Parents and Teachers

What To Do When Your Child’s IEP is Poorly Written

Realizing that your child’s individualized education program, IEP, is poorly written and not knowing what to do about it can make you feel utterly alone. Every IEP needs to follow strict regulations that are in place to ensure students receive the highest quality education possible that meets their specific needs. 

IEP meetings can feel intimidating, and you might think you don’t have any rights when it comes to your child’s IEP. Fortunately, this could not be further from the truth. You have every right to ensure your child’s IEP is well written. In this blog, I’ll explain how to tell if your child’s IEP is poorly written and what steps you can take to improve his or her IEP.

How to Tell If Your Child Has a Poorly Written IEP

If you’re seeking advice on what to do about a poorly written IEP, you probably already know how to detect a bad one. Sometimes, however, you might just have a hunch that your child’s IEP isn’t right. You might know that something is wrong, but you don’t know what a good one should look like. 

Here’s what a well-written IEP should include:

  • A statement of the child’s present levels of performance.
  • Measurable, observable, and objective annual goals in each area the child qualifies for services. For example, if he or she qualifies in reading and math, there should be measurable annual goals for reading and math. 
  • Explanations of how the child’s progress toward goals will be measured, and how often you will get periodic reports. 
  • A statement of the child’s least restrictive environment
  • Identification of any alternate assessments the child will take. This should also include an explanation of why they cannot take the standard assessment. 
  • A statement identifying any accommodations the child will need during assessments. 
  • The list of special education services the child will receive. This should include the date the services will start, information about extended school year if needed, information about a Behavioral Intervention Plan if needed, and an Emergency Response Protocol if needed. 
  • For students nearing 16-years-old or older, appropriate transition activities that address education, employment, and independent living if appropriate. 

All of this information included in the IEP should be so clearly written that if your child were to transfer to a new school, his or her new teacher would be able to look at the IEP and know exactly what to do. 

Additionally, it’s important to make sure that the accommodations and modifications in the IEP are actually relevant and specific to your child. 

When you know what legally should be included in an IEP, you can be more equipped to advocate for your child.

Here’s an article I wrote that I think you might find helpful: How To Write Measurable IEP Goals Using the SMART Method

What Aspects of the IEP Are You Allowed to Challenge?

In a word: everything. Ideally, your child’s IEP will be well written and any concerns you have can be cleared up with a collaborative conversation. 

If that is not the case, you have the right to challenge your child’s IEP, including: 

  • Your child’s placement
  • Whether your child is eligible for an IEP
  • Your child’s evaluation
  • The services the school is (or is not) providing 

Ideally, you have a strong working relationship with your child’s IEP team, and you can collaboratively discuss any issues that might arise. By simply having a conversation with your child’s case manager, the goal would be to reach an understanding to quickly and easily solve the issue with the IEP. 

Other times, resolving a poorly written IEP is not simple. In these cases, it’s essential to understand your rights and know that you can advocate for a better IEP.

How to Address a Poorly Written IEP

Addressing your child’s IEP might be as simple as talking to his or her case manager, or it might involve multiple meetings and a lot of back and forth. The process may be difficult and frustrating at times, but ultimately, it should be everyone’s goal to fully accommodate and meet the child’s needs. 

I’ve created a list of steps you can take to advocate for your child and ensure that he or she is receiving the best possible education. You don’t need to do everything on this list, and you don’t need to do it in this exact order. Rather, this is a list of strategies to try that generally goes in order from less to more extreme. 

Document Everything

Before you even begin to address a poorly-written IEP with your child’s IEP team, you’ll benefit from having your own documentation. Keep copies of every email or letter home and take notes during phone calls. If applicable and possible, write down any information your child gives you about his or her school day as well.

