Roles of Families & Students
IDEA '04 stresses the importance of involving families of students with disabilities in the IEP process. The IEP process itself can help develop partnerships among parents and extended family members, schools, and professionals (Sopko, 2003). The importance of these partnerships cannot be overestimated (Dabkowski, 2004).
When parent involvement is high, student alienation is lower and student achievement is enhanced (Brown, Paulsen, & Higgins, 2003; Dworetzky, 2004). Educators need to recognize, however, that many parents believe the schools control the special education process. Too many families feel disenfranchised or confused about rules, regulations, and the purpose of special education (Cartledge, Kea, & Ida, 2000). Most parents want to participate in their children's education, but sometimes they do not understand the educational system.
Also, families often need help to participate effectively in IEP meetings and in the resulting individualized programs (Tornatzky, Pachon, & Torres, 2003). Here are some tips teachers can give parents to help them be better prepared for participation in IEP meetings (Buehler, 2004):
- Make a list of important questions to ask IEP team members.
- Outline points to make about your child's strengths.
- Bring records regarding your child's needs.
- Ask for clarification.
- Be assertive and proactive, but not aggressive or reactive.
- Listen and compromise.
- Remain involved with professionals.
- Know about placement and service options, and explore each with the team.
For families who do not speak English well enough to understand the complicated language used to talk about special education issues, participation may seem impossible (Hughes, Valle-Riestra, & Arguelles, 2002). In such instances, schools must welcome family members and people from the community who are fluent in the family's native language and also knowledgeable about the special education process and procedural safeguards guaranteed them through IDEA '04. The law encourages the family's maximal participation, so it requires schools to find interpreters to the extent possible. Remember, it is the obligation of educators to include parents and students and to inform them about the efforts that will be made on their behalf.
Roles of Students
IDEA '04 strongly suggests that students be involved in the development of their own IEPs. Surprisingly, many students are unfamiliar with their IEPs, not knowing its contents or the goals established for them (Lovitt & Cushing, 1994). One result is a lack of "ownership" in the school program especially designed for them. Involving students has many benefits (Test et al., 2004). Particularly if they are active participants, they can learn important skills needed in life. Here are two examples. Self-determination is the ability to identify and achieve goals for one's self. Self-advocacy comprises the skills necessary to stand up and explain what you need to achieve those goals. These two skills are inter-related and can be fostered during the IEP process if students are involved (Wood et al., 2004). Here are some ways for older students to contribute to their IEP meetings:
- Describe their strengths, weaknesses, and needs.
- Evaluate their progress toward accomplishing their goals.
- Bring a list of accommodations, and explain how each is helpful.
- Communicate their preferences and interests.
- Articulate their long-term goals and desires for life, work, and post-secondary schooling.
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