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Special Education

Downs Syndrome Man Sitting With Home Tutor Using Laptop For Lesson At Home

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) gives parents the right to equal participation in the development of their child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP). Whether you’re new to the IEP planning process or a veteran, you may have questions about your role as a member of the IEP team and how much you can offer. Know this: you may not be an expert about the IEP planning process, but you are the expert on your child! Your input is critical to ensuring success. You’re the historian and visionary of the team.

In order for your child to get the most out of his or her educational career, it will be important to know where you are headed. Many parents have a difficult time thinking about what the future holds for their child. But the future is coming – ready or not – and it will be here before you know it! The sooner you can look ahead and plan the better. Your vision is your why. It gives you direction. It is the reason why you make the decisions you make. Decisions made create consequences. Without the direction of a vision to guide you, you may end up somewhere else – somewhere you don’t want to be.

It is better to look ahead and prepare than to look back and regret.

Jackie Joyner Kersee

Before we continue, let’s start with a review of IDEA 2004: Purposes and Key Definitions, for they lay the foundation and guide its many detailed requirements.

Generally speaking, the purpose of I.D.E.A. is to ensure children with disabilities have access to a “free appropriate public education”

that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and to prepare students for further education, employment and independent living.

Determining the special education services for a child is done through a strategic, step-by-step planning process. A process that crumbles if the foundation is cracked, a critical step in planning is missed or out of order, or planning takes place without thoughtful discussions based on the individual needs of the child. Gathering information and asking questions can make a big difference. Let’s take a closer look.

Wherever your child is in the special education process, there is valuable information to help you. With knowledge of the ARD/IEP planning process, you, as a parent, can be more involved and better prepared to take an active role in your child’s education. The following pages will provide information, tips, tools, and resources to include in your ARD/IEP toolbox. We hope you find them helpful.

Online publications

Notice of Procedural Safeguards

* Pay close attention to the information about Prior Written Notice – PWN.

This document, produced by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), is intended to meet this notice requirement and help parents of children with disabilities understand their rights under IDEA.

Parents Guide to the ARD Process

The guide is designed to give readers a better understanding of the special education process and of your procedural rights and responsibilities so that you will be able to fully participate in the decision-making process regarding your child’s education.

IDEA Manual, A Guide for Parents and Students About Special Education Services in Texas, 2016 Edition

This manual is designed to help parents and students become familiar with the requirements of IDEA and Texas law so you can act as an equal partner in planning your child’s education.

Online resources

Texas Project First

This site provides accurate and consistent information about the ARD/IEP planning process to parents and families of students with disabilities.

Timeline Decision Tree: The Child-Centered Special Education Process

This timeline is an interactive tool designed to help users understand the legal requirements of the special education process.

The Legal Framework for the Child Centered Special Education Process

This site includes frameworks, publications, and resources helpful in the special education process. There is a glossary of terms and acronyms, links to laws, rules and guidance; and a search feature.


This site includes reliable information about special education law, education law, and advocacy for children with disabilities.

IEP agenda

The IEP Agenda is another tool to consider. The agenda is a visual reminder of the planning process and the order in which decisions should be made.

Sample IEP agenda


Purpose of IEP meeting

Interpreter if needed


  1. Review Evaluation Data and Other Information
  2. Determination of Eligibility
  3. Transition Planning
  4. Review Present Levels of Academic and Functional Performance (PLAAFP)
  5. ARD/IEP Additional Considerations:
    • Some Students:
      • Auditory Impairment
      • Autism
      • Blind/Visual Impairment
      • Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP)
      • Communication
      • Language (Limited English proficiency)
    • All Students:
  6. Annual Goals and Objectives, as needed
  7. Accommodations or Supplementary Aids & Services
  8. State and District Assessments
  9. Determine other services to be provided
  10. Determine Placement
  11. Consider Least Restrictive Environment
  12. Assurances or Effects of Removal from the General Ed. Classroom
  13. ARD Committee member’s agreement or disagreement (Consensus/NonConsensus)

Parents are also a great resource. Find others who have gone before you, and ask for their ideas and suggestions. Learn from their experiences, take notes, and ask questions. Social media, training events, and parent groups are great places to connect with others who share a similar vision for their child.

Before the meeting: 

Prepare a vision statement. Share the vision at the beginning of the meeting and help others recognize their role in making it a reality.

Use the written notice of the ARD/IEP committee meeting as a communication tool between you and the IEP team.You should receive notice at least five school days before the meeting unless you agree to a shorter timeframe.

Be sure to note…

You may also want to request a blank copy of the IEP paperwork and a copy of all information that will be presented at the meeting. This will allow you to review and process information before the meeting and prepare a list of questions if you have them.