Documentation is NOT about a “gotcha” moment. It’s about a lot of important information. Being able to reference a conversation and access information from days or weeks ago can be important. If you are taking notes during a meeting both in-person and over the phone, I would even suggest sharing your notes with the school team. It shows that you are a team player and are actively working to collaborate! By sharing notes, it can also allow the school team to calibrate with you much more quickly if there is a misunderstanding of what was being said during the meeting.

Talk to Your Child’s Teacher

My advice and philosophy in life is, go directly to the source. Start with the people with boots on the ground working with your kiddo each and every day! Often, a problem with an IEP can be resolved simply by talking to your child’s teacher or case manager. 

Start with an email or phone call and simply say that you have some questions and concerns about your child’s IEP. You’d appreciate it if you could get some clarification and a better understanding of the IEP. I know that if I had a parent contact me saying that, I would schedule a meeting with them ASAP!

Something important to note is that email can always be tricky, especially if you haven’t spent a lot of time talking to the teacher in-person. You don’t know each other’s mannerisms, you don’t hear one another’s voice, and you haven’t quite built that in-person relationship and trust yet. I would advise writing and reading emails with a grain of salt! The written word is a different ballgame. I understand that sometimes it’s necessary from a scheduling standpoint and efficiency of time. I think emails can be a great starting point, but if it isn’t quickly resolved within 2-3 emails, I would schedule a phone conference, video conference, and even better would be an in-person meeting to build the relationship and trust!

Get the School Administrator Involved

There will be times where no matter how many meetings you hold with the special education teacher, you both just don’t seem to be getting on the same page. In fact it seems as though you are getting further and further apart! 

It was very rare this happened to me, but the few times it did, I actually went and spoke to my building principal and asked if she could be a part of the meetings to help us move forward!

Sometimes it just takes a third party to help see things from a slightly different angle and provide guidance. A building principal obviously cares deeply about kids, families, and teachers! But they are also a level removed from the trenches and can think and act with a bit less emotional ties. As a parent AND a special education teacher, I absolutely empathize on both ends because I love my own children so much and I love each and every one of my students so much too!

A great conversation to have with the teacher when going to this next step would be to simply highlight how you both have been working really hard together to best meet the needs of the child. However, the issues still haven’t been resolved and it might be helpful to contact the building administrator to help facilitate and support the work.

You could ask the teacher to contact the building administrator and schedule a meeting between all three of you. OR, you could say that you will email the administrator and Cc the teacher to schedule a meeting. Either way, just be communicative and transparent. Keep things positive and goal oriented. Stay student-centered and do your best to remain focused and calm.

At the meeting with the administrator and teacher, provide a quick but detailed account of the issues and concerns and what you and the teacher have been discussing and working on. The principal will likely ask you and the teacher lots of questions so they can fully understand the situation.

The hope and goal is that the administrator will be able to clearly understand the situation and put in place a plan that implements the appropriate changes to help move things forward. The principal might also be able to better explain to you how and why the current IEP is perfectly in line with your child’s current needs.

Depending on the school and district, the next step could be to a Director of Special Education.

I know this seems like a lot of hoops to jump through and I just want you to note that I’m outlining a path that is less typical and more extreme. But I want you to have all the information you need, just in case! The vast majority of issues and concerns are addressed and remedied by simply engaging the teacher.

Remember, you are the expert when it comes to your child. You know him or her far more intimately than other members of the IEP team. You know what your child needs, so it’s important to collaborate with the teachers. This gives them a well-rounded picture of what your child can benefit from.

Keep in mind that often kids at home and kids at school can be very different too! So be sure to seek the understanding of the school end of things as well. Oftentimes what a child engages in at school can be what we call non preferred tasks. So the school team can experience more examples of resistance that may be different from the home setting. 

I’ve always worked with families to ensure our systems of feedback, routine, and communication were in line so that the child receives the most consistency between school and home. Talk to your child’s teacher about the routines, systems, expectations, and accountability measures you use at home and seek their advice as well.

Request Data

A well-written IEP should be chock-full of data. If there is no data to support goals, placement, modifications, or other aspects of the IEP, request that data. 

