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A Guide for General Education Teachers

 

“What is my role in the IEP/IFSP team and at IEP/IFSP meetings?"

 

Topics

Common Special Education Terms

The Special Education Process in a Nutshell

The Typical Annual IEP Meeting

The Benefits of General Education Teachers’ Participation in the IEP Process

Why Attending IEP Meetings Benefits General Education Teachers

How to Prepare for an IEP Meeting

 

 

Common Special Education Terms

case manager: the person who is the main point of contact between parents, specialists, and teachers who work with a student on an IEP. 

Other responsibilities generally include: maintaining records, updating and monitoring progress towards IEP goals, presenting information at meetings, leading IEP and other meetings related to the student, and coordinating paperwork.

Typically this role is taken on by a special education teacher. Other specialists, however, such as speech language pathologists, may take on this role as well.

goals: measurable skills that the IEP team agrees to be appropriate for a student to achieve within a one-year span. Goals may be written to address academic, behavioral, or functional needs, for example.

IDEA:  Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004. Federal legislation that is in place to ensure a free and appropriate public education for students with special needs.

IEP: An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is a legal document that contains information about a student’s: current levels of performance, goals, objectives, accommodations, modifications, and related services. It must be updated at least annually. All students who are of school age and eligible to receive special education services are required to have an IEP in place.

IEP Team: A group that includes a student’s parents/guardians, at least one special educator or service provider, at least one general education teacher (if the student is in general education or may be placed there), a representative of the school system, a person who is qualified to interpret test results (if necessary), the student (if appropriate), representatives of other agencies that are participating in arranging for transition services, and other persons knowledgeable about the child’s needs.

objectives: specific, progressive steps that are outlined for a student to meet on the way to achieving his or her identified IEP goals.

parents’ rights: the rights of parents/guardians of children receiving special education services as outlined in IDEA. Examples of some of those rights include: access to all of their students records, full participation in IEP and eligibility meetings, and the right to request an independent evaluation of their child. At each IEP meeting, parents are required to be offered a copy of their rights.

related services: Specialized services designed to provide support to students in special education who require extra assistance. Examples of related services include: speech language pathology, autism services, and occupational therapy.

 

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The Special Education Process in a Nutshell

The Pre-Referral Process

The Referral Process

Eligibility Determination Meeting

IEP Development

Three-Year/Triennial Reevaluation

 

The Pre-Referral Process

All schools have students who are difficult to teach using common teaching methods and/or have challenges learning and accessing the curriculum in typical ways. These students do not all require special education services.

The pre-referral process is in place to help general education school teams work to make these types of students successful prior to making a referral for the child to be considered as a candidate for special education services. A student may be referred to the pre-referral process by a teacher, school staff person, or parent.

General Education teachers usually play a large role in this process as they are the one person who has the most contact time with the identified student. Further, they are often the ones who bring forth concerns, make adjustments to instruction and materials, and communicate with the student’s parents.

School districts have various names for these school teams such as Student Study Team (SST), Student Success Team (SST), Child Study Team (CST), or  Special Education Team (SET). These pre-referral teams convene to discuss a student who is struggling.  After identifying the student’s challenges, they will decide on and document the strategies and interventions they will use to assist the student in the general education setting.

If the identified student responds to the interventions in a positive way, the team will likely determine that a referral for special education is not merited at that time. The student’s teacher(s) will continue to implement these strategies and monitor the child’s progress.

If the student does not respond well to the interventions put in place by the pre-referral team, the next step is for the team to begin the Special Education referral process.

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The Referral Process

If the pre-referral team suspects that a student may be eligible for Special Education services or a student has a medical diagnosis that merits a special education referral, they will get the Special Education department involved at this point.

The case manager or general education teacher will speak to the parents to discuss the outcome of the pre-referral team’s efforts and why the team has considered a referral  for special education eligibility.

A permission to assess document will be put together by a case manager. She and the appropriate related services personnel will complete the form to include information on which types of assessment will be done to complete this process. The form also documents the suspected area(s) of disability, such as autism spectrum disorder, communication disorder, learning disability, etc.

Following parental consent to evaluate their child, the case manager and related services personnel begin the evaluation process.

