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How Did I Get Here, A Series - Part One, Organizing Your Child's IEP

In this three-part series, I will help you develop a system that works for you that not only answers the question, "How did I get here?" but also helps you figure out the way forward.



I know, I know. Getting organized may seem less than urgent, but it is crucial in understanding your child's current situation in school. And when you understand how you got to that place, it can help you figure out the way forward.

In Part One, we'll cover Organizing Your Child's IEP. In Part Two we'll perform a Documents Review and Create a Timeline. And lastly, in Part Three we'll Write Your Parent Input.

So let's get started!

Gathering the Paperwork

If you have a child with a disability, there is a very good chance that you're swimming in paperwork. Maybe drowning. You may feel a sense of overwhelm or even defeat at the idea

of ever being able to make sense of it. But the time spent organizing is an investment that will pay big dividends down the road. So how to begin?

  1. Set up a workstation. A folding table works great for this. You'll want to find a low-traffic spot in your home where you can set up your workstation and leave it out if possible.

  2. Gather all the paperwork you have on your child. Below are some types of documents to include.

    1. Medical, psychological, and educational assessments

    2. School documents including IEP’s, PWN/NOREPs, Invitations to IEP Meetings, Procedural Safeguards Notices, progress reports, report cards, etc.

    3. School assessments such as regular classroom tests/quizzes as well as universal screeners or other diagnostic tools like CDTs, MAP assessments, Acadience, etc.

    4. Work samples of things your child has completed

    5. Medical records

    6. Specialists notes

    7. OT, PT, Speech, or other specialists' assessments and progress notes

    8. Independent educational evaluations

    9. Benefits or services documents, such as MA or SSI

    10. Copies of correspondence sent to the school

    11. Copies of correspondence received from the school

    12. Email threads (more on email later!)

    13. Pro Tip!!! As you gather and sort paperwork, keep a running tab of all the documents you notice you are missing. (Where on Earth did that third-grade report card go?!?!)

  3. Sort all the papers into the appropriate stack. (Pro Tip!!! Do not read each of these documents now. Your goal is to get these documents organized. Once that is done, THEN we'll read them and you'll begin to see a story emerge. We do this in Part Two.)

    1. If you have more than one child, separate the documents by child.

    2. Sort by year. Make a pile for each year. I do this by school year (August - July). When I first did this, my child was maybe in the second grade, so I had a pile for second grade, first grade, kindergarten, and preschool.

    3. Sort by date. In the bottom right corner of each of your documents, lightly write the date in pencil. If it was something that required your signature, like a PWN/NOREP, I suggest writing the date you signed, not the date listed on the first page of the document.

    4. Put them all in chronological order.

    5. Phew! Now you have nice, neat piles for every school year each organized by date. Great job!

    6. You still have that running tab of missing documents, right? Awesome!

    7. Next!

Organizing (putting it together)

Now you have all your documents in one place. They're separated by year and each year is in chronological order.

Now what?

Let's put it together!

First, you'll want to decide how you'll store archives. I can read your thought bubble right now, "I'm going to store archives???" If you've been doing this for some time, then you know how fast the paperwork accumulates. If you're new and don't have a lot yet, trust me, you will! And your future self will thank your present self for having the foresight to set up a solid system of organization. Options for storing archived records could be three-ring binders, file folder boxes, a filing cabinet, or accordion files.

What you need:

  • A good three-hole punch (you'll use it a lot!)

  • Three-ring binders- You'll want one binder for the current school year and one more for each archived school year if you choose binders to store your archives.

    • If you have more than one child, color coordinate and use separate colors for each kid

    • If using binders for your archives, some years may fit into a smaller binder, but I think all of mine are three- or four-inch binders

    • I recommend a three-inch binder for your current year IEP

  • If you don't want to use binders for your archives, you could use a file folder box for hanging folders, a filing cabinet, or accordion files

  • Hanging file folders (if using a file folder box or filing cabinet for your archives)

  • Sticky notes of various sizes (definitely get the skinny ones!)

  • Clear sheet protectors (for the documents you want to put in your binder but don't want to punch holes in)

  • Three-ring binder tab dividers

  • Pencils and highlighters

  • Zippered pencil pouch for three-ring binder

An open three-ring binder with a black mesh zipper pouch containing sticky notes, pen, pink highlighter, and various paper clips.

As you archive the older documents, you may decide (and I recommend) to separate them by document type to make things easier to find in the future. This is where those tab dividers and sticky notes come in handy. Create the same binder dividers for your archives as you create for your current year IEP Binder. So for example, your child's second-grade binder may be broken into School Communication, Evaluations, IEPs, Progress Reports, and Sample Works with each document type still in chronological order. I use the skinny sticky notes to separate IEP revisions by date revised and progress reports by marking period. Your archives are also a great place to store information that you want to keep but isn't necessarily school-related, like paperwork from that summer camp your child attended between second and third grade. Don't forget! As you archive, keep that running tab of documents you notice are missing.

Now that you've archived your older paperwork, you can put together your child's current year IEP binder. This is the binder that you will carry with you to IEP meetings and that you'll consult regularly. Take your three-ring binder dividers and label one for each of the following:

  • School Communication

  • Evaluations

  • IEP

  • Progress Reports

  • Sample Work

You may want additional tabs, like one for Behavior. Create whatever tabs are useful to you. You may even want additional companion binders. For example, I have a separate binder for progress monitoring data. Your thought bubble might be saying, "Whhhaaaattt?!?! A second binder?!?!" Yes, hear me out. I keep quarterly progress reports and report cards in the current year IEP binder, but because I collect progress monitoring data so frequently (and it accumulates so fast!), I decided to put that data in a separate companion binder. I have my progress monitoring companion binder organized chronologically and by IEP goal. It's a quick way for me to visualize my child's progress. Another useful companion binder may be for daily communication if you find you have a lot and it takes up a lot of room in your child's current year IEP Binder. It's all up to you to figure out how you prefer to keep your data organized. See my photos below for examples of how I organize. When the current year becomes an archived year, I consolidate the documents in the companion binder back into the current year (now archived) IEP Binder.

Okay, so you have your child's current year IEP Binder. You've labeled your tab dividers and placed them in there. You made up your mind about whether or not you want any companion binders. So now you're ready to take your child's current year data and file it under the correct tab in your current year IEP.

Organization is not just a beautiful thing, but it's also incredibly functional as you'll see in Part Two. So don't pack away your workstation or archives just yet! In Part Two we're going to read through all those freshly organized documents to perform a Documents Review and Create a Timeline. And where are we going after that? Well, that's Part Three, Writing Your Parent Input.

Note on emails and email threads- So much communication occurs electronically. You must develop a system to organize everything you receive via email concerning your child's education. Some parents will create a special email account just for communication between them and the school (e.g. I felt I was too many years in to switch when I learned that trick. But if you're new to special education, you may want to use that tip! Instead, what I have is many, many folders in my email account. See below for a screenshot of just one of my kid's folders.

Vetical gray shaded box with 17 email sub-folders listed
Email folders galore!

And guess what? You should save not only just letters/emails you received to your email folders but also the letters you sent. There may come a time when there is disagreement or confusion about a situation that well-organized documents, both hardcopy and electronic, can help sort out. Your future self will thank you.

Okay! So that's Organizing Your Child's IEP! Grab that running tab of missing documents and get ready for Part Two, Documents Review and Creating a Timeline.

With Love, Light & Gratitude, Janell

P.S. Check out my Services page to book a FREE consultation.

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