Compiling data might help you see why certain modifications or goals exist. If the teacher has not previously collected data, this might also make him or her realize that parts of the IEP were not appropriate. 

Enlist the Help of a Special Education Advocate 

After preliminary discussions and requests are not fruitful, a special education advocate might be your next best step. An advocate can help you read through the current IEP, suggest changes, and be present during IEP meetings

An advocate can be particularly helpful if you feel that the IEP team is not taking your questions and concerns seriously. Although I hope that would NEVER be the case, it can happen.

Request an Update to the IEP

If your previous conversations and requests have not yielded a more well-written IEP, request that the IEP be updated or re-written. You have the right to request that the IEP be updated with new data at any time. You don’t need to wait for a scheduled review. 

Request an IEP Meeting

Request an IEP meeting, and make sure every member of the IEP team will be there. This is an excellent way to make sure your voice is heard and ensure there is no miscommunication. You do not need to wait for a specific time to request a meeting. 

Legally, every member of the IEP team is required to attend. Due to teachers’ busy schedules, sometimes general education teachers don’t attend the entire meeting. You have a right to reschedule a meeting if every member of the team is not present for its entirety. If this is important to you, request ahead of time that every member of the team be present for the whole meeting. This can help you avoid needing to reschedule. 

During the meeting, your child’s teacher should have data to support your child’s goals. If they don’t provide this data, request that they show it to you. 

Another way to address a poorly-written IEP during the meeting is to share information about your child. If the teacher is not asking you for input, share it anyway. Help the IEP team by painting the full picture of who your child is and how much they need support both at home and at school.

If the meeting didn’t go the way you hoped, you don’t have to sign the IEP. You have the right to keep working for something that’s appropriate for your child and their needs.

Ask a Doctor for Suggestions

You can also consider enlisting support from your child’s doctor, psychiatrist, or another evaluator. If your child has a diagnosis, ask the evaluator to write a list of supports that might be beneficial for your child. This can be helpful information for the IEP team to have. You can also sign a consent for release of information so that school personnel can speak directly with the healthcare provider. This is often helpful for the school team so they can have a back and forth dialogue in better understanding your child’s needs.

Enlist Legal Help

If you have taken every step above and your child’s IEP is still not satisfactory, consider legal involvement. This is definitely the last resort if you’re asking for my advice. At this point, all sides have likely reached a point where there can be little to no resolution. As a special education teacher, this just makes my heart sink! I won’t go into too much detail here as it’ll be between you and your legal council. I just hope you, your child, your child’s teacher and school never ever get to this point! As a mother and parent, I know you have to do what you feel is best and right for your kid!

The Bottom Line

You know your child best, and you know if his or her IEP isn’t right. As difficult as it can be, continue to advocate for your child as long as you need to. There are many supports available to you, and you don’t need to settle for an IEP that is poorly written. 

I’m in Your Corner

If you are struggling to understand your child’s IEP or you believe the IEP is poorly written, leave a comment or question below! You can also email me! 

What have your experiences advocating for your child’s IEPs been like? How did you know the IEP was poorly written? What strategy did you use that was successful in getting an IEP improved? I’d love to hear from you and I know our readers would love it too!

About the author

Emily Cummings

I am a mom of two crazy, amazing, independent, little feminists. They bring so much light to my life and a lot less sleep. Since becoming a mother and increasingly in the last year, I have witnessed parents struggling to connect with their child's special education team with no success. I have become more aware of the gaps in our public school system and how parents may benefit from empowerment and advocacy tools.

My work experiences range from a juvenile detention center to an autism specialist in the Issaquah School District and a special education teacher in a self-contained program in the Lake Washington School District. My master's in teaching focused on special education and behavioral disorders from Seattle Pacific University. I completed my BCBA coursework from Montana State University.

Want to get in touch?

I'm happy to help however I can. Email me at hello at behaviorist .com.

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