This process may include some of the following: parent interview/developmental history, observation of the student, teacher interviews, file review, and disability-specific assessments.

By law, this process may not exceed 60 school days.

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Eligibility Determination Meeting

Following the referral process, an eligibility determination meeting will occur.

These meetings generally include an administrator, the student’s parents/guardians and teacher(s), the case manager, and any other related services professionals who engaged in evaluating the student.

Each specialist presents his or her report. Following discussion regarding the report, the team moves on to discuss and determine if the student meets all of the criteria that the state has in place to qualify as eligible under the suspected area(s) of disability.

If the student does not meet the criteria, he is not eligible for special education services.

If the student meets the criteria, he or she is now eligible to receive special education services. In this case, the team will reconvene for an initial Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting.

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IEP Development

Once a student has initially qualified for special education, a group called the IEP team will convene for a meeting to determine the individualized needs for the student.

The team will identify appropriate goals and objectives for the student to work on and will determine the appropriate services for him.

Participation from all parties who interact with the student is essential! Important decisions are made at this meeting. If you are not in attendance to relay your observations and professional opinion, decisions will be made that will likely affect the current way in which you are instructing and/or providing materials to your student which you will be legally required to perform. Make every effort you can to attend your student’s IEP meeting.

Following the initial IEP development, the IEP document will be in effect for one year.

While an IEP is required to be updated and developed at least annually, IEP meetings can be called at any time by any team member during the school year to discuss issues regarding the student’s progress in meeting his goals, placement concerns, new behavior challenges, etc.

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Three-Year/Triennial Reevaluation

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that educational teams reevaluate a student’s eligibility for special education services triennially. 

Prior to the meeting, the case manager will typically speak with the related service specialists to determine the appropriate level of assessment to be completed.

If the team agrees that not much has changed in terms of the student’s characteristics that qualify him for special education, a more limited amount of evaluation is done. This may include simply a file review and observations.

If the team agrees that the student presents much differently than his last triennial reevaluation or initial eligibility for special education, a more extensive evaluation process usually takes place. This also may occur if the student is getting ready to transition out of high school, as an extensive evaluation and report will document the student’s needs and characteristics for future adult service providers. These extensive evaluations can often contain many or all of the components that are done to complete an initial eligibility evaluation.

The meeting often appears similar to an initial eligibility. The IEP team convenes and the case manager and other related specialists who completed evaluations of the student report on their findings and observations.

Following the sharing of information and discussion, the team is required to go through the criteria that the state has outlined for the student’s specific eligibility category to determine if the student still meets the criteria.

If the student continues to meet the criteria, he still qualifies for special education services.

If the student no longer meets the criteria, he will exit special education services.

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The Typical Annual IEP Meeting

Below is a summary of how a typical annual IEP meeting occurs.

Please note that the order in which an IEP meeting is conducted, the role of the case manager, and terminology varies from case manager to case manager and from district to district.

 

The Typical IEP Meeting

1.) Introductions:  Prior to the meeting getting underway, it is customary for all team members to go around the table and introduce themselves and their role in the meeting.

The case manager will usually begin the meeting and all present members participate in introducing themselves.

 

2.) Procedural Safeguards/Parents’ Rights: The law requires that a student’s parents/guardians are offered information on their rights at each IEP meeting. Many districts have parents/guardians sign documentation of their receipt of this information at each meeting. For parents who are familiar with the IEP process, they may choose to not take the Parents’ Rights booklet since they have a copy at home.

This is typically the role of the case manager.

 

3.) Review of Previous IEP’s Goals and Objectives: This is a time when the IEP team reads through the student’s goals and reports on the student’s progress in meeting the goals and objectives that were designed for him. Typically, the service providers who created the goals and worked with the student to meet them will report about the progress. For example, the Speech Language Pathologist reports on the speech and communication goals, while the learning center teacher reports on the academic goals.

Generally, the case manager will lead the discussion and allow any specialists and related service providers a chance to review the student’s progress on the goals they designed.

Participation from the team is encouraged during this time to add in any additional comments, observations, or information about the student’s progress in his attempts to meet his goals.

 

4.) Cover Page: After the review of the past IEP, the team draws its attention to putting together the student’s next IEP. The cover page holds the student’s personal information and has an area for the participating team members to sign to indicate their presence and role in the meeting.

