Monday, September 23, 2013

IEP Writing Lesson #2: Every IEP is an English 101 Term Paper

Next up on the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) writing mini-series train(wreck) is: “spelling/grammar/name errors” and “old/irrelevant information.”

Spelling/Grammar/Name Errors
These mistakes are pretty much the most rage inducing for me. I can’t say much more about this area other than: do you seriously expect me to believe that someone couldn’t take an extra ten minutes to re-read their work and hit the spell-check button on their IEP writing software? My Type-A eyes glow red writing about this. Do accidents happen? Absolutely, but not being mindful and correcting them is not okay. Spelling errors are lazy, and while some people may not be familiar with certain grammatical conventions, colleagues/supervisors are there to proof-read if there is any doubt. Even Microsoft Word can tell a writer if there are fragments and grammatical disagreements. That ten minutes of proofreading is going to look really appealing if you ever get an angry phone call from a parent (or advocate) who found the name “Demarcus” in their child’s IEP instead “Suzanne” because the writer copied/pasted un-checked work. Write every IEP like your freshman composition professor is standing behind you (I know you just checked btw).
<3 Oxford comma

Old/Irrelevant Information
While no longer as much of a problem within my building (because my team and I go over IEPs with a fine-tooth comb and I expect teachers to do the same at annual reviews), finding old/irrelevant information in IEPs from students transferring in from another site in the district or out of district is a huge problem. It is sadly commonplace to find Present Levels of Educational Performance (PLEPs) that haven’t been updated in years. This can include: wrong dates (“As of September 2010…”), referring to past grades (15yo Lily is no longer a “sixth grader”), old test scores (always have the most up-to-date data), incorrect physical/medical information (like medication name that a child no longer takes—best to leave them off completely), out-dated related service info (worst when a child no longer receives that service!), and more.

Since the IEP is a current educational “snapshot,” it should always contain the most up-to-date information and should be edited and updated at every meeting held for the student. Even if it’s just a quick amendment meeting to update a goal, make it a habit to also update the child’s curriculum-based measurement/DIBELS/AIMSweb/semester grades/number of office referrals or suspensions/strengths/preferences/etc. I understand that this could be tedious, but it doesn’t have to take a long time if you have easy access to the necessary info (or have the teacher making the edits) and will become second-nature, especially if the framework is already there. Whenever my Committee on Special Education (CSE) chairperson makes a new meeting agenda, we pop through each child’s IEP, change document and service “start” dates, clean out old data/scores, and make sure there’s no info older than the last annual review (within the year)—before writing any new information. The benefit of this is twofold: you get a current, compliant document, and if the child were to ever leave your school, the new building would have a very representative document and clear picture of where the kiddo is functioning. Err’body wins!

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IEP Writing Lesson #1: Time Saving Tricks

Before the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) mini-series even began, I had a reader ask the following question and realized I should back this train up!

"Holy do you have time to do that?!? I barely have time to go to the bathroom a few times a week! [ditto] Do you have clerical support to manage all of that?! I'm a pretty good time manager, but still...Please share how you do this!! the teachers have issues with someone else writing goals/objectives for their kids?"

