Student Involvement in the IEP Process
When parents, students, and even other educators find out that I involve elementary aged children in the IEP and CSE process, I'm often met with odd stares or quizzical looks. After the initial shock wears off that a CHILD could possibly be involved in such "adult" matters, I'm often asked "why?" or "what makes you want to do this?" or even "how does it really help?" Well, the short answer is I believe that students who are self-aware and can advocate for themselves are more likely to set attainable goals and reach them. The long answer to all of those questions, take me back to my senior year of undergrad. For a senior seminar course, my classmates and I were required to read Why is this Cake on Fire?. After feeling like the author was really just trying to tug at the readers heart strings, I started to think about the article more deeply. Why weren't students being involved? Why should they wait until a specific age to then be invited into a process that had likely been taking place for a few years? As a graduate student, I knew this was a topic of interest for me. I chose to read peer-reviewed articles in professional education journals based around self-determination and student involvement in the CSE process. I compiled annotated bibliographies outline research that had been conducted. It was an interest that wasn't going away any time soon.
When I began my teaching career I had three sixth grade students attend their CSE meetings. It was a good first step, but looking back I wish I had done more. Since then, I've supported students as young as 4th grade through their IEP meeting. Each year I get a little better at not only preparing my students for their CSE meeting, but also at continuing the conversation throughout the year with progress monitoring of goals. I’ve met some road blocks along the way. There are very few professional development opportunities for student involvement in the CSE process (especially at the elementary level), few professional texts, and a lack of materials to support families and students. To that end, I’ve created resources to facilitate conversations around IEPs with both parents and students. Please feel free to use, modify, and share the materials I have included here.
Of course, having a strong relationship with parents is absolutely paramount to students' success. Prior to CSE meetings and discussing IEPs with students, I send home an informational letter and a parent's guide to student involvement in the IEP process.
After securing parent support, I being by having my students complete an IEP scavenger hunt. This allows them to become more familiar with the components of their own IEP. I scaffold this differently based on individual student needs and if they are have attended their IEP meeting in the past. We also complete a learning style survey available here. Student then begin working on powerpoints. The template of the powerpoint is adapted from http://www.imdetermined.org/. We add student pictures to the first and last page. This way, if students only present at their CSE meeting and do not stay for it's entirety, the student is still at the forefront of our mind.
After the IEP Meeting
After the IEP meeting I follow up with reflective questions to gauge students feelings, understanding, and perceptions of the IEP meeting. I generally use www.surveymonkey.com so the students can complete it online and the responses are sent directly to me. (Hard copy is posted below). Additionally, my students and I work together to create "goal folders" in which we collect, organize, and store data that relates to their individual IEP goals.
IEP Meeting Reflection
A Final Thought
Inviting students into the CSE process is certainly not easy, but it is so rewarding and well worth the time and energy. When students are self-reflective and self-aware, learners they can then self-advocate...after that, they're unstoppable. Students are more likely to take an interest in their annual goals, and met (or even exceed) them! CSE Meetings become more positive and student centered. The adults around the table tend to focus more the the ABILITIES of the child and not the disability. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you are a parent or teacher who is interested in having children attend and participate in their CSE meetings. I would love to share resources and ideas with you to further our students' education. :)