If you plan to voice record the meeting, note your intent. If you record the meeting, it is likely the school will also want to record the meeting. You don’t want to waste valuable planning time waiting for the school to find and set up their recorder.

Review your child’s ARD/IEP binder. One of the best ways to prepare for your child’s ARD/IEP meetings and track his or her progress is to put together and maintain an IEP binder. The binder will help you keep key documents handy, along with details about phone calls and other interactions with the school. Your ARD/IEP binder will be your best friend if you need to locate important documents at a later time.

Review your rights and the rights of your child.


Evaluations serve two functions:

  1. to determine if a student has a disability and
  2. the educational needs of the student.

A Full Individual Evaluation is provided upon referral or at the request of the ARD/IEP team.

A Reevaluation occurs

The evaluator should…

Parents are an important part of the evaluation process. According to IDEA, schools must obtain informed consent before they can take certain actions. Conducting an evaluation is one of those actions. Informed consent means you understand what the school wants to do and give written permission for them to do it.

Tips from parents regarding the evaluation process.

Transition services / planning

The transition from youth to adulthood is challenging for almost every young person. This is particularly true for young people with disabilities.

Currently IDEA requires transition services to be included, as part of the IEP as a child turns 16.

This fact does not mean you cannot begin thinking about the future and taking steps to achieve it – and perhaps you should! Transition to adulthood is a lifelong process. Whether your child just received a diagnosis or will transition into adult next year, it is neither too early nor too late to think about life after high school.

The IDEA defines transition services as a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that:

Under state law, not later than when the child reaches 14 years of age, the admission, review, and dismissal (ARD) committee must consider, and if appropriate, address additional items.

Beginning not later than the first individualized education program (IEP) to be in effect when the child turns 16, or younger if determined appropriate by the ARD committee, and updated annually thereafter, the IEP must include the following:

Tips from parents regarding transition services.

Transition resources

A Look Ahead Conference Series (ALA)

ALA brings together expert speakers for training focused on improving the lives of individuals with disabilities, the people who support them, and the community at large now and in the future.

Got Transition?

Got Transition? aims to improve the transition from pediatric to adult health care.

Guideposts for Success

The Guideposts can help steer families, institutions and youth themselves through the transition processes.

NCWD – Youth National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability

NCWD is your source for information about employment for youth with disabilities.

National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT)

NTACT provides resources & guidance in the areas of transition, graduation and post-school success.

Texas Project FIRST – Transition in the IEP, Courses of StudyPost-Secondary Goals, & Coordinated Set of Activities

Texas Project FIRST is committed to providing accurate and consistent information to parents and families of students with disabilities.

Texas Transition

Texas Transition is a web-based resource focused on the transition from school to adulthood.

Texas Transition and Employment Guide

This guide provides secondary transition resources to facilitate a young person’s progress towards post-secondary goals to education, employment, and community living.

Texas Transition Conference

The Texas Transition Conference is a two-day event, focused on providing evidence-based practices that result in a smooth transition from school to adult life for youth with disabilities.

Transition Guide To Postsecondary Education And Employment For Students And Youth With Disabilities

A publication from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS).

Transition to Adulthood Suite

This suite is made up of 9 webpage’s of resources on the entire transition and postsecondary process, including transition planning in secondary school, getting students involved in writing their own IEP, independent living, finding adult services, and connections to employment and postsecondary education connections.

Present levels of academic achievement and functional performance – PLAAFP

The purpose of the PLAAFP statement (aka “present level”) is to provide a snapshot of what the child  can do right now and the obstacles that he or she may face. 

The PLAAFP statement is important. It will lead to the development of annual goals, accommodations, modifications and other IEP services. All IEP goals (and objectives) should be connected to the PLAAFP statement. You have to know where you are to plan for where you want to go. 

A good PLAAFP statement will…

As you consider the PLAAFP, keep your long-term goals (your vision) in mind.  Your child’s present levels and subsequent IEP goals should always have those future, long-term goals in mind. 

PLAAFP resources

ESC-Region 20 Progress General Curriculum PLAAFP handout

ESC-Region 20 coordinates the statewide PGC Network.

Texas Project First: PLAAFP

This page provides information, videos and more focused on PLAAFP development.

Additional ARD/IEP consideration

The Legal Framework: Special Factors

Some students

Auditory Impairment

Autism – For Texas students diagnosed with autism, the ARD committee must consider each of the eleven autism strategies (aka the “Autism Supplement”) outlined in the TAC 89.1055.

Blind/Visual Impairment

Behavior Intervention Plan – for the child whose behavior impedes his or her learning or that of others

Communication 300.324(a)(2)(iv) – for a child with hearing, vision or speech disabilities

Limited English Proficiency

All students

Assistive Technology (AT) – For every child who receives special education services, the ARD committee must consider the child’s potential need for Assistive Technology.

