7 Red Flags that your IEP is Garbage. {and what to do about it!}

How to tell when you have a crappy IEP.

I’ve attended more IEP meetings than I can count. Or even care to count. I get it–parents only call in a Special Education Advocate when there’s trouble. If you were happy with things, you wouldn’t need help, right?

But what that means is that as an advocate, I get to see a lot of crappy IEPs.

And it’s a question that I get from parents often. They want to know how to tell if their IEP is solid. Is it sufficient? Is it decent? How do I know?

How to tell when your IEP is garbage.

There’s no one answer or IEP checklist. And, since kids are always changing and IEPs are fluid documents, even the best IEPs may only be good for a certain amount of time.

But as an advocate, I do know this–that there are many commonalities into what goes into a crappy IEP. So here are some things to look for, if you’re wondering about your IEP.

7 Signs that your IEP is crap.

  1. The Present Levels section does not describe your child at all. Go look at your Present Levels Section of the IEP. If you read it and didn’t see your child’s name on the forms, would you know it was them? This is your starting point. The Present Levels section of the IEP is considered by many to be the most important section of the IEP because it is the section that drives the IEP. IEPs are needs-based. The goals that are written will be based on needs listed in Present Levels.
  2. You never receive any Progress Monitoring Reports. Getting a solid IEP is just the start. And the progress monitoring section is one that often gets overlooked. Look at yours and what you should be receiving. Are you? And is it enough? If the reports show just minimal progress, is the IEP team re-convening to discuss and make adjustments? You have to think about the child’s progress all the time, not just at IEP renewal time.
  3. The IEP Goals are not meaningful or measurable. Your child’s goals are going to be based on the needs listed in Present Levels. But, they also need to be meaningful, appropriate and relatively attainable with the right supports and services. Will these goals get your child to where they can be? Are they putting your child on the right path toward your vision? I once had a client whose transition plan said, “She likes to braid hair.” How is that meaningful or measurable? You can actually build goals off of that activity, but it’s not a stand-alone goal or plan.
  4. Your IEP Meeting was a Jiffy Lube version. IEPs are supposed to be collaborative, not directive. Tell me if your IEP Meeting looks like this: You go to the meeting, not having received much if any, correspondence ahead of time. Someone reads the IEP out loud. A few points are discussed, but most of the communication is directive rather than collaborative. You sign a few forms and you’re out the door. Sound familiar? It’s a common Parent IEP Mistake.
  5. The IEP team and your family do not share the same vision. What’s the plan? College? Vocational training? If your IEP team doesn’t know what the target destination is, how can they be expected to be on the right path? You can’t map out a journey if you don’t know the destination. Sit down as a family and create your IEP Vision Statement and make sure the team is aware of it. Your child also needs to be participating in the IEP process to the maximum extent possible.
  6. IEP Goals disappear from year to year. Shameless self-plug here, but only because it’s a very necessary and useful product. I created and sell the IEP Organizer and some of the packages come with an IEP Goal Tracker. It’s a very helpful tool that allows you to track IEP goals from year-to-year as new IEPs are developed. That way goals don’t disappear. Disappearing IEP goals tells me that you have an IEP team that only considers September to May, and is not focused on age 18 or 21 like parents are. See Item 5 above. The team needs to be focused on the end result, not just this school year.
  7. The IEP Meeting is the only part of the IEP process that you participated in and you didn’t submit a Parent Concerns Letter. Parent Participation in the IEP process does not begin and end with attending the IEP meeting. You need to fully engage all year long. And, there are 5 parts of the IEP process that are particularly conducive to parent participation. You should do all of them, to the maximum extent possible. If you’re not participating, of course your IEP is not going to reflect your concerns and your priorities.

Well, there are 7 things to look out for. I’m sure there are a few more. Like, if you did do a Parent Concerns letter, and your concerns are not listed on a PWN, that’s a red flag.

But, chances are there’s overlap too. If you’re having another crappy IEP issue, you’re probably experiencing one of the above items too.

What to do

If some of the above items are happening, fix it. Engage. Get involved. I’ve listed the 5 “must do” items for parents in the IEP process. Do them. All of them. If you continue to be a passive participant in the process, you’ll continue to get mowed over. And why not? It’s easier for them to not include you, and if you’re not asking to be included they can reasonably assume you like it this way.

Not judging or shaming anyone here for what you’ve already allowed to happen. When you know better, you do better. And I get it–we all have life issues that get in the way. Illness, family issues, aging parents, job interferences and so on. But when things calm down, the focus has to return to the IEP. If speaking up and demanding to be a part of the team is out of your comfort zone, you’re going to have to find support for that somewhere. Because it’s your right per IDEA and you need to make it happen.

Otherwise, you end up as a client who calls me in February and says, “My child is graduating in May, and he’s not ready!” By then, it’s too late.




red flags that your IEP is trash
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