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5 Questions to Ask of Your IEP System
Is your IEP system helping you live up to the promises you’ve made to students with disabilities ― or is it inhibiting student progress and adding work and frustration to your plate? As with any complex system, getting a clear view of what is working well and what could be better can be a challenge. The bottom line is that your IEP system should work for you, not the other way around.
Here are 5 questions you can ask to determine if your IEP system is checking off all the right boxes, or if there’s room for improvement.
1. Does my IEP system proactively ensure compliance?
Compliance is critical for every school district supporting students with disabilities. And with so much disruption to student learning due to COVID, maintaining compliance is more important than ever. Does your IEP system get it right the first time? Or do you spend time fixing mistakes that seem to show up just when you’re facing a deadline to complete required reports?
Three primary components of compliance:
- Sequencing and timelines
- Data validation
- Permissions and privacy
You rely on your IEP system to make sure no steps are out of sequence. That timelines are accurate from referral to evaluations to eligibility determination and the initial IEP meeting. You never want to end up with an evaluation showing a later date than your eligibility date.
Do you have dirty data? Ouch! Validations prevent users from entering dates out of sequence, using the wrong field or category, or omitting relevant data. It takes a lot less time to make sure it’s done right the first time than correcting mistakes later. A quality system should not only identify the error and send error alerts but also identify where the error is and lead the user back to fix it.
Permissions and privacy settings should ensure every level of permission is configurable inside your system. Can you easily assign roles to control access to student data? A strong permission element is one of the best ways to proactively ensure compliance and save time and frustration.
Look for these key features in your IEP system to help ensure compliance:
- Alert appropriate staff when timelines are approaching or are not met
- Perform validations at every level to promote accurate data entry
- Pre-populate fields to prevent duplicate data entry, save time, and protect data accuracy
- Prevent staff from bypassing steps/events
2. Is my IEP system adaptable?
What are the most time-consuming tasks for your system users? Most districts list these as the top four: preparing IEP documents, enforcing compliance, determining special education eligibility, and using technology. Your IEP system should help users manage those tasks and save time. And as your processes change due to school closures, regulatory changes, or for any other reason, your system should be able to adapt to your evolving needs.
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Similarly, when states make changes to required data, do you have the control to change a field from “not required” to “required” in your system? Or include it for validation or make it auto-fillable? Features in your IEP system that your district can manage save time and frustration.
An adaptable IEP system addresses each of those issues when it:
- Accommodates your process or workflow rather than determining it
- Allows for configurability without imposing additional costs (or vendor involvement)
- Supports process management as opposed to document management
- Allows you to adapt to changing regulatory and business environments quickly
Does your system accommodate your processes? Or does it determine them? Let’s say your workflow calls for changing the sequence of a series of events. Can you or your vendor make these changes? Can you modify the sequence without imposing additional costs and spending a lot of time? Can you adjust user data access levels so staff members and providers see only the data they need based on their role without hard-coding it? It boils down to whether your system supports process management instead of mere document management.
What kinds of flexibility and functionality should you look for in an adaptable IEP system?
- Workflow: system is built around your process and is responsive to changes in your workflow.
- Data access: data should inform you on the decisions you need to make, not just support the decisions already made.
- Form creation: should not require major customization efforts, additional cost, or vendor involvement.
- User permissions: should support as many user roles as necessary in your environment and adapt for users with multiple functions.
- Interoperability: Compatibility and integration with external systems is critical.
3. Is my IEP system only an IEP system?
Many IEP systems districts use are built exclusively around the IEP planning process. Make sure your system also helps you track the delivery of the services and educational supports outlined in students’ IEPs — and supports remote service delivery as well.
There’s a tremendous amount of management that goes on in special education and related departments that extends well beyond the development of an IEP. Your IEP system should be able to manage all of them.
Answer these questions about your system to decide if it’s responsive enough for you. Can you:
- Manage the pre-referral and evaluation process?
- Track the delivery of services against the IEP?
- Estimate resource needs based on IEP information?
- Monitor student progress easily?
- Allocate personnel more efficiently?
- Cut down on staff travel time?
- Validate Medicaid claims against the IEP?
- Optimize Medicaid reimbursements?
- Access and manage programs for other special populations (e.g. Section 504, RTI/MTSS, Gifted & Talented, and English Learner) for a better view of the whole child?
For effective and efficient implementation of IEPs, your IEP system should help you:
- Develop your plan according to best practice
- Estimate, allocate, and maximize resources
- Deliver and track services
- Access all data when and how you need it
Ultimately, when considering IEP systems, you should ask: Is this just an IEP system or can it do a whole lot more for you?
4. Does my IEP system support data-driven decision making?
Compliance is no longer the sole primary target today for special education teams. Program performance is another critical priority.
With the Results Driven Accountability (RDA) framework introduced in 2014, expectations shifted from compliance to results. Not only do you have to dot the I’s and cross the T’s, but you need to measure student growth. We should be channeling resources for the best positive outcome and providing supports and interventions that work. IEP systems must give you better visibility at every level for dynamic decision-making.
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Your dashboards should give you a sense of where every child is in the process and provide service data showing what you’re actually doing for students. Do you know if students require compensatory services? Do you have clear visibility into costs of IEP meetings and training? Do you have a professional development issue? Can you address provider needs with training to gain more service hours for working with students?
5. How does my IEP vendor ensure we are reaping the full benefit of our system?
What is the vendor’s responsibility in making sure that you get the maximum benefit from the system? Has your vendor acted as a partner? Is your vendor working side by side with you during both the planning phase and the implementation phase? This should be true not just when a new system is first launched, but throughout the useable lifetime of that system.
Do you have open access to comprehensive and sustainable training?
- On-site and virtual training options
- Training by user type (i.e. administrator, teachers, provider, etc.)
- Trainer of trainers (TOT) model for large implementations
- Additional resources and training opportunities to support system adoption
Do you have access to ongoing support?
- Dedicated helpdesk
- Contextual in-system training documentation/knowledge base
- User groups for a feedback loop from end-users and administrators
- Ongoing performance monitoring, assessment, and reporting
Real Cost-Benefit of the Right IEP System
If your system produces improved student outcomes, reduces due process costs, and increases dependability of service delivery, then you have what you need. Not only that, but you are likely to notice increased job satisfaction among district staff and providers along with expanded utilization of resources. It all comes down to better results for students and staff.