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Have you ever been in a situation as a parent, student, or even teacher where you felt like the others around are talking in a secret code? This happens more often than we like to admit! Even when I am with my husband and his friends, they start talking compressors, horsepower, and torque I start to zone out; I have no clue what those things mean, nor are they important to me.

Zoning out is not an option when you are sitting at an IEP table. Every word and acronym used in a discussion is important for every stakeholder. Jargon is words that used by a specific profession or group. Using language and words that are accessible and defined for all members are critical for a successful meeting. The education field is full of words and acronyms very specific to profession. Occasionally, educators forget who their audience is and usually that is not intentional. The jargon educators use on a regular basis is second-nature. Because it is second nature, does not make it okay.

There are a few things educators and caregivers can do to ensure understanding for everyone involved.

  • As you are preparing for your meeting, elements that you know are based in professional language should be pre-planned. Write out your descriptions for these sections.

  • In documents, define the words and acronyms as you use them.

  • After a few sentences, look up and read the room. Does every member look like they fully understand and are engaging in the conversation?

  • Pre-read documents sent home and annotate them. Highlight, underline, and circle words and phrases that you do not fully understand. Don't forget to bring this with you to the meeting!

  • As someone is sharing, give a verbal or visual cue letting the sharer know that something they said was not clear.

  • Do not be afraid to ask a question! Here are some possible sentence stems:

    • "Could you clarify what ___ means?"

    • "What did you mean when you said, __?"

    • "Would you describe what __ looks like?"

    • "What does __ stand for?"

    • "Could you provide an example of __?"

It is important the caregivers understand what is being shared to be an active participant in the meeting. A few intentional moves creates a team that can work together in the best interests of the student.

  1. PLAAFP. This is an acronym for a section of the IEP. It stands for Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance. This should be a very LARGE, "meaty" section of the IEP that includes not only where a child is struggling, but what they also demonstrate strength in. This needs to be updated yearly. A parent input statement is also part of this section of the IEP. Here you provide information about your child, your concerns about their programming, and your goals for their future. You can describe what they do at home. This section to align directly with their goals, as it drives what goals they should be working towards.

  2. GOAL. A goal on an IEP is based on skills your child needs to work towards to close educational gaps. Academic goals should align with curriculum standards and provide information on what they are working towards, how they will demonstrate it, and at what accuracy they should be expected to reach within ONE year. Goals can be academic, behavioral, functional, and vocational.

  3. PROGRESS. Progress in regards to the IEP is growth, or lack of growth. You should be given regular progress reports (frequency defined in the IEP) that note your child's progress toward the IEP Goals (NOT GRADES).

  4. SERVICES. Services define who, what, where, and when your child will receive specially designed instruction towards their IEP goals and objectives. This should be described in detail to ensure anyone who is working with your child knows when a child will receive instruction on their goals to close educational gaps.

  5. ACCOMMODATIONS. Accommodations ensure access to instruction, assessments, and extracurricular activities. This does not change what, or how much a student is learning, but rather how they access it.

  6. MODIFICATIONS. Modifications change what a child is expected to learn or do. A child who is working towards a high school diploma should not have modifications in regards to academic activities and work. If they are struggling, we should look more closely on how the child successfully accesses instruction and demonstrates understanding.

  7. ASSESSMENTS. Everything in education can be considered in assessment! Assessments can be formal or informal, but they measure students ability either against a standard norm, grade level expectations, age, or self. PLAAFPs should incorporate a comprehensive approach towards students abilities, including the formal assessments that qualify the student for the special education services. Parents and teachers can always requests assessments if there is a question, concern, or even suspected mastery.

  8. DISCREPANCY.Discrepancy describes the difference between where your child is performing and expected to perform. This is typically used when discussing assessment results, but may be used at other times.

  9. PERCENTILE. A percentile shows how well your student performed in regards to the expected performance for a student in that grade or age. As a point of reference, a percentile rank of 50 is average. Lets say we have 100 students ranked based on performance from 1 to 100. If a student performed at the 30th percentile rank, they performed as well as OR better than 30 students, and below average. If a student performed in the 70th percentile, they scored as well or better than 70 other students and above average.

  10. FBA/BIP. An FBA is a Functional Behavior Assessment. If a teacher (or you) are noticing concerning behaviors that impact a child's ability to access the curriculum, the team should consider an FBA. This tells us WHY a student is doing a particular behavior. This should be a behavior that is defined and measurable for more than one instance. A BIP is a Behavior Intervention Plan. A BIP should only be written AFTER and FBA has been completed. A BIP should define the target (inappropriate) behavior, the replacement behavior, and strategies. Strategies should be listed within the IEP and the replacement behaviors should be a goal within the IEP.

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