The word "advocate" in conjunction with an IEP team meeting strikes fear in the heart of every Speech Language Pathologist. And for good reason. If you've ever sat in a meeting with an advocate, it feels like you're a defendant on trial. But instead of innocent until proven guilty, it feels more like guilty until proven innocent.
But let's look at the definition of advocate:
advocate (noun; ad-vuh-kit): a person who speaks or writes in support or defense of a person
If you think about it, teachers and SLPs advocate for their students every day. Those who went into the field of education did so for a reason. We are passionate about students, and we are all advocates for what is in the best interest of their learning. However, there is no bigger advocate than a parent for a child. The problem is that parents do not have our training in special education. So it shouldn't be surprising that parents sometimes feel they need support to help navigate through the world of special education.
So then why do we fear advocates?
Dr. James Driscoll, who has worked in administration (both as a general education principal and special education director) for Mesa Public Schools, the largest school district in Arizona, has this to say:
We are in a new era of school accountability and there is an increased focus on holding public schools accountable. Nowhere is that more evident than in the special education arena which is taking place in meetings in school buildings across the country. Parents are becoming more savvy and knowledgeable of their rights, and with this knowledge they are asking questions of school staff in regards to the development of their student's IEPs and the delivery of services that these plans outline for them. As educators we need to make decisions that are based not only on our observations, but more importantly on concrete data. Our decisions cannot be made in isolation or in the absence of data; rather, these decisions need to be made from reliable/multiple data sources. Lastly, other IEP team members (i.e. advocates and parents) must be able to come to the same decisions as the school-based team based on the data presented.
Usually when an advocate is involved, tough questions are being asked, such as:
- Why did you select this goal?
- How do the present levels align to the service time?
- What did you base your decisions on?
- What does your specially designed instruction look like? Why?
- Can you show me your data?
These are things parents rarely think to ask, but are critical pieces of information that are driving the development of the IEP and the services delivered (with or without an advocate present). When an advocate is involved, what it really all boils down to is having the concrete data needed to back your statements.
This is where SLP Toolkit can help. The tools in SLP Toolkit give you consistent assessments that compliment your clinical judgement when determining present levels (strengths and needs beyond just "Johnny is a nice boy with a language impairment."). Knowing this information then leads to data driven decisions on areas to target for goals and/or accommodations. Finally, you are able to quickly select progress monitoring tools that allow you to gather accurate baseline data and efficiently monitor progress over time using a consistent measure.
If you have the data, the questions will not be scary and you will be confident going into any meeting, advocate or no advocate.
I co-created the innovative web app SLP Toolkit. We are school SLPs who are passionate about streamlining workload so time can be spent where it counts - with students: www.slptoolkit.com