What Makes One Child’s IEP Better Than Another Child’s?

This is a good question.  We want to help you get the best IEP for your child and you know your child best.  You are the best judge of the quality of your child’s IEP.  Since each IEP is individualized, you must insure that your child’s IEP is tailored to his or her needs.  The short answer to this question is that your child’s IEP is going to be strongest when you have clearly identified the priority educational needs and then linked your child’s goals to those priority needs.
You then want to make sure the teacher is documenting progress towards the goals using multiple methods of data collection.  IEP goals and objectives are the center of the IEP. A child may be receiving 90 minutes of 1:1 speech therapy per week but if the goal is not measurable and data is not being collected and reported then it can be a waste of time.  Measurement and implementation equal accountability.
For the Elementary Student:
One month prior to annual review, contact the general education and special education teacher. Let them know you would like an opportunity to meet with them to discuss your child’s present levels of performance and to draft some new IEP goals and IEP objectives. If they are unable to meet face to face then ask them to send you a copy of the draft IEP goals 10 days prior to the meeting. You will have an opportunity to review and revise the IEP goals and objectives. Then send back your revision of the goals to the teachers and ask that they review and utilize the goals for the IEP. Remember to ask this of the speech/language therapist and any related services your child may be receiving such as occupational and physical therapy.
For the Middle or High School Student:
One month prior to the annual review meeting, contact the special education teacher and clarify if they are the one who will be drafting your child’s IEP goals. Ask the teacher to send out a student input form to all of his/her teachers that gather information on the needs and  improvement of the child. This information can guide the special education teacher to draft IEP goals.  You also can be sent a copy so you can draft and revise as well.  Another way is to approach the teacher of the classes your child struggles with (ex: math) and ask to either meet with them or to help you understand what your child should focus on for the upcoming IEP. Just as the elementary student, do not forget services such as speech/language therapy, etc.
An additional important key to making an IEP “better” is to ask for more frequent updates on progress monitoring than every 9 weeks and make sure these updates include measurement. If the IEP goal states a worksheet of 15 math problems will be completed in 20 minutes then the teacher can send you a note every 2 weeks providing an update on the progress. If you notice a regression or the problem does not seem to be getting better, request a meeting to discuss your concerns and to review the data collected. The IEP is a fluid document, it can be changed and added to as many times as you request throughout the year.