google-site-verification: googlecd455d410ac80279.html
top of page

6 Questions to Stop Cookie Cutter IEPs

Recently, I had a conversation with a parent of a child with an IEP. We were discussing her son’s strengths and his needs for a few minutes. She didn’t feel he was progressing as she thought he would. Then she asked me what services I thought would be best for her son. The conversation proceeded like this.

Me: What services is he receiving currently?

Parent: Resource help for math and reading.

Me: How many minutes per week?

Parent: About an hour a day

Me: For both or each?

Parent: Both, I think.

Me: How is it broken down per subject?

Parent: 30 minutes each, I think.

Me: When does he get these minutes?

Parent: in the afternoon

Me: Who provides the services?

Parent: His teacher

Me: Which teacher?

Parent: Um, I think the special education teacher.

Me: Do you know the teacher’s name?

Parent: Yes, Mrs. Smith but sometimes Mrs. Jones.

Me: Who is Mrs. Jones?

Parent: An aide at school.

Me: I thought you said he was getting his resource help from his special education teacher?

Parent: He is but sometimes Mrs. Jones helps him too.

Me: How often?

Parent: I don’t know.

Me: What strategies or skills is he being taught to help with his deficits in reading and math?

Parent: For math they use the SRS system and for reading she adapts the general ed curriculum.

Me: How does she adapt the curriculum?

Parent: I’m not sure.

Me: What is the SRS system for Math?

Parent: It teaches him a different way to solve the problems.

Me: What accommodations does he receive in the general ed class?

Parent: Extra time, reduced choices, preferential seating, and tests read aloud.

Me: How much extra time? Is the extra time given in all subjects? Is it given on tests, assignments, oral answers in class?

Parent: I’m not sure how much extra time and yes to the others.

Me: How many choices are reduced? Is it just for multiple choice or is it for matching and word banks also?

Parent: I don’t know.

Me: Who reads his tests aloud?

Parent: His teacher I assume.

Me: Where is the preferential seating?

Parent: Near the teacher.

Me: What is the purpose of that?

Parent: So he stays on task better.

Me: Is it helping?

Parent: No, he still gets in trouble for being off task.

Me: What are his goals?

Parent: To get better in reading and math.

Me: What specific skills are his goals addressing?

Parent: Um, math facts, word problems, and fractions

Me: What are his reading goals?

Parent: He has a hard time understanding what he is reading, so they are working on that.

Me: Does he struggle with fluency?

Parent: What is fluency?


From there the conversation continued with many more questions and answers. My final answer to this parent was to first make certain she knew the specific answers to the questions I posed to her. Her child’s services may have been perfectly appropriate as written in the IEP. However, having a perfectly appropriate IEP and carrying it out can be very different in appearance. When words like “extra time” are used, what does that mean specifically? Extra time could mean something different to every person on the IEP team. No one is wrong and no one is right, but it needs to be clarified exactly what those words mean and why the amount is appropriate for the individual student. Then it should be written on the IEP so anyone reading it will know exactly how it should be carried out.

I am a former special education teacher and I had amazing aides who worked with my students. Sometimes, my aides would continue working on a skill that I had directly taught to the student. Sometimes, the aides provided applied behavior analysis therapy for the students, but only after they had been thoroughly trained. One year I had an aide who was a certified special education teacher. However, these aides never directly taught a skill or were solely responsible for the education of any of the students. That isn’t their role, even the aide who was a certified teacher. As a parent, you need to know how often your child is working with a special education teacher and how often the minutes come from an aide. If your child is getting more minutes with an aide than with a teacher for his or her instructional needs, that needs to be addressed.

Would you be able to answer the questions that were asked about your child’s services? If you couldn’t answer them at the moment would you know where to look in the IEP or who to talk to on your child’s IEP team to get the answer?

You as the parent are an equal and very important part of your child’s IEP team. It is imperative that you have an understanding of and can explain the education your child is getting. If you don’t understand it or aren’t clear on how goals are being addressed, accommodations are being carried out, or how many minutes your child is supposed to be receiving, then you aren’t an equal member of the team. Now, I don’t mean to imply you need to know how every minute of every day of your child’s learning is going, but you need to know in general how it is supposed to be working. Some days things will happen differently than what is written in the IEP, but those should be the exception to the norm. The problems arise when the exceptions become the norm.

There are 6 basic questions that I want every parent to know the answer to regarding their child’s IEP.

1. What? -is the target skill(s), are the amount of minutes that skill(s) will be addressed per week, what accommodations are used, etc

2. When? -is the target skill(s) worked on, is the accommodation applied, is he assessed on the skill, etc

3. How? -is the skill being assessed, is the skill being taught differently than in gen ed, is the accommodation being provided, is the curriculum being modified, many is a generic number word like “several, many, some” etc

4. Who? -is providing the direct instruction, is responsible for assessing the student on the skill, is responsible for providing the accommodation, who decides if an accommodation is marked “as needed” or if the student “get a break”, etc

5. Why? -is the skill necessary, is a particular accommodation chosen, is a curriculum used, does the student have to be pulled from class, is an aide giving more instruction than a teacher, etc

6. Where? -will direct instruction happen, will accommodations happen, etc

All of these answers can and should be found in your child’s IEP paperwork. If they are not, a conversation with a team member followed up with an addendum to the IEP, or a full IEP team meeting needs to be held. If you aren’t sure where to look for the answers or you have looked and don’t see them, let me be your second set of eyes.


Shelley Kenow is an independent Education Consultant and Master IEP Coach® She has 28 years of special educator experience and as a Master IEP Coach® You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or LinkedIn. She has a livestream every Tuesday called #nolimits and every Friday called Friday with Fran. You can tune in on either Facebook or YouTube.


bottom of page