Developing a child’s plan for special education is a team effort, and parents are an integral part of that team. That’s because parents are a vital source of information about their child’s learning style.
While everyone recognizes the valuable role of parents, at times there can be confusion or even misinformation about whether the child’s functioning at home is relevant to the decision-making of the IEP team. So, let’s say a child struggles to finish their homework each evening, or exhibits significant anxiety at home about school – does that information belong in the IEP? And the short answer is yes, those are facts that help guide the IEP team and provide a complete picture of the child’s level of functioning.
Some background. Under federal law, IEPs must include objective information about what your child can do (the technical jargon for this is sometimes called “Present Levels of Performance” or “Present Levels” or some variation of that). The level of functioning of a student helps the IEP team figure out what your child needs to succeed in school. By way of example, the present levels could include facts about a child’s reading levels from testing, and information about how they struggle with reading, possibly because of a learning disability. That information is then used to develop reading goals and to provide services to meet those goals. Performance and functioning can encompass non-academic skills too, such as social or behavioral skills.
Special Education Pro Tip – How to include parent observations from home in the IEP – There are a number of ways parents can gather and then add information about their child’s functioning at home. These observations should be included in the Present Levels of Performance section of the IEP, and may touch on either academic or functional skills. Here’s an easy way to write them: “Parents report that at home, child [insert]” or “Parents observe that at home, child [insert]”
Some common examples of parent observations at home relevant to an IEP:
- How long does it take your child to complete a homework assignment? Parents can gather information by setting a timer, then writing at the top of the child’s homework or keeping a simple log. Example: “Maria [a third grade student] typically spends about 90 minutes on a single math worksheet. She requires a lot of adult help from her Dad to finish them.”
- Can your child keep track of school materials, papers, etc., using some type of organizational system consistently? This is a critical functional skill that students need, particularly as they get older. Example: “In the past five days at home, Connor needed multiple reminders to empty his backpack, find materials needed to do homework, and follow through on getting his backpack ready for school the next day.”
- Does your child exhibit extreme anxiety about attending school each day? That can serve both as a context clue for larger issues, and also inform possible accommodations the school could provide, such as checking in with an adult at the start of the school day. Example: “On two of the past five days, each morning prior to going to school, Kelly has experienced a significant meltdown, e.g., crying, screaming, banging walls and tables. When she is calm, she explains she doesn’t like school, is worried about everything, and doesn’t know what to do.”
Education is a partnership between home and school. Information from parents about how their child functions at home provides a more complete picture about the child’s needs, and helps the IEP team develop a better plan.