The case manager typically leads this part of the meeting.

 

5.) Present Levels of Performance: The IEP team begins by reviewing a summary of the student’s “present levels of academic achievement and functional performance.” It should also include language about how the student’s disability affects his ability to participate in the general curriculum. Examples of areas often included here include: academic skills, speech and language, pre-vocational skills, and self-care. If applicable, information on the student’s past performance on statewide testing is documented here as well.

The case manager generally leads this part of the meeting, since she is typically the author of most of the information on this page. Related specialists, general education teachers, and sometimes parents often will contribute statements to be included in this area and may choose to read them.

Each member may observe the student in different situations and therefore may see the student perform in different ways. Therefore, in addition to prepared information, further information that team members would like to share in order to best capture the abilities and challenges of the student are appropriate at this time.

 

6.) Statement of Proposed Goals: During this time, the case manager and other related service providers will bring forth proposed goals and objectives to the IEP team. It is not uncommon for the team to develop goals at the meeting itself as other areas of need get discussed in the course of reviewing the student’s current levels of performance. Goals typically fit into two categories: academic and functional. They are written in a way to include a description of the skill to be taught, information about how it will be measured, and what the criteria is to meet that goal. Objectives are the steps the student will meet along the way to achieving the identified goal. Often, there will be information included here that indicates whether the goal will or will not be met in the general education setting. If the goal will not be addressed in the general education setting, the case manager usually will include information on why this is so.

The case manager usually leads this part of the meeting.

Often, related specialists will read the proposed goals they drafted if they are in attendance.

All members of the IEP team are encouraged to participate in a discussion about the development of the goals and objectives and their appropriateness for the student.

 

7.) Service Levels: During this portion of the meeting the team discusses the services that the student requires in order to access his school day successfully. This may include such  related services such as: speech therapy, occupational therapy, assistive technology, or an autism specialist. When discussing the services the student needs, the team will also need to decide on the appropriate levels of service for the student. In addition, bussing and the need for a one-on-one assistant may be documented on this page.

The case manager typically leads this part of the meeting, but feedback from all the team is welcomed.

Information offered from a general education teacher can be especially important here as he or she can indicate what types of accommodations and support the student will need to be successful in the general education setting. Further, if the teacher feels that he or she may need some consultation and support to learn more about how to teach the student, this is the time to state this.

 

8.) State Testing Discussion: If the parents opt for their child to participate in state testing the team must have a discussion of what that testing will consist of. Some students are able to test at grade level without any accommodations, some will need to have accommodations and perhaps test at a lower grade level, and yet others may perform best on a alternate assessment. The team will discuss and document the agreed upon decision.

The case manager will lead this portion of the meeting.

The general education teacher is often the most knowledge person on the IEP team in regards to what the state testing content and format is. His or her expertise here is important as the team is expected to determine what is the most appropriate method for the student to demonstrate his knowledge.

 

9.) Placement Discussion: This portion of the meeting is where the team discusses and determines where the student will be placed. This will include discussion about how much exposure to a general education setting the student will have in comparison to being in a special education setting. If, appropriate, the team will discuss if the student may benefit from attending extended school year (ESY) during the summer.

This section is generally led by the case manager.

Discussion is welcome by all members of the IEP team who may have information to provide to influence the determination of appropriate placement(s) for the student and what type of accommodations and modifications will be necessary for the student to be successful.

It is especially important for the general education teacher to participate in this portion of the meeting and provide information and observations that will help the team make an appropriate placement and determine what types of accommodations and support would be suitable for the student.

 

10.) Final Signatures: Following the completion of all the other IEP documents, the team may sign the IEP to indicate their agreement or disagreement with the IEP document. For the most part, all members will have had an opportunity to participate in the planning and discussion of the IEP and will agree to what was documented on the forms. Very rarely, a member of the IEP team will disagree with an aspect of the IEP. In this case, an administrator is notified and the IEP team will likely reconvene again shortly to try to resolve the conflict while maintaining an appropriate educational plan.

The case manager takes the lead during this part, and will pass the IEP around the table for the participants to sign.

