If your child is experiencing difficulty in school, it is your right to request that the school system tests your child to decide if he is eligible for special education services. This testing will decide if your child can be classified with a disability, after which the Committee for Special Education must plan out the best way to educate your child. Every school district has a different format for the resulting document, which is commonly called your child's "IEP". As a former NYC special education teacher, I want to share with you the tricks about how to understand the NYC version of an IEP.
The first thing to understand is that each page has a number which corresponds to the format of that page and the information contained in it. There may be many pages with the same number if the information on that page fills more than one paper. For example, "page 6" refers to the page that includes your child's educational goals. Most children will have more than one page of goals, and all of those pages will be numbered "6"! Often they will be numbered 6-A, 6-B, etc. or even 6-1, 6-2, 6-3,. . . -- but not always. So we when I explain each page, remember to look at the number on the bottom, not to count the number of pages!
IEP Page 1
The first page of the IEP has your child's personal and family information, any special medical alerts, and a brief summary of the recommendation(s) made. It also includes your child's NYC ID# (also refered to as an osis #), and the CSE Case #. The case number is not important to you -- it is part of the filing system at the CSE offices. The ID #, however, is very important, and you should have it handy whenever you need to communicate with the school system about your child. (It's good to know that if you somehow misplace it, you can also use the combination of your child's name and birthday to access her information.)
The summary of recommendations will include some sort of classification of disability. This is important because without being classified under some category, your child is not eligible for services. There is a list of acceptable classifications, and this is something that should have been discussed at your meeting. Some common classifications include: speech or language impairment, learning disability, autism, or other health impairment (for a child with a medical disability that interferes with learning, often ADD or ADHD).
There will be a few lines with the recommendation of either general education with some type of support services, or a special education classroom. This will be detailed more extensively on page 7 and 9. Finally, there is a checklist of assorted recommendations that may be checked, and will be explained in detail later.
IEP Page 2
The second page of the IEP documents the IEP meeting, or "review", at which this IEP was created. You as parent should have been invited to take part in this meeting, and the bottom of the page documents the attempts made to include you. All participants at the meeting sign on this page. Signing does not mean that you agree with the content of the IEP -- it just means you were there at the meeting. Different types of meetings require the participation of different team members, so not all the lines will necessarily be filled. The person signing as "district representative" is the one with the ultimate responsibility for the IEP, so if you have questions or disagreements, try to get ahold of her. The district representative is often also a different team member (commonly a psychologist or teacher), and will sign in two places.
A box in the middle of the page summarizes any changes in the recommendation since the last IEP. If nothing has changed, this box will be empty. If any new services are being given, or any services are being removed or changed, this spot will show that.
IEP Page 3
This page is where your child's academic performance (his learning) is discussed. The scores of any recent testing will be indicated in the grid, and a few paragraphs on the top will describe his current performance. Generally this page is filled out by your child's teacher (special ed or general ed). Additionally, if your child receives speech/language therapy, the speech teacher's report will be included on page 3 (either the same page as the teacher or on an extra "page 3").
The bottom box on the page will show any special changes your child needs in the classroom, such as preferential seating or any modified materials.
IEP Page 4
The 4th page of the IEP discusses your child's social and emotional performance, meaning how he behaves and interacts with other kids. The paragraphs on the top will be written either by your child's teacher, or by a counselor/ social worker/ psychologist who works with your child. There is a checklist that briefly summarizes his behavior, and the box on the bottom is again used to show any special needs your child has in this area, such as extra reinforcers or prize systems, or the need to be refocused often.
IEP Page 5
Page 5 of the IEP is where you find information on health issues and any sort of physical problems that affect the learning process. If your child receives either physical or occupational therapy, this is where you will find the reports from those providers. As a parent you should make sure that any relevent medical information, such as asthma, allergies, or medications are recorded on this page as well.
IEP Page 6
The goals on an IEP are what drive your child's instruction, so it is important to try to read them through even if they seem confusing. Your child will have goals written by every provider who works with him. In other words the special education teacher will write goals for what she is working on, the speech teacher will write goals, and so will any other therapist who works with your child. Sometimes more than one provider will share a goal -- for example, the special ed teacher and the speech teacher may both be working on reading comprehension areas. There are different formats for writing goals, and they are constantly changing. What they almost always include is clear, specific accomplishments that your child is trying to achieve, and some measure of how success will be defined: what percentage must the child master, how will it be measured, etc.
IEP Page 7
This page is a summary of your child's placement. Any subjects that your child is learning in the general education classroom will be discussed on the top half of the page, and any self-contained special education classes will be listed on the bottom half of the page. This page also discusses what language your child uses.
IEP Page 8
By law your child has the right to be educated in the "least restrictive environment", or the LRE. What this means is that as much as possible your child should be grouped together with her typically developing peers. Before a child can be placed in a group of students with more significant delays, it must be determined that she can not reach her goals in a more normal environment. On page 7 the team must explain what less restrictive environments were considered, and why they decided that your child's needs cannot be met in that setting.
IEP Page 9
The top of this page indicates if there are any type of restrictions on your child participating in any school activities.
The next section is a detailed listing of any related services your child receives. Related Services in NYC include speech/language therapy, occupational and physical therapy, counseling, or paraprofessional support. All services will be listed together with the frequency (how many sessions per week), the duration (how long the session is), and the size of the group that he will receive the service with.
The next section on this page explains how your child will be tested. Most children will take part in regular testing, but will get some accommodations, or changes, in how they will be tested. Common accommodations include receiving extra time, or being tested in a separate place. Additionally your child may receive the test in a different form (large print, read aloud), or may record answers in a different way. For more severely disabled children, there is the option of Alternate Assessment. This means the child will not take any of the regular tests, but will be evaluated in a completely different way.
Finally at the bottom of the page the team will decide if your child can be promoted to the next grade even if they do not master all the requirements for the current grade. This is called "modified criteria" for promotion, and is usually only allowed for a child in a self-contained class.
When your child receives special education services the experience is often overwhelming. However it is important for your child that you be as involved as possible. Remember you have the right to ask as many questions as you need to in order to understand what is going on with your child's education.