are important to parents. This particular section gives parents some leverage during IEP meetings. Whenever parents make a request for their child in the IEP meeting, the IEP committee is required under Prior Notice to provide the parents with written notice within a reasonable period of time. This notice must include the following:

(b) Content of notice

  1. A description of the action proposed or refused;
  2. An explanation of why the agency proposes or refuses to take the action;
  3. A description of any other options that the agency considered and the reasons why those options were rejected;
  4. A description of each evaluation procedure, test, record or report the agency used as a basis for the proposed or refused action;
  5. A description of any other factor that is relevant to the agency's proposal or refusal (34CFR300.503)

We have found many instances where a parent requests an assessment or service only to have the IEP team tell the parent it cannot be done. By making all requests in writing and by requiring the IEP team to provide Prior Notice, the parent makes the team accountable for its decisions. This practice also takes issues out of the emotional arena, allowing all team members to focus on IDEA standards.


Many times parents will request services such as speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy, etc. in the IEP meeting. Frequently the IEP committee will respond by stating that the student does not need the service. We recommend that parents do not request the service but request the assessment that supports the need for the related service. For example, instead of requesting speech for your child request a speech assessment. Only a certified or licensed professional is qualified to determine if a child needs or does not need a particular related service. As in number 2, list the reasons why you think an assessment is educationally necessary for your child and submit your request to the IEP committee as part of the IEP.


Sometimes parents receive assessment results that do not accurately describe their child and/or do not recommend the amount and duration of services the parents think their child needs. Under 34 CFR 300.502 Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE), parents of a child with a disability have the right to obtain an independent evaluation at public expense if they disagree with the results of the school's assessment. When the parent requests the IEE (in writing) the school has one of two choices; they may either provide the IEE in a reasonable period of time, or they may take the parents to due process. When an IEE is agreed upon, parent and school must come to an agreement as to who is qualified to assess the student. The examiner for an IEE cannot be employed by the school district. Parents should request the school district policy on guidelines and qualifications for their examiners.


Parents are entitled to have the assessment information explained to them before the IEP meeting. We encourage parents to have the person who administered the assessment give them a copy of the report and meet with them to explain the report several days before the IEP meeting. This enables the parents to think through the information from the assessment, it only makes sense for the parents to be knowledgeable and informed about the assessment results in a way they can understand.


Measurable goals and objectives are paramount for your child's IEP. Without measurable goals and objectives, it is difficult to determine if your child has had a successful school year. In working with parents, we have encountered many IEP goals and objectives that are not measurable. All goals and objectives come from assessment data. Assessment has four different components:

  1. Formal assessment (ex. WIAT, Woodcock-Johnson, Brigance)
  2. Informal assessment (ex. classroom work)
  3. Teacher/parent observation, and
  4. Interviews

After the information has been collected about the student, it is compiled into an assessment report. Recommendations on how to work with the student are listed toward the end of the report. If you receive an assessment report that does not give you recommendations for potential goals and objectives, the assessment is not complete. After the assessment has been completed, the IEP committee determines the student's present level of performance (PLOP) and states what the student is currently able to do. The committee then develops the IEP goals and objectives. The goals state what the student is expected to accomplish by the end of the year. Objectives break the goal down into increments. For example: PLOP: Based on the Brigance and classroom work Johnny is currently able to read on a fourth grade level with 90% mastery. Goal: By the end of the school year Johnny will be able to read on a fifth grade level as measured by the Brigance and classroom work with 80% mastery. Objectives: * By October 1, Johnny will be able to read fourth grade, second month level with teacher assistance as measured by the Brigance and classroom work with 80% mastery. · By January 1, without teacher assistance Johnny will be able to read on a fourth grade, sixth month level as measured by the Brigance and classroom work with 80% mastery. A method of determining if your goals and objectives are measurable is to ask someone who is not on your IEP team to read them (ex. a teacher, another parent, advocate, etc.). Then ask, "Hypothetically, if you were to go into the classroom, would you be able to see my child working on these goals and objectives?" If someone outside of your IEP team cannot answer "yes", then your goals and objectives are not measurable.


Many times after assessment information is discussed, the IEP committee will determine the child's placement. Goals and objectives are always written before placement is discussed. To ensure that the child is placed in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) the IEP committee must determine:

  • Which of these goals and objectives can best be met in the general classroom?
  • With the remaining goals and objectives that cannot be met in the general classroom the committee determines:
  • Which of these goals and objectives can best be met in the general classroom with modifications and support?

This line of inquiry continues until all placement options have been decided upon for all the goals and objectives. The committee must always start with the LRE and then work toward a more restrictive environment as necessary. IDEA is very clear that the IEP committee must always consider the general education classroom as the first option for students with disabilities.


This practice is particularly common at the end of the school year when educators are frantically trying to have IEP meetings for all the students who receive special education services. IEP meetings may be held one right after another. There is no problem with this practice as long as the members of the IEP team feel that all issues have been adequately discussed. Many times, however, parents feel rushed. It is important that all issues are adequately addressed before ending the IEP meeting. When the educators have not given themselves adequate time to address all relevant issues, request that the IEP team meet again at a more convenient time to further discuss your child's education.


It is very important to ask questions and lots of them. Educators use many terms and acronyms specific to special education. Parents may become confused when these terms are used during the IEP meeting. This can add to the frustration that a parent may already be feeling when they do not understand what is being said. It is important to ask what the terms or acronyms mean. Unless a parent has a background in special education they are not expected to know the terms and acronyms. Informed decisions cannot be made when parents do not understand what is being discussed.

The preceding is a short list of common mistakes parents make during the IEP meetings and some suggestions for avoiding these mistakes. At some point in time we have made all the mistakes listed above. We developed the habit of debriefing after every IEP meeting as to our performance during the meeting. We have gradually accumulated information and developed skills, and we continue to trust our intuition.

We have found that when parents apply the suggestions listed above while working with their IEP team, they will see the results. It is important that parents continue to accumulate information and develop skills relating to the IEP process. Do not be discouraged in your pursuit to obtain the supports and services your child needs. We found it helpful to break the process down into small steps. When you use the suggestions listed above you will be that much closer to obtaining your child's Free Appropriate Public Education. After using each suggestion listed, pat yourself on the back for becoming an even better advocate for your child.

To receive an electronic copy of Parent to Parent, or to submit an article, e-mail Mitch at or phone 502-897-1583, ext. 221.

Additional Resource

Do you live in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Arkansas or Iowa? There's an online resource that can help you through the IEP process.

Special Education Parent's Advocacy Link , LLC (SEPAL) are advocates in the public schools for parent's who have children with special needs; they are also parents of children with disabilities. Marilyn McClure is a due process hearing panel member in Missouri and is an advocate for parents who have children in the public schools.

SEPAL can assist you in drafting a child complaint for submission to your state's education agency. Child complaints are used when a parent disagrees with what the school is/isn't doing for their child with an IEP. Often, parents can accomplish what otherwise would have necessitated a lengthy due process hearing. SEPAL attends IEP meetings at the school with the parent. SEPAL attends 504 accommodations meetings too. SEPAL has a network of advocates in Missouri and Kansas who can serve parents in those areas with their special education concerns including learning disabilities, autism, and other special needs.

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