IEPs & 504 Plans

The First Step to a Great IEP? Document Everything

Building an IEP is a lot like constructing a house — the whole thing will come tumbling down without a strong foundation. Here are some building tips.

A mother and daughter setting specific 504 plan goals on a computer together.
A mother and daughter setting specific 504 plan goals on a computer together.

When building an IEP, even the professionals need an instruction manual. I recommend books like My Special Needs Advocacy Resource Book! (Prufrock Press, 2008) to help develop your expert IEP-construction skills and to remind you of the underlying purpose of these plans — to deliver to your child a free appropriate public education (FAPE).

Both the IEP and the 504 Plan are the paper plans that deliver a FAPE to your child, and they also create “real life” learning programs when implemented.

A basic entitlement to FAPE means that your child’s IEP or 504 Plan must help him:
– benefit from the special education program
– make meaningful progress
– gain access to the curriculum
– be included in the school community
– keep safe from bullying
– experience success in the least restrictive setting

How to Build a Solid Foundation

If the 504 or IEP were a house, evaluations and data would be its foundation. Gather all the data possible so that the IEP or 504 has a clear baseline from which to measure your child’s progress. Pour a solid foundation by establishing your child’s needs through documented school evaluations, reports, and compilations of classroom-performance appraisals.

Many parents don’t know that the 504 plan can include special education and related services — in the general-education or special-education classroom. Many schools tell parents that the 504 can only include some light accommodations. That’s not true. And it’s up to the parents to use a magnifying glass and level to inspect the 504 plan and be sure it’s plumb and straight. It is, in some ways, more ‘wide open’ to individual services than is the IEP.

Understanding the IEP

The IEP has 10 parts.

Each of these parts is woven together in the IEP. Start by documenting your child’s needs in the first part of the IEP, the present levels of academic achievement and functional performance. Each section of the IEP that follows should address the weaknesses found in the data and evaluations.

GOALS should be Good for the child, Observable, Attainable, Logical, and Scientifically Sound (page 183 of School Success for Kids with Emotional and Behavior Disorders, Davis et. al.).

Every goal should have a data system attached to it, so that when you receive progress reports, data is included. Here are examples of good and bad goals:

Given a checklist, role or job, and a group of less than five students, Joy will initiate interactions five times with peers in a period of 20 minutes, based on behavioral data, by December 1st.

Given adult support, cues and prompts, Joy will demonstrate appropriate peer relationships 80% of the time based on informal measures by the end of the year.

The YES goal is observable, drives data collection, and is based on evaluations that can easily be understood by parents and educators.

Tweak your child’s goals” until they are measurable and observable, simple and clear. Don’t give in to the idea that a goal should include too much support such as “Given adult support, prompting, cues, Johnny will greet his peers once per day. If there is too much support written into the goal, the child cannot master the goal independently.

Hammer out the parts of the IEP by making sure you have the evidence you need to support the requests. Before you call it a day, pay close attention to the supplementary aides, services, and accommodations. As long as you can justify your child needs these to receive a FAPE, they are appropriate for the plan.

And lastly, call in support to audit the IEP if you are over your head and DIY is not working. Don’t leave the Plan full of holes and missing parts – it’s got to be complete to deliver that FAPE!