As a parent or youth over 18, your participation in creating an IEP is central to exercising your rights guaranteed by the IDEA. After a student is found eligible for an IEP, and a plan developed and agreed to by the IEP team, it is generally in place for one year. After that, an IEP meeting must be held. (A one year review is the minimum requirement, but meeting more frequently to check in or as problems arise is a good idea).

The annual IEP meeting brings the IEP team together to review the student’s progress, and plan for the year ahead. As with other IEP meetings, the school district must provide parents written notice before the meeting and consider their availability and needs (including interpreters or for disability accommodations). The meeting itself is made up of:

1. Reviewing Progress since Last Year’s IEP Meeting

The team first discusses the student’s progress on IEP goals and objectives that were agreed to last year. Different team members, including parents and the student as appropriate, participate and report.

The team determines how well the IEP is working by reviewing the student’s progress on IEP goals and educational improvement in the past year to determine the student’s “Present Levels of Academic and Functional Performance” (PLAAFP). If a student did not meet a goal, all parties should discuss whether the appropriate supports, services, accommodations/modifications and specialized instructions were provided, whether placement was appropriate, and what factors got in the way with the student meeting their goals. If the student met or exceeded their goals, the student may need to set higher expectations for in the year ahead—and adjust what is needed to accomplish them.

The IDEA requires the IEP team to develop appropriately ambitious and meaningful goals, so that if goals are not met, it signals that something is wrong with either the development or the implementation of the IEP. Adequate assessment is required. Goals should not simply be “rolled over” into the next year.

2. Write New Goals and Determine Specialized Instruction and Services Necessary to Support Those Goals

As always, goals should be Specific, Measurable, Appropriate, Realistic and Relevant, and Time-specific (SMART). Because goals help shape the IEP, it is important to take the time to discuss what areas a student needs to improve—academics, social skills, behavior, mental health, motor skills, etc. All needs, regardless of the disability, must be addressed.

While service providers, parents and educators may bring different goals to the meeting, it is during the meeting that goals will be discussed and, if need be, further developed and refined.

3. Consider Placement and Services

The team must determine whether the current placement and program goals are adequate and support them. If your student is not participating in a general education classroom, this is a good time to ask what supports will be necessary to increase the percentage of the time learning alongside non-disabled peers.

If the student attends a non-public school (NPS), discuss how he or she may be better integrated into classroom settings with typically developing peers.

If the team needs more information about how to individualize the student’s education, more evaluation may be needed.

4. Create the New IEP

The meeting is “complete” when the IEP team, including the parent, has agreed to an IEP that describes the student’s program for the year ahead. Any areas where the previous plan needs improvement should be identified and corrected at that time.

Needs for transitional support (most critical when students are changing from preschool to kindergarten, elementary to middle school, middle to high school, and high school to adulthood) should also be discussed and agreed on.

Students 16 years old or more must be invited to the meeting and involved in developing a transition plan.

During the meeting, an administrator or other special-education staff member may take notes. However, these notes are not legally binding. For this reason, many families choose to record the IEP meeting. Recordings of IEP meetings can be an important back-up about agreements and decisions that may not be captured in the notes. To record an IEP meeting, you must give the district/charter at least 24 hours written notice. Recordings don’t always make it into the IEP but they can be important backups if a disagreement or misunderstanding arises about what the team decided.

After the IEP Meeting

The annual IEP is a plan outlining how a student will receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). It is legally binding.

We suggest, given how much is discussed and how important this one-year “roadmap” is, that the parent take the proposed new IEP home to review for a few days, and sign attendance at the meeting. Once you agree with the draft of the plan, sign the IEP, which will take effect immediately. If you do not agree with the entire IEP, you may “sign the IEP with exception” and clarify which parts you believe are not appropriate or that need to be corrected. The parts you agree with must be implemented without delay.

If you do not agree with some or all of the IEP, contact our staff. Partners Resource Network includes the Texas Parent Training & Information Centers (PTI) and we can help you with next steps. You can also contact your local PTI if you have specific questions about education and students with disabilities until they reach the age of 26.

Article by Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund Special EDition newsletter, September 2018