IEPs and 504s are educational studies performed typically at no cost to a parent to evaluate a students challenges and to put methods in place to allow these students to learn at the same rate as others. I was a part of countless PT meetings in my 20 years teaching, and one of my main takeaways is that the results of these efforts can vary dramatically. If applied correctly in the right circumstances, they can be life-altering for the student and allow them to gain sense of control over their academic life. If applied poorly, they can be a huge waste of time for everyone involved– teachers, administrators, parents, and consultants– without much gained for the student. But obviously a parent can have an enormous impact on the results of these sessions. Here are the main ways I would suggest to prepare for these PT meetings:
- Be the (very polite) Squeaky Wheel: While this is a more generic ‘approach-based’ pointer, I list it as number one for a reason. If you are timid in advocating for your child in these meetings, or worse only intermittently responsive, it’s difficult to foresee a super-positive result, unless it’s by luck or a noble effort of one of the other parties involved. Leaving it to chance is not wise, however. Just like in the classroom, following up with any and all questions you have is crucial because not only does it allow you to obtain that information, but it demonstrates that you have a vested interest in how the meeting (and follow-up) go, and are going to be watching what happens with a keen eye. The latter reason may be even more important than the former. However, be sure that you are polite about this- not deferential, polite. It’s a fine line but a critical one. If you come off as harsh and unreasonable, the parties involved will complete the task(if they have an ounce of integrity, which most educators do), but begrudgingly. It will make it difficult for the educators to be passionate about the goals involved though, which is highly correlated to success.
- Know the 504/IEP: Make sure you obtain a copy of the plan before the meeting and review the plan thoroughly and understand the terminology and particular results. Some of it is technical, but once you get some definitions (of same, working-memory, for example), it’s actually a fairly intuitive paradigm. For something, anything, that is not 100% clear, ask for clarification (see #1). If there is a historical record (multiple years), pull all years and review previous years for insights. Note those insights in several bullet points to bring to the meeting and raise with the teachers.
- Consider the Accommodations you Seek: Give some thought previously to what, exactly, you would like to see your child get to help with the learning process. Thinking about it on a subject by subject basis may be very useful. Having a note-taking service for a student with dysgraphia may be very helpful in Chemistry but have absolutely no value in an English class. List your child’s classes and jot down a note for each what may be helpful in terms of accommodation. To be frank, the one that is easiest to apply and on a generic basis, the most helpful, is extra time granted on assessments, but get beyond that as well. Audio books? Automatic one-on-one paper conferencing with teachers for essays? Differentiated assessment options? Obviously, a major consideration is what is reasonable for the teacher, too. If you ask for the teacher to read each word of the plan and devise an teaching/assessment solution for the student, they will smile at you, say “absolutely,” leave the room, and shuffle that report to the bottom of the drawer until June. They need a bullet-pointed list of suggestions for best way to teach/assess your student that’s as simplified as possible.
- Be Prepared to Make it a Dialogue: That being said, the discussion about best practices should be more of a dialogue. After presenting your bullet points on best practices, ask the teacher (by subject) if they have any thoughts about the best way to teach to this type of student. Ask them for an illustrative example as they describe their thoughts on it, or to hypothesize how they might do it. It will get them actually thinking about how they could work with your child in a more customized way. At the end of that dialogue, summarize or bullet-point the approaches that the teacher might take to help consolidate that information. At the end of the meeting, close with a generic version of what will happen with your child (if the administrator running the meeting doesn’t do it themselves, that is). It’s best to keep in mind that the teachers you are working with in a best case scenario are working with about 50 kids, not including any coaching or extra-curricular work they’re doing. That’s 50 sets of challenges. Simplifying and consolidating that information for them is by far the most important task in enacting actual alterations, as opposed to hypothetical ones.
At the end of the day, you want this document to produce real results, as opposed to be a lot of positive talk followed by a lot of dissipation and return to standard. A lot of flowery talk without any follow through accomplishes little. Be prepared to (politely!) follow up with his teachers a few weeks later to see how things are going. Be assertive about it while also recognizing that the teacher is balancing so many other students in addition. They are generally a very sincere and passionate group, they have a lot on their plate, so be patient and compassionate while also being assertive. Best of luck!