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Creating an Individual Education Plan (IEP) must begin with a clear picture of your child’s specific needs. While evaluations help put that “I” in IEP, reports are written in the technical language of the experts – a foreign language for most parents. In order to understand what the reports mean and what is being recommended for your child, you’ll need to cross this language divide.

Read evaluations before the Team meeting.

The first reading of a report about your child can be highly emotional and overwhelming, something you may not want to feel in a Team meeting. There is a lot of information to absorb, written in technical language that’s hard to understand. It’s almost impossible to read a technical evaluation and participate meaningfully in Team decision-making at the same time. One solution is to request copies of all of your child’s reports before your meeting.


Write your request for advance copies of reports directly on every “Consent to Evaluate” form.

Schools must provide reports to the parents at least two days before the meeting.  BUT, they are only required to do so if parents make that request in writing. Your hand-written request on the “Consent to Evaluate” form will make that happen. If you are past that stage, email or write to the Team Chair asking for copies of the reports before the meeting.

Here’s a way to read, understand and use your child’s evaluations:

Before the Team Meeting

Make a copy of your reports so you can have a clean copy to mark up with your notes. Then, read each evaluation three times:

  1. First, read with tissues. Emotion can interfere with your ability to translate the expert’s jargon.

  2. Second, read using two different colored highlighters.

    Color One: Highlight the words, phrases and passages you don’t understand.

    Color Two: Mark the phrases you think are important and the specific recommendations*  that are listed.

    * Federal Law requires that all reports contain written recommendations.

  3. Third, use a pen. Write down your questions and any requests you have to clarify specific passages. If you have access to a computer, “Google” the highlighted terms you don’t understand, and mark the definitions on the report. Circle the remaining highlights to ask the Team in the meeting to translate for you.

  4. Consolidate your questions and the recommendations from the report on a separate document to use as an agenda for the Team meeting.

At the Team Meeting

  1. Follow your agenda and ask for needed “translations” and clarification of your highlighted items and recommendations.

  2. Ask how the school will – or will not – incorporate each recommendation into the IEP.

  3. For each item on the agenda, mark down the action step (i.e., get more info from science teacher; add squeeze ball to Sensory Diet Accommodations; raise Reading Goal Benchmark to 120 words per minute; and reconvene the Team in April to develop a transition to middle school plan;).

After the Team Meeting

  1. Compare your marked-up agenda and reports to the School’s proposed IEP to make sure that everything discussed in the meeting is included.

  2. Request IEP edits or partially reject the items that don’t match in the Parent Response Section of the IEP.

  3. Sign, date, make a copy of the signed form and return the form to the school within 30 days.

  4. Follow-up on any action items.

Special Education is a complex process that begins with the evaluations that define what’s unique about your child. Understanding and using these reports will help ensure your child’s IEP is appropriate for his or her individual needs.


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Editor: Jennie H. Dunkley

Jennie H. Dunkley is a 15-year veteran special education consultant and advocate. She is a senior trainer for the Federation for Children with Special Needs (FCSN) workshops and presents her own workshops to private groups, educators, advocates, evaluators and SPED-PACs. She has received training though FCSN, Wrightslaw and the OSEP/COPAA SEAT (Special Education Advocacy Training) program, which included a practicum at the Massachusetts Disability Law Center.
She is a Board member of Massachusetts Special Needs Advocacy Network (SPaN) and an Advisory Committee member for SpedEx, a pilot resolution program from DESE. Jennie is the Chair of the Massachusetts Special Education Advisory Council (SAC) where she also serves as a parent representative. 


If you have a question for Jennie,
click here to send an e-mail.


Special education is provided by the school district at no cost to the child’s family through the Federal statutory or regulatory requirements.



Parent Advisory Council

PAC’s often offer parents access to guest speakers on certain disabilities; knowledge about community resources for evaluation or support; help mediate between the school and parents/professionals.


Federation for Children with Special Needs

Organized in 1975 as a coalition of parent groups representing children with a variety of disabilities, the Federation offers workshops and training, advocacy and resources to parents of children with special needs and the professionals who serve them.


Wrights Law

Provides legal and advocacy resources to help parents prepare for team meeting, evaluations, and placement decisions


Childs Pediatrician

Often provides the first level referral for evaluation of suspected levels of disability or for special education services.


Often provides insight into social development or emotional instability that hinders educational success

Statutes Mandating Special Education: Legal Requirements

603 CMR 28

Part I, Title XII, Chapter 71B, Section 3


Understanding Parent Participation in Massachusetts Special Education



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