It is recommended that the general education teacher get a copy of the IEP immediately following the meeting. This is because he or she is required to provide the service levels, instruction, accommodations and modifications outlined in the IEP document for the student.

 

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The Benefits of General Education Teachers’ Participation in the IEP Process

Often, general education teachers spend the most time with students and get to observe their academic, social, and behavioral strengths and needs more regularly.

The rich amount of knowledge general education teachers have about the general education content, the day to day workings of the classroom, type of instruction provided, pace of instruction, and state testing standards provide a unique and valuable perspective to the IEP team.

The general education teacher’s presence during IEP meetings to share his or her unique perspective on the student and his needs is necessary in the development of an appropriate IEP. He or she can give an accurate accounting of the types of services, adaptations, and modifications required to help the student in the general education setting in addition to recommendations and feedback regarding the development of IEP goals.

Often, related service specialists and special education teachers get little to no time to observe the student in the general education setting. Once an IEP is developed, the general education teacher should keep in touch with the case manager, Autism Specialist, and/or other related service specialists to report observations on the student’s progress in reaching his goals. This can help the team decide if the IEP is working well, if extra support may be merited for the teacher or the student, or if the IEP should be modified to be more appropriate for the student.

 

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Why Attending IEP Meetings Benefits General Education Teachers

While the law only requires one general education teacher to attend in IEP, it is recommended that all general education teachers attend regardless of whether his or her content area is academic or not. This is because the IEP is a legal document; the types of modifications, services, placement, and accommodations outlined in the IEP must be followed by all people who provide education and service to the student.

If the general education teacher is not at the meeting, he or she is compelled to comply with the content of the IEP without having an opportunity to give his or her feedback, observations, and suggestions for appropriate goals, modifications, placement, services, etc.

Therefore, attending an IEP allows the general education teacher an opportunity to participate in designing an appropriate educational plan for the student that will be reasonable to support in the general education setting.

In addition, if the general education teacher feels that she will need support in upholding the IEP goals, the IEP meeting is an opportunity for her to identify the type and level of support she will need in order to do so. This may include training and/or consultation from a related service provider, or an educational assistant, for example. 

 

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How to Prepare for an IEP Meeting

Prior to the IEP meeting, the case manger traditionally asks any teachers and related service providers to prepare a short statement that captures the student’s present levels of functioning to include in the IEP document. While other case managers may not ask you to develop a short statement, the information that you can provide will prove to be a valuable piece of information and would be welcomed even if it was not specifically sought out. Therefore, if you have something to add, write it down and submit it to the case manager prior to the meeting so it can be included in the IEP.

Hint: Be sure to use positive language when describing your student. Remember to include not only the areas of challenge the student may have, but also the areas of strength and improvements the student has made.

Some case managers will ask teachers and related service personnel about any concerns or feedback relating to the development of the next IEP. Others do not. If you do have suggestions for future goals, ideas on ways to make the student more successful, or topics that you feel should be discussed, it is recommended that you inform the case manager of these concerns prior to the meeting.

Hint:  Write your ideas down and bring them to the meeting so that you can make sure they are addressed and discussed by the whole IEP team.

Gather and bring along any work samples, data sheets, observational notes, or any other evidence of the student’s progress that you feel will be helpful to the team for the development of the next IEP.

Before the meeting, review the student’s current IEP. It will refresh your memory and may help you generate some feedback that may be helpful in planning for your students next IEP.

Bring paper and a pen to take notes.

 

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References

Anchorage School District. (2003, August). Special education brochure, What every teacher should know.  Retrieved on 2/8/10 , from http://www.asdk12.org/depts/sped/handbook.asp#geteach.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act § 1414 20 U.S.C. (2004)

Popp, P.A. General educators: How do we need you? Let us count the ways! Retrieved on 2/8/10, from Virginia Council for Learning Disabilities website: http://www. vcld.org/pages.newsletters/02_03_fall/gen_ed.htm.

TeacherVision. The IEP cycle: The general educator’s role. Retrieved on 2/8/10, from the TeacherVision website: http://teachervision.fen.com/specialeducation/resource/5582.html.

Wright, P. (2006). Special education law, 2nd edition. Harbor House Law Press, Inc.: Hartfield, VA.