Training tips to get staff up to speed on electronic IEPs

One of the best ways to train staff on how to use an electronic individualized education program system is by letting them practice with a fictitious student profile, said Andrew Guillen, an individualized education program specialist with Fairfax County (Va.) Public Schools.

Every year at FCPS, about 400 new teachers are trained on how to use the district’s electronic IEP system from EduPoint, Guillen said.

They take a six-and-a-half-hour training course, and then they’re asked to create an IEP using a fictitious student profile. The assignment is graded by a team of IEP specialists who look for understanding of the technical process, procedural issues, and IEP development.

“One of the things we ask them to do as part of that homework assignment is be an observer and write a reflection about what they observed while completing the assignment,” Guillen said.

Staff write about technical problems they encountered and how they went about resolving the issue. They also have a chance to ask any remaining questions about the software or IEP development in general, he said.

Gain more ideas for improving your staff training on electronic IEP systems below:

  1. Provide a substitute during training. At FCPS, special education case managers receive a full day of training. “The division is very generous in funding a substitute teacher so the teachers can attend the training,” Guillen said.
  2. “Sweeten the pot” with certification. Entice staff members to attend voluntary e-IEP training by offering recertification points toward their licensure, Guillen said. When staff complete the systems training in his district, they receive recertification points.
  3. Do a dry run-through. Be as realistic as possible with the practice IEP, Guillen said. Ask staff to use what they know about their current students to write a complete IEP using the system. Develop a rubric that includes both technical and substantive criteria so staff are tested on not only their technical knowledge of the system, but also their overall understanding of IEP development, Guillen said.
  4. Document basic steps in a handbook. Orange County Public Schools in Virginia switched to an electronic IEP system in 2002 and is in the process of transitioning to a different electronic IEP system, said Cheryl Norris, an OCPS special education teacher who participated on a state committee on electronic IEPs. “We have a written