Assistive Technology is defined as any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.

An AT device can be “no tech,” “low tech,” “medium tech,” or “high tech.”  Devices can include, but are not limited to… 

Extended School Year (ESY) Services – ESY services should be based on the individual needs of the child and should not be limited to particular categories of disability. ESY services are not unilaterally limited as to the type, amount, or duration. Consideration of service delivery includes community options and services.

Graduation – For students receiving special education services, there are four “options” for graduation and receipt of a diploma.

Annual goals & objectives

The IDEA requires a child’s IEP to include a statement of measurable annual goals, including academic (standards-based) and functional (non-standard based) goals, designed to meet the child’s needs that result from the child’s disability to enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum; and … meet each of the child’s other educational needs that result from the child’s disability.

Annual goals identify the areas in which a child with a disability needs special education services or specially designed instruction.

For the child who takes an alternate state assessment aligned to alternate achievement standards, the ARD committee must include in the child’s IEP a description of benchmarks or short-term objectives.

All goals should be measurable. The S.M.A.R.T. framework can help you write measurable goals.   S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-oriented and Time-bound. Making sure a child’s IEP goals are S.M.A.R.T will help the child benefit from his or her special education services. Incorporating your child’s strengths into S.M.A.R.T. goals can make the goals even stronger.

Tips from parents on writing measurable annual goals

Keeping an eye on your vision, ask yourself these 3 questions about each goal (and each objective if appropriate)…

  1. Does the goal make a meaningful difference in my child’s and/or family’s life?
  2. Does the goal allow my child to participate more fully where he or she is?
  3. Does the goal allow my child to participate in new environments?

If your answer is “yes” and the goal is S.M.A.R.T., then include it in the IEP. If no, scrap it!

Goals & objectives resources

ESC – Region 20: Grading and Progress Monitoring for Students with Disabilities

This brief includes a list of current statutes regarding grading and best practices regarding grading students with disabilities.  Unique situations that arise with modified content and decisions that ARD teams and classroom teachers can make regarding grading are also reviewed.

ESC – Region 20: Making Connections to the General Curriculum through the 7 Step IEP Process

This document is designed to assist in developing annual goals that that are linked to the TEKS and in designing that is connected to the general education curriculum.

TEA Curriculum Framework

Curriculum Framework documents list the reporting categories, knowledge & skills statements, and student expectations tested by STAAR in each grade and subject or high school course.

Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)

TEKS are the state standards for what students should know and be able to do.

Supplementary aids and services, accommodations, modifications & related services

Supplementary Aids and Services are one of the most important types of supports and services available to children with disabilities (other than special education and related services). The IDEA defines supplementary aids and services as those “aids, services, and other supports that are provided in regular education classes, other education-related settings, and in extracurricular and nonacademic settings, to enable the child with a disability to be educated with nondisabled children to the maximum extent appropriate.”

The admission, review, and dismissal (ARD) committee must determine needed supplementary aids and services to be provided to the child, or on behalf of the child. 300.320(a)(4)

Supplementary aids and services encompass a broad range of student supports.

Some children with disabilities need curricular or instructional accommodations or modifications to their educational program in order to participate in the general curriculum and to be successful in school. While the terms are not defined in IDEA, there is a general agreement on what the terms mean – there is a difference!  

Accommodations change how a child accesses instruction and demonstrates knowledge. They do NOT change learning expectations.

Modifications do change what a child is expected to learn. Course/activity objectives are modified to meet the needs of the child.

Accommodation & modification resources

Texas Project FIRST – Accommodations vs. Modifications

This page explores the difference between accommodations and modifications and provides examples and links to additional resources.

Accommodation Central

Accommodation Central is an online search tool designed to help you find accommodations based on the student’s academic or functional needs.

For every child who receives special education services, the ARD committee must consider the child’s potential need for Assistive Technology. An assistive technology device is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability. The term assistive technology service means any service that directly assists the child with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device.

Other supplementary aids and services can include, but are not limited to…

AT, AEM,SAS & UDL resources

Center for Parent Information and Resources – Supplementary Aids and Supports

This page takes an in-depth look at supplementary aids and services.

Center on Technology and Disability (CTD)

The Center on Technology and Disability provides a wealth of free resources – personal and professional development (PPD) webinars, articles, guides, training materials and more.

National Center on Accessible Educational Materials (AEM)

This site offers information about what accessible materials and technologies are, who needs them, and why they should be provided.

National Center on Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone–not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.

The IDEA’s definition of Related Services is transportation and such developmental, corrective, and other supportive services as are required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education, and includes…

The IEP team, which includes the parents, is the group that decides which supplementary aids and services, including the related services, a child needs to support his or her access to and participation in the school environment.

For additional information on related services, check out the CPIR Related Services page.