Alas, I do not have any clerical support anymore for Committee on Special Education (CSE) related tasks, but when I did, she didn't take care of any IEP writing responsibilities (only filing, mailing of letters, and being a grump). Here's a few things I do that has made the IEP writing process a lot easier for me. (BTW... the below information is facilitated a great deal by the fact that I type at a ridiculous pace. If you do not type at a ridiculous pace, you will still find them useful. :) )
  1. The majority of the information that I write into an IEP is copied directly out of my psychological report and tweaked as needed. Why type it twice? Within my psych reports is classroom academic data, cognitive descriptions/strengths/weaknesses, information on study/organizational skills, social/emotional and behavioral functioning, and when appropriate, physical development information. My CSE chairperson, who does all the standardized achievement testing (e.g. Bracken, WJ-III), also has started doing this with her observations and scores. This is a HUGE time saver!
  2. Before I write my reports, I either sit down with a teacher to chat about the kiddo or, most often due to time constraints, have teachers fill out my "teacher report" form that is literally laid out exactly like a NY state IEP. That's where I get the information for my reports, which in turn gets put into the IEP itself. I also ask for state testing data, curriculum-based measurement scores, quarter grades, DIBELS, AIMSweb, etc. with that teacher report form. I hand out the form at annual review time to help teachers scaffold when they write their IEPs so they remember everything to include. 
  3. Related service providers (speech, OT, PT, vision) write all their own PLEPs and goals/objectives, so that's off our plate.
  4. During CSE meetings, I bring my laptop and type information into the IEP and Present Levels of Educational Performance (PLEP) as we go. The teacher and parent may have more information not already gathered prior to the meeting, so we want to make sure that gets entered. We also discuss goals/objectives at this time, with the teacher and team talking things out together and agreeing (the teacher gets the final say). If I have written any social/emotional goals before the meeting, we also discuss those and agree to them/make changes. 
  5. One thing I haven't figured out how to streamline yet is the Management section. In my district, the Management section is a detailed reiteration of all the program modifications, testing accommodations, and anything that "works" for a kiddo into one place, organized under the headings of "Environmental Modifications," "Human Resources," and "Material Resources." What I do is write the entire Management list during the meeting in a Word document, paste it into Management, then follow my Word doc and enter piece-meal into Program Modifications and Testing Accommodations. It's tedious, but at least they're centralized in one place and I'm not flipping through reports or scrolling around the document. This is only really a problem for initial meetings, as reevaluations and amendments should already have this completed. 
Does this all make sense? I promise, I'm not a robot (beep boop) or have more hours in my day than you. In fact, I only take work home with me maybe once a month, and it's only for half a Sunday. I guess maybe it's working "smarter" not harder? (I dislike that saying, so I apologize) 

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Saturday, September 21, 2013

IEP Writing Mini-Series!

I like to think I’m pretty good at writing Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). I pride myself on well-written work of all kinds (goes back to all those advanced English/composition classes, as well as a husband who studied journalism) and poorly written IEPs make me want to claw my eyes out. Seriously. My co-workers can attest that I pretty much Hulk-out over terrible IEPs because it means three things: 1) someone out there thought their product was acceptable and that makes me sad, 2) someone out there is lazy and/or doesn’t understand the process and could get in trouble with compliance, and 3) my team now has to clean up the mess.

“Poorly written” can mean a lot of things: unrealistic goals, a lack of quality information (or you know, any information at all), spelling/grammar errors or the wrong child’s name in the document (ugh!!), no quantifiable data, old/irrelevant information, overly negative… etc. IEPs are legally binding documents that are meant to be a holistic “snapshot” of a child’s current academic, social/emotional, and physical functioning, with appropriate accommodations and modifications to meet their needs, and goals to work on for the school year. That means they’re pretty stinkin’ important.

Since starting at my building four years ago, I’ve slowly taken over writing all initial and reevaluation IEPs from my Committee on Special Education (CSE) chairperson, who admits that it isn’t her strong suit. I definitely did not receive much/any training on IEP writing during graduate school, and have picked things up from supervisors/mentors, in-services, and reading exemplar IEPs. I’ve supported my special education teachers on how to write quality IEPs during annual review time through in-services and consultation. While I’m by no means an expert, I hope that small changes and education can lead to documents that are more in compliance, more representative of the student, and staff members who better understand the IEP writing process. As such, I’m going to start a mini-series here on the blog to tackle some of the “poorly written” IEP issues that come up most often! Keep in mind that I am no expert and am only sharing what I’ve learned along the way. Also remember that I’ll be discussing the way my district writes IEPs and that may not be representative of your district/area/state, but that general tips and tricks can translate into better documents anywhere.

Catch up on all the IEP writing mishaps and blunders here!

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