I get it-school IEP plans are confusing, cumbersome and overwhelming.

Most parents come to me with nothing more than a gut feeling. You know something is not right, but you don’t know where to begin. Is your child’s IEP sufficient? How can you tell? With so much paperwork in front of you, how do you know what is missing?

Almost 10 years ago, I knew something wasn’t right with my child’s IEP, so I signed up for a {very expensive!} Special Education Advocacy course. By the end of that course, I was determined to share my knowledge with other parents.

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How to fix your child's IEP
This is a long post, but worth it, I promise!

Because after a decade of training, working, workshops and conferences, I am still blown away by two things:

  • How much there is to know about IEPs.
  • How NONE of it is explained in plain language to parents.

So that’s what we’re going to do. Dig in, using plain language and guiding you through the process. I have attended hundreds of IEP meetings and this is the formula I use for almost every client.

Set up your IEP Troubleshooting Workspace

Before you begin, you need to set up your workspace. While you are going thru the 5 steps, you are going to need:

  1. Your child’s IEP (a copy that you can write on!)
  2. Your child’s most recent evaluation reports (again, you’ll be writing on it!)
  3. A notebook
  4. Pens, highlighters
  5. Internet access
  6. Download the IEP Goal Tracker (below)

Please know that some parts of this IEP troubleshooting may take you more than a day to complete. No worries, just bookmark this post, or pin it, and come back to it as you have time. But, make a commitment to move on.

How to Track IEP Goals

Here is the IEP Goal Tracking Worksheet. I also have another whole post on IEP Progress Monitoring. You’re probably not ready for that yet, but know that it’s here.

IEP Goal Information

Now, you should have your workspace set up so that you are ready to tackle this project. Yes, it’s a project. Much like scrubbing toilets, I wish I didn’t have to spend time doing this. But I do.

So let’s be the best IEP Advocate that we can for our kids. And that takes time, hard work and stepping out of our comfort zone and learning new things.

Evaluation Reports and Present Levels

As I said on the first page, most IEP parents come to me with nothing more than a gut feeling that something isn’t right. That’s what we’re going to do now.

Define it. A solid IEP starts with solid strengths and areas of need defined.

First, I want you to take out the notebook and pen that I asked you to get yesterday. I also have a checklist at the bottom of this page for you to use. Yes, another checklist–this one is for IEP Present Levels.

Open a page and write “define it” at the top.

Now, sit and brainstorm. What are all of your child’s areas of need? And I don’t necessarily mean diagnoses.

What skills are they lacking? Social, academic, behavior, executive functioning or working memory? Are there learning disabilities that you see? Physical disabilities. I mean, list it all.

Any and all areas of need.

Next, take out your child’s most recent IEP Evaluation Reports and IEP. I want you to read them with a highlighter. For the IEP, you don’t need to read the entire thing. Just the Present Levels section. Different states call it different things, but there should be a section that has something like “Present Levels” at the beginning.

As you read both the IEP and the Evaluation Reports, highlight the areas of need that are identified.

Lastly, match up the areas of need that you have highlighted with your list.

Are all of your concerns listed as areas of need?

If not, then all areas of “suspected disability” have not been identified, have they? 

Writing a Letter to your IEP Team.

You need your district to identify what is missing from your IEP. So you’re going to create one giant letter to your school. No more asking for one small thing one time, and then something else two weeks later. We’re going to tackle all of it, right now. And request either evaluations or an IEP meeting, or both.

So, start your IEP email. But do not send it. Yet. Today you’re just going to write it and save it.

Read: Present Levels, the most important section of the IEP.

Writing Goals for your IEP Plan.

First, you made sure that you have identified all areas of suspected disability. And, working toward getting the school to identify the same.

Now, we’re taking a look at the goals in your IEP plan.

I still want you to use the list that you earlier–the list of all the areas of need you think your child has.

But now, get out that IEP again and flip to the goals section.

Read them and re-read them. And, match them up with your areas of need.

In IEP world, we have to prioritize. Some of our kids (like mine!) are so far behind their peers and have so many areas of need, that a school cannot be expected to address all of them in a 6-hour day. (my son is programmed literally from 8-5:30 every single day, and we still don’t hit it all!)

But, did they hit the big ones? And hit your priorities?

Are those goals attainable? Are the appropriate? Are they measurable? Are they important to you and your child?

Take notes on your child’s goals while you answer these questions. Use your highlighter or write on the IEP plan.

If there is an area of need that does not have a goal, and you want a goal, you’re going to make suggestions.

And yes, I have an IEP goal bank to pick from, right here.

Read them, choose what you need and write them down or print them. Hang on to them. 

Are your IEP supports enough?