Tips from parents you may find helpful as you discuss the supports needed for your child.

Placement & least restricted environment (LRE)

As you consider where your child will receive their special education services, we encourage you to think about special education as a service not a place and that students with disabilities should spend as much time as possible with their nondisabled peers.

To be more specific, let’s explore what the IDEA has to say about the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) mandate…

Each public agency must ensure that –

Here’s another way to look at it…

“To the maximum extent appropriate As much as possible
children with disabilities are educated your child is taught
with children who are nondisabled with kids who don’t have disabilities
special classes, separate schooling or other removal of children with disabilities from regular education occurs only if and is taken OUT of regular education and put in special classes ONLY IF
the nature of the disability is such that your child’s disability is so severe that
education in the regular class with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.” he or she can’t get educational benefit EVEN WITH supplementary aids and services in general education settings.

Placement does not indicate where a child goes to work on various IEP goals.  Placement refers to the continuum of instructional arrangements/settings.

Instructional arrangements/settings include…

All discussions about placement should begin with the least restrictive environment – the general education classroom.  

Mainstream is defined as…

This instructional arrangement/setting is for providing special education and related services to a student in the regular classroom in accordance with the student’s IEP. Qualified special education personnel must be involved in the implementation of the student’s IEP through the provision of direct, indirect and/or support services to the student, and/or the student’s regular classroom teacher(s) necessary to enrich the regular classroom and enable student success. The student’s IEP must specify the services that will be provided by qualified special education personnel to enable the student to appropriately progress in the general education curriculum and/or appropriately advance in achieving the goals set out in the student’s IEP.

Examples of services provided in this instructional arrangement include, but are not limited to, direct instruction, helping teacher, team teaching, co-teaching, interpreter, education aides, curricular or instructional modifications/accommodations, special materials/equipment, positive classroom behavioral interventions and supports, consultation with the student and   his/her regular classroom teacher(s) regarding the student’s progress in regular education  classes, staff development, and reduction of ratio of students to instructional staff.

ARD/IEP committees may not make placements based solely on the following factors: 

Refer to the letter to Trigg from OSEP dated November 30, 2007 for more information.

Placement decisions should be…

The Planning Matrix is a tool designed to help ARD/IEP teams make informed decisions surrounding goals and services to be provided in the LRE.

It is important to note that LRE extends beyond the classroom. The IDEA says…

In providing or arranging for the provision of nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities, the LEA (local education agency) must ensure that each child with a disability participates with nondisabled children in the extracurricular services and activities to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of the child. The public agency must ensure that each child with a disability has the supplementary aids and services determined by the child’s IEP team to be appropriate and necessary for the child to participate in nonacademic settings.

The ARD committee responsible for determining the appropriate educational placement is also responsible for determining the appropriate instructional setting for implementing a child’s IEP. The committee’s determination must be based on the individual needs of the child in accordance with federal and state laws, rules, and regulations.

In developing a child’s IEP, the ARD committee should base the determination of the appropriate instructional setting code for the student on the percentage of the instructional day that the student receives direct, regularly scheduled special education and related services, as required in the child’s IEP, not on the child’s disability.

Detailed information about instructional setting codes can be found in the Student Attendance Accounting Handbook.

If the IEP team decides on placement outside of the General Education setting they must document and describe…

Consideration should be given to any potential harmful effects on the child or quality of services that he/she needs when placement is determined.  Consideration should be given to both of the following criteria:

Tips from parents you may find helpful as you discuss where your child will receive his or her special education services.

LRE & placement recources

ESC-Region 20: Progress in the General Curriculum Statewide Network

LRE Quick GuideLRE Q&A DocumentPreschool (LRE) Settings

Friendship Circle – 10 Examples Of Inclusion: For Those Who Need To See It To Believe It

These 10 videos provide good examples on how particular schools put inclusion into practice.

Inclusive Education: From Political Correctness Towards Social Justice

This video explores the benefits and the common questions about inclusive education.

Schoolwide Integration Framework for Transformation (SWIFT)

SWIFT is a K-8 technical assistance center leading  the nation in equity-based MTSS and inclusive education research and services.

Texas Project FIRST

Instructional Arrangements & Placement

The Arc of Texas Inclusion Works! Conference

This is the only statewide conference focused on Inclusive Education in Texas.

Inclusive thinking

Many parents have questions about what to do when they are presented with an IEP that is not appropriate for their child. Here are a few suggestions…

Dispute resolution resources

Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates  (COPAA)

COPAA maintains an online database of advocates and attorneys supporting families.

Disability Rights Texas (DRTx)

DRTx is the state designated protection and advocacy agency for individuals with disabilities.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Dispute Resolution Process

TEA’s Dispute Resolution Systems Handbook is available on this site.