IEP 101: Organize Your IEP Binder
As we mentioned in The Paper Chase, you may want to consider having two binders: a master binder (which you’ll add to all year long) and a smaller binder that you'll bring to the IEP meeting, which includes copies of the documents that support your main questions and concerns. Here, we’ll explain which documents to include in your binders and how to use them during the meeting.
The Master Binder
Think of your master binder as a year-long project. If you add to it all year — using this list of common documents as a guide for what to include — it won’t be an overwhelming task come IEP time. Then, when you sit down to look at your child’s work and progress (or lack thereof) across an entire year, you will have a better perspective. You can see when you asked questions and how they were answered. You can look at the date when your child successfully completed certain tasks without prompts, and ask why their work didn’t progress to the next level. Or maybe you’ll discover that they used the same worksheets all year without making any progress — seeing the big picture will help you prioritize your concerns and what you’d like to focus on when you talk to the IEP team about developing better goals and discussing whether your child’s current accommodations and services are working.
So let’s talk process. As you sit down to read your child’s story through the documents, correspondence, work samples, and assessments you’ve collected, use mini Post-Its or Page Markers to flag problems, questions, or baselines. Mark all pertinent documents with your questions. What does the story tell you? Do you have new concerns? Have you discovered patterns you didn’t notice before? These can be goal specific or encompass broader questions that address your child’s academic, social, and behavioral wellbeing at school. Write down your questions and start organizing them by topic. This document is the beginning of the list of concerns that you’ll bring with you to the IEP meeting. It will also become the top page of your meeting binder, and the first points you’ll mention when the meeting opens.
Think of your binders like taxes — keep them for at least 3 years. You may realize your child hasn’t actually progressed for years. Or maybe your child wasn’t assessed for something of which the school was aware. All of the details matter: daily, monthly, yearly, and triennially.
The Meeting Binder
Your master binder is now organized by date and tells your child’s story through their work samples, timelines, and records (and your correspondence), and you’ve flagged those pages that show their successes, strengths, and baselines (and your concerns). While you can take the entire master binder to your IEP, let’s face it — it’s probably huge. When you’re in the actual meeting, you’ll appreciate having organized your meeting binder with the documents that support your main questions and concerns.
Start by photocopying every piece of paper that you flagged. To avoid flipping back and forth, we’ll organize your meeting binder in the order in which the meeting occurs. Hint: If you like to find things quickly, you might consider developing a love for tab dividers.
- First page: your list of concerns. This is how you should open the meeting. What are the main points you want in the meeting notes? These don’t have to be exhaustive, but they should cover the biggest points you want to discuss.
- Depending on your team’s agenda, you might talk next about Present Levels of Performance. In this section of your binder, include your documentation of how the last year has gone regarding your child’s goals, accommodations, progress, etc. Be prepared to talk about these during the “baseline” discussion, when providers review which goals were met and unmet last year.
- Goals: Once the team has reviewed your child’s previous goals, they’ll move on to discussing their proposed goals for the coming year. You’ll want to organize this section by goal: include a copy of the proposed goal with a numbered list of your relevant questions, suggestions, research, and concerns around this goal and/or targeted skill set. (More on this below.)
- Finally, the team will discuss placement and related services. Include any documentation or research you’ve collected on what is or isn’t working about their placement and any related services. This includes reports from private therapists that can help inform present levels or specific needs, research about interventions specific to your child that you might have questions about, and information about inclusion or different schools you might be looking into.
Let’s talk about a few of these in more detail.
Organizing by goal
We’ve found that organizing by goal is a great way to stay organized and efficient while balancing all of the competing demands in an IEP meeting. By grouping your thoughts, papers, progress reports, research, independent data, and evidence by goal, you’ll have everything you need for the discussion at your fingertips. (If this is your child’s first elementary school IEP, you can organize these under broad categories like math, reading, comprehension, behavior — whatever areas the initial assessment identified as needing support.)
Here’s an example of what a goal section in your binder could look like. Let’s say it’s a Reading-Decoding goal. Since you requested your draft IEP several days before the IEP meeting, place draft goal #1 behind a divider section labeled Reading-Decoding. Include every document and sample you pulled from your master binder that corresponds to this goal. You may have questions about your child’s baselines or how they can better express what they know, or about the curriculum and instructional methods. Are their unique circumstances being addressed, or are they being taught in a generic fashion with one-size-fits-all materials? Have you done research about evidence-based practices in relation to your child’s specific needs? Do you have independent assessments that support specific interventions? Place anything you’ve collected around this skill and goal here.
We recommend that you include a copy of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and Common Core Connectors (CCC) appropriate to your child’s grade level, especially if you disagree with a goal. If you already have some ideas for how you want the goal to read, highlight areas of the CCSS and CCC that support your request. CCSS are a standard of learning for ALL children — if you’re stuck on how to formulate goals, let the CCSS lead you.
Let’s use inclusion as an example of a broad concern you want to raise in the meeting. You want to discuss meaningful inclusion for your child, so you should create a tabbed section in your meeting binder labeled Inclusion, which you can introduce when you feel it’s appropriate, or when placement is discussed. The first page of the section details your list of questions, concerns, and suggestions. Next, include any research, supportive assessments, and other documents you pulled on this subject for your master binder. Why do you think inclusion will benefit your child? Lay out your argument as you’ll be making it.
Another broad section you’ll want to create is Accommodations and Modifications. These are essential components driving your child’s success in school. While you should note any accommodations that are specific to each goal you want to discuss, it’s a good idea to have a master list of supports you want to discuss when you get to the Supplementary Aids and Services section.
You are well on your way to being one organized parent! And if this doesn’t come easily to you, don’t sweat it — remember that building your binders is a daily process, and that you can make them as neat or as haphazard as you need them to be. The most important thing is that you’re saving the details that tell the story of your child’s education so you can support them in getting their strengths and needs met. You got this!