Let’s face it, Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) are way too difficult to understand. They are full of jargon, acronyms and hard-to-parse technical language. And even for veteran parents or advocates, trying to get to the bottom line of what any IEP is doing (or trying to do) can be practically impossible.

Here’s one idea. How about at the start of every IEP meeting, the IEP case manager and the parent(s) (and the child if age appropriate) all share their big picture idea of what the child needs and how the IEP can help get them there.

What I’m proposing is different from the usual recitation of present levels of performance or specific goals or service minutes. The aim here is to help the team think about IEPs in a jargon-free way so that teachers and parents can share their collective vision for the child.

Just like every successful organization has a clear mission statement, successful education plans should do the same thing. Put another way, if your child’s IEP team can’t explain in a paragraph or two what your child needs and how the team can support it, then you’re probably lost in the education jargon woods.

Keep in mind, these summaries are not meant to replace IEPs. But if written (or spoken!) correctly, they can help your child’s team prioritize the work and stay focused on what really matters.

Here are some examples:

Thomas is a 6th grader who reads at around a 3rd grade level. He struggles with transitions and needs help staying organized. This year our goal as a team is to help Thomas become a better reader, navigate transitions with less help from adults, and stay on top of his class and homework assignments.

Katrina is a 2d grader who needs help communicating her wants and needs. This year we will work on developing a consistent way for her to communicate with her teachers, classmates and staff. We will try different devices with the help of the speech language pathologist, so that we can make sure she is improving her communication skills every day.

Tara is a 9th grader who is worried about transitioning to high school. Autism makes it hard for her to handle change in her life. This year, our team will focus on making sure Tara is supported across the school with the accommodations she needs to be successful in the classroom and in all other settings.

Next up: the most important question to ask at the end of any IEP meeting.