It’s funny. All the clients that I’ve had since 2010….any time any of them gets a new IEP plan in their hands, they all do the same thing.

Flip to the back to see what their child is going to “get.” They flip back to IEP Related Services. Did they cut OT hours? How much pull-out or 1:1 are they going to get? And so on.

But, using this technique, we’re not evaluating that until now. Which, hopefully, makes sense to you by now. By evaluating supports and services first, your evaluation is skewed. It might not be enough, but how do you know that if you have not read and reviewed the first two sections I had you do?

iep process flow chart

Now, you are ready to evaluate supports and services.

Do you know what your IEP rights are?
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Different states call these different things. And different IEP software puts it in different places. But basically, this is the supports, services and accommodations that your child needs and receives, in order to achieve his/her IEP goals.

This is it–the meat and potatoes. The Specially Designed Instruction, SDIs, Special Education.

Take a look at each and every item. It’s a big section, I know. But evaluate each one and think about whether or not it is working. Ask your child. Engage them. What could they use that they currently aren’t getting?

And yes, like the previous two lessons, write on your IEP plan. Use your highlighter and take notes.

Need ideas? Parents often say “I just wish that I knew of a list of what was available for my child.”

Schools don’t keep such a list. But I do.

You know your next assignment, right? Start a list of IEP accommodations and strategies that need to be added or changed. Use that link for ideas.

But still, hang on to it. We’re almost done, I promise.

My IEP Plan is fine. It’s just not followed.

This is common. You worked so hard, advocating to get a solid IEP plan. Now, it’s not being followed consistently.

In this scenario, you have two things to do:

  1. Read this blog post about “My IEP is not being followed.”
  2. You are still going to do a letter, but the meat and potatoes of your letter will be a bit different. You will instead list your concerns about what parts of your IEP plan are not being followed, and how it is impacting your child.

So, keep going with this exercise, just to make sure you don’t miss anything. But you can still use the IEP Letter Template at the end to request a meeting.

How to Write a Letter to your IEP Team.

Take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back. You are officially over the hump.

The heavy lifting is done. Now you’re going to fine-tune it.

I’ve asked you to take lots of notes on your child’s IEP and make lots of lists.

Now you’re going to compile it into one letter: The Best Parent Concerns Letter you’ve ever written.

Starting it is simple. 

“Dear IEP Team, I would like to request an IEP team meeting because I have some parent concerns regarding my child’s IEP plan. Here they are:”

And you’re going to list them.

ALL of them?


You’re thinking, “But my list is HUGE.”

That’s ok. It may be. But a huge list of IEP parent concerns should only happen one time. Going forward, you’re going to know how to handle these concerns as you go along, so your list shouldn’t ever be this long again.

And remember, taking a concern off the list doesn’t remove the concern…

It’s ok if you want to prioritize and tackle some of your concerns at a later time. But removing them from the list only removes them from your list. It doesn’t remove them from life.

Need a template? I’ve got some. I’m also including a template on the next page.

Take a day or two or seven and write your parent concerns letter. But don’t send it. Yet.

IEP Letter Templates

You are almost ready. A few tips before you hit send:

  • This is a business letter and should have a professional tone to it.
  • Stay focused on facts, not feelings.
  • Never assume intent. Again, stay focused on facts, and do not try to figure out “why” people do things.

Here is a template to get you started. Use it as a guide. Insert your specifics, but I recommend keeping much of the language. If you notice, it is direct, yet professional.

If you change it, you want to keep the same solid language. Use “I am requesting….” and not “gee, would it be ok if I could please ask….” You get my point.

Sleep on it. Proofread it. And hit send.

How will your email be received? Hard to tell. It varies. But it’s something you had to do. This will likely be the longest and hardest IEP that you’re going through.

But, IEP concerns don’t go away just because they’re not brought up.

And this issue didn’t develop overnight so it’s not going to be solved overnight. 

There will be meetings and lots more emails going back and forth.

Remember that all of your concerns must be addressed in a PWN. All.Of.Them.

By now, you might be mentally exhausted. That’s ok. It happens. Take a break and get some rest. You’re going to need it because the letter is just the first step.

As you have gone through this process, you might be saying, “Never again! I am NEVER letting this happen again.”

And that can be a real possibility. Just stay engaged in these 5 parts of the process.

Waiting for the IEP Meeting

While you wait for your team to get back to you about the IEP meeting, it’s a good time to prepare for that meeting. And, educate yourself on the parts of the IEP that you need assistance with.

I get it, I do. My brain is so full of IEP information, it’s tough for me to fit other stuff in there! And now, you have a whole lot of stuff to read about IEP meetings.

But, we have to do this, for our kids. I’ll leave you with this: you are NOT alone. There are literally millions of other parents in your shoes.

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