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  • Michelle Mason, Ph.D.

Special Education Pitfalls--And what you can do about them.


What is an IEP?

An IEP is an Individualized Education Program. It is a legal document. Law requires the schools to follow it. It is intended to protect the child with a disability to ensure that he or she is getting access to appropriate educational services, accommodations, modifications, and more.

The keyword here is individualized. Every child with an IEP should have a program set up that helps them reach their potentials. Recently (2017), the Supreme Court ruled that a student should not receive minimal benefit from the IEP. Instead, the IEPs should help children improve as much as they can. This gave more support that the schools really must put an individualized program in place to help your child.

Common Problems

1. The IEP is not implemented correctly. Sadly, this is a huge problem. I have recently been to several IEP meetings where the school staff stated that the child was not receiving the services listed in the IEP. I have also heard the staff tell the parent that they were not receiving the accommodations documented in the IEP. This is an obvious example where a parent could file a state complaint. Also, the student can receive compensatory services (make-up sessions/instruction) for the services missed.

2. Parents have a difficult time getting their child assessed. I could do an entire blog post on this issue and probably will soon. The most important step is to request an assessment for special education services in writing (preferably in a certified letter). This will allow you to leap over a lot of obstacles to getting your child tested for special education.

3. School personnel say that they do not offer Service X for children with Disability Y. Students cannot be excluded from a service because they have a specific disability. A service must be offered, if the service would help the child succeed.

4. Schools tell parents that their child cannot receive services because the school district cannot afford it. I can sympathize that school districts run on tight budgets. However, a school cannot refuse to provide services for a child because they do not have the money. They are obligated to provide the support that your child needs regardless of cost.

5. A child’s behavior is preventing them from learning. If a child is disruptive, then there will probably be an acknowledgment that there is a problem in the IEP. There will also probably be a behavior goal and/or a behavior plan. However, if your child is distracted or passively not working, then their behavior is often not acknowledged in the IEP. If your child is consistently not working in class, then there should at least be a behavior goal. If the problem is more severe, then there should be a behavior plan developed by a behavior specialist.

6. Work samples are difficult to interpret. Sometimes your child’s teachers bring work samples to meetings. While it is great to see what your child is working on, most parents, because they are not teachers, do not understand whether the work is at grade level or how close to grade level it is. It is also common that teachers will not say how well the child is doing even if the parent specifically asks.

Another issue is that some of the samples brought to the meeting are examples of work the child has done with a lot of help from an adult. Often the school staff do not tell the parents that this is not a sample of independent work.

Parents need to see:

a. Independently completed work.

b. Anonymous samples of superior, average, and below- average work. This will help a parent see how their child compares to their peers.

7. Understanding the assessment report can be difficult. Once the school district staff completes the assessment, they must provide an assessment report to the parent and review it. There must also be a re-evaluation every three years. Schools often do a very poor job describing what the assessment means. I have been in IEP meetings where the school psychologist just reads the report. In other IEP meetings, the evaluators just a review of the scores. None of this is comprehensible for the typical parent.

At the least, ask for the assessment report before the meeting so you can review it. As you review it, write questions about what you don’t understand. Bring these questions to the meeting. It is important that you understand the assessment results because the information in the report should be used to create the IEP.

In Closing…

Navigating the special education process is a daunting task! Most special education providers have spent years learning special education pedagogy and special education law (most have master’s degrees). If you need help, don’t forget I offer a FREE 45-minute phone consultation.


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