I remember the start of the school year after our son’s autism diagnosis being full of questions. It was difficult to know what information I needed or who I should ask. We quickly discovered that the most important document that would follow our son through his entire school experience was the IEP (Individualized Education Plan).
Going back to school during a pandemic can add more stress and uncertainty to processes that at the best of times are difficult. In BC, there is also a slow shift in how IEPs are written. This means some school districts are using one format, and others have switched to an updated one.
Our hope is this information will help you become familiar with current IEPs as well as the new Core Competencies format that will eventually be in use by all BC school districts.
What is Individualized Education Plan (IEP)?
According to the Ministry of Education, “An Individual Education Plan (IEP) is a documented plan developed for a student with special needs that describes individualized goals, adaptations, modifications, the services to be provided, and includes measures for tracking achievement.”
If your child requires an IEP, you will be asked to attend IEP meeting(s). As a parent/caregiver, your input is very valuable. Discussion with your child about their goals before your meeting is also important.
The Ministry of Education states the purpose of an IEP as:
formalizing planning decisions and processes, linking assessment with programming. It provides teachers, parents, and students with a record of the educational program for an individual student with special needs and serves as the basis for reporting the student’s progress.
Serving as a tool for tracking an individual student’s learning in terms of agreed-upon goals and objectives.
Documenting the relationships between any support services being provided and the student’s educational program.
Providing parents and students with a mechanism for input into the individualized planning process.
To prepare for the IEP meeting, consider the answers to the following questions:
What are some short- and long-term goals for your child? Write them down before the meeting.
What motivates your child?
What are your child’s strengths?
What are your child’s interests?
How will my child’s progress be measured, and by whom?
Who is responsible for each goal, and what supports or modifications are needed?
When thinking about goals for your IEP, it can help to think in terms of SMART goals.
“SMART” IEPs are a way for parents to check that their children’s IEPs are the best they can be to support their learning, social and emotional goals.
The information in the IEPs should address both your child’s strengths and needs. For example, it is not specific enough for the IEP to state that your child “has a reading problem.” It should specify the nature of the reading problem-decoding, fluency, comprehension, etc.
Three areas of the IEP should be consistently, objectively measured:
The present level of your child’s performance
The progress your child is making toward the goals
The achievement of the goals
The IEP uses actionable language to describe what will be done to support your child. For example, “Ms. Smith will provide phonics instruction twice a week for one hour each session.”
R Realistic and Relevant:
The goals in your child’s IEP should be relevant to their needs and set at high but attainable levels.
T Time Sensitive:
There are reasonable review times identified in your child’s IEP (e.g., initial, mid-year, end of the year) when you will meet with the staff who work with your child. This is the time to discuss progress, challenges, and possibly update timelines or modify goals.
How to Survive and Thrive in your IEP Meeting
Before your meeting, make notes of your concerns and questions. Please speak with your child and document their questions, concerns, and needs/wants.
Take someone with you to take notes.
Remember, this meeting is your meeting—with your child’s needs being the driving force.
Know what you can ask for OT, SLP, a Psych Ed, EA support, Learning support.
Get the names and contact emails for your child’s team, including administration. This is typically a classroom teacher, learning support teacher/resource teacher, and a principal. You should also include any service providers working with your family in and out of school.
Ask for EVERYTHING in writing. Follow up every meeting with an email highlighting what was discussed and copy all meeting attendants.
NEVER make plans or changes on the phone or in-person with school staff. Have all discussions in writing via email. If something was discussed, follow up with an email to help keep everyone on the same page but also accountable. Get in this habit from the beginning, even when things are great, and your team is terrific. Having this skill will make all the difference, especially when communication gets difficult.
Talk to other parents. Learn from their experiences but know that each school year is different. Each school team is different. All information is valuable, but keep your family’s unique needs at the forefront.
Ask for timelines, expected completion dates, and data. If you do not know why something is happening or what is being discussed, ask! Do not be afraid to ask for more information, and there will be a lot of things you do not know. Always take the time to slow things down and get some clarity.
Reach out to a community advocate for some guidance and support.
School districts across BC are slowly moving towards a new focus and outline for Individualized Education Plans (IEP). All school districts will eventually use this focus and strive to include student input to drive IEP goals.
Taking some time for self-assessment will help you and your child prepare for your IEP meeting and discover goals together. These assessments will help you focus on a child’s interests and strengths, help your school team become familiar with who your child is and how they can support them to reach their goals.