Monday, April 6, 2015

Student Involvement in the IEP

Although there is still cold weather in the forecast here in Massachusetts, I’m told it’s spring!  Along with the potentially warmer weather, spring also means end-of-the- year reports and for many of my students, IEP and 504 meetings. Decisions made in these meetings impact our students for the next year so careful planning is critical. Along with the academic goals, self-awareness and self-advocacy are important areas to consider. It’s never too early to involve students in the IEP and 504 process and this specific instruction can be written into the IEP as well.

Two factors that impact such lessons are the student's level of maturity and parent consent. I often start talking with my students about the IEP in kindergarten or first grade. I communicate with the families about the purpose of such lessons as well as my plan (whether I'll use the actual document, just show the goals, or present a simplified version for younger students). Some parents don't want their children to see the original document, feeling that what is written focuses on the deficits and could make the child feel bad. In those cases, I can usually work with the parent and create a modified document for instruction purposes that emphasizes growth and success, such as the self-evaluations which I described in a previous post. By late elementary/early middle school, my students and I talk about the IEP and the meeting in more detail. By then, parents are usually comfortable and familiar with the process and its benefits. Even though students are not required to attend the meetings at that age, some may stop in for an introduction at the beginning, or if they will not make an appearance, I bring the material we've worked on such as a statement from my student with what they want included under Strengths, Vision Statement, and Current Performance for each goal. By the time students start attending meetings in high school, it's all very familiar. 

There are many kid friendly IEP guides on the internet which I often modify to fit the needs of my individual student. In addition, I emphasize that because the student has hearing loss, adults want to make sure they are successful in school and an IEP is a document that makes sure they get what they need. We talk about accommodations and highlight the skills we work on in individual sessions as well as the carryover I look for when I observe in class. Whenever I observe in class, I share my notes with students no matter how young they are and we always bring it back to the IEP. We set goals together which keeps the student involved and informed (e.g. When I observe, I want to see you raise your hand two times, and tell the teacher to mute/un-mute the microphone ...). 

While the teams that I work with generally value such relevant, experiential learning, it still must be “measurable” in order to get written into the IEP. A sample objective under the Self Advocacy goal might read:

Student will demonstrate an understanding of her IEP accommodations by advocating for their application in all school settings with decreasing adult support. 

This allows me to work 1:1 with my student, to help the student  apply skills in the classroom with appropriate observational documentation, and move the student  towards independence. Then I can work on applying the accommodations in other school settings and involve the student in refining what is written or adding to the accommodations for the next IEP period. 

Similarly, objectives such as the two below, allow me to formally work with my student on self-evaluation and move from the highly supported to more open-ended evaluations that I described in an earlier post. In reports, I state specifically what supports I start with and where we end up. This documents the decreasing adult modeling, and is therefore "measurable."

Student will demonstrate increasing responsibility for her academic progress by formally reviewing her IEP objectives on a quarterly basis with decreasing adult modeling.

Student will explain how hearing loss impacts her ability to access her education by participating in monthly / quarterly / weekly (you decide) formal progress monitoring with decreasing adult support. 

The IEP may take up only a small percentage of the total time working with students, but it influences the entire process. The more engaged and involved students can be early on, the more ready they will be to actively participate when the time comes.

Links to Student IEP Guides: