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The IEP and the Art of Asking Questions
by Noreen O’Mahoney, CSW, SDA and Eve Kessler, Esq.

mother, daughter and teacher in front of school blackboardFor children with learning disabilities, the importance of the IEP meeting cannot be overstated. The decisions your child’s team makes at those meetings establish the groundwork for his success in school.

As his primary advocate, it’s your job to help guide the process. One way to do that is to use questions to gather information and prompt meaningful discussions. But the answers you get often depend on the questions you ask. Below are basic guidelines to help you hone the art of asking questions.

Recurring Questions

At every IEP meeting there are a handful of questions that should be asked:

  • Why has this approach and program been chosen for my child?
  • What needs will the program address?
  • Who will be delivering the services and supports? How often? When? Where? And with whom, if not one-on-one?
  • How often will the program be evaluated to determine progress?

Specific Questions

As you prepare for the IEP meeting, review the most current IEP document and ask yourself a series of questions. This will help you determine the questions you want answered.

For example:

  • Are the Present Levels of [Academic Achievement and Functional] Performance pages completed? Do they reflect your child’s and your input? If not, write a list of concerns you would like the IEP to include. (Use the categories listed on the Present Levels of [Academic Achievement and Functional] Performance pages as a guide.)
  • Do you understand the goals and objectives? If not, make a note of those you do not understand and ask for clarification at the meeting.
  • Do the goals and objectives meet your child’s needs as described on the Present Levels of [Academic Achievement and Functional] Performance pages? Are they SMART —specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound? If not, rewrite them or make a note of the problematic ones, and review them at the meeting.
  • How will your child’s progress be evaluated? Who will collect and analyze the data to measure his progress? Ask for copies of the baseline data that show how he’s currently doing, which you can then compare with future data. Request that any evaluation procedure include pre- and post-intervention data.
  • If teacher observation is being used as the evaluation tool, how will the information gained be written, reported and analyzed? Does the information refer back to the goals and objectives, so you can see what was taught and how your child progressed? How will you receive written feedback from the observations?
  • How will mastery be measured? Will it be across all environments, including home and community as well as school?
  • Is the IEP document fully completed: Does it list all services and supports necessary to implement the IEP effectively, and does it represent all agreements made at the meeting?
  • Whether you’re using questions as a device to gain information, prompt discussion, or gently lead the team to a desired conclusion, question crafting is an art— one that gets better with practice.

Rules of Thumb

Ideally the questions you ask lead to a conclusion that will ensure your child’s success.

Below are general guidelines for ensuring a successful meeting:

  • Although you may be angry and frustrated, remain calm and in control at the meeting. To do otherwise is likely to provoke a defensive reaction that may not be in your child’s best interest.
  • Ask questions that focus on the problems and solutions, not on the people.
  • To generate new ideas or approaches from other team members, ask questions to which you may know the answers.
  • For clarification, paraphrase and restate questions.
  • If you do not agree, do not be afraid to ask again in an effort to negotiate an agreement.
  • Ask questions to understand the philosophy behind the staff recommendations.
  • Ask questions that will lead to your final concern.

This article is based on information presented by Noreen O’Mahoney, CSW, SDA, founder and director of Collaborative Advocacy Associates, CT, and team members Carol Labruno, Ph.D. and Jennifer Carravone, M.S.Ed., at events sponsored by Smart Kids and SPED*NET Wilton (CT). Eve Kessler, Esq., president of SPED*NET Wilton, is an attorney with The Legal Aid Society, New York City.

Previously published by SmartKids with Learning Disabilities.

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Last revised: 07/09/14

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