When your child has a disability, all of the additional responsibilities required can be overwhelming. The amount of documents your child accumulates is massive, and it can be easy as parents to just put the progress reports, testing, and IEPs aside to focus on the present. But organizing those documents and looking back is essential to ensuring your child’s IEP is effective.
Step 1: Acquire Your Documents
The first step in getting organized is making sure you have all the documents you need. Your file should include IEPs (both draft and final with all signatures), progress reports, evaluations, any communication between you and the school, and work samples if applicable.
If you do not have all of your child’s paperwork, you can get records from your school system by sending a letter requesting a full copy of your child’s file. Most states have regulations that give the school system a certain time period by which records need to be returned to you. Be sure to keep a copy of your letter for your file!
Step 2: Organize a Master File
Having an organized master file will give you a chance to read your child’s records like a story. In order for you to be an active participant in your child’s IEP meeting, it is important for you to review the prior year’s IEP, compare the progress reports to see if your child is making progress, chart test scores from prior testing, and review work samples.
The best way to do this is to create organized binders with a detailed table of contents to use at your next IEP meeting. These tools can ensure that the IEP team has a meaningful discussion about progress, based on the data from the past year and beyond.
Should you go digital? Having a digital file of your child’s records can ease the burden of keeping track of documents and allow you to access records from anywhere. It can also be a lifesaver if disaster ever strikes your home. Once records are scanned, they can be uploaded to the cloud using Google, Dropbox, or similar services. Wouldn’t it be great to be in a doctor’s or therapist’s office and be able to email them the documents they request right from your phone instead of going home and searching through all your paperwork?
When scanning documents, make them searchable. Then if you need to find all the documents that mention “speech,” you can just put in that key word and they will come up in the window.
Step 3: Chart and Graph Your Evidence
It is important to go beyond organization and to chart and graph the evidence you have in the file. Charting past progress reports against IEP goals can show you in one visual your child’s rate of progress, and can be a powerful handout at your next IEP meeting.
Progress reports can also be a good visual of regression, and thus a piece of evidence you can use to make the case for extended school year services. By completing this task, many parents have realized IEP teams have moved on to new goals when developing the next IEP, when their child never met prior goals. Or they may have repeated goals so that a child is working on them for two IEP cycles without changing the way the goal is being taught. In addition, as IEP teams change, past goals can be repeated without team members realizing the goal had been used in prior IEPs.
Every child who is eligible for an IEP is evaluated by the school district at least every three years and many parents seek independent evaluations outside of school. Once the team reviews these evaluations and recommendations, they are rarely ever discussed again. Graphing past test results can visually show your team if your child is making progress or falling further behind. Many parents also feel a visual representation of evaluation test results is easier to understand and can help to build team consensus.
Step 4: Watch Your Emotions and Get Help
Undertaking these efforts can be emotionally draining as reviewing the documents often brings back strong memories of experiences that were less than pleasant. It can also cause some parents a great deal of anxiety as the road to secure a free and appropriate public education often still lays ahead. Those emotions can be overwhelming and derail the best of intentions. This is where companies like The Special Organizer, a special education advocate, or an attorney can help. The skill and expertise required to undertake these efforts for us are not interwoven with the emotions of motherhood, fatherhood, or guardianship.
Your next meeting for your child does not have to leave you exhausted, confused and wary. Taking these steps to organize and analyze your child’s file will empower you to persuasively and effectively advocate for you child’s needs. The proof you need to support your position is likely in those piles of data and fact filled documents. This is why I started my company, The Special Organizer. I wanted to help families unlock the hidden potential of their child’s documents and give them a clear view of their child’s strengths and weaknesses through organization, charting of goals and test data and analysis of what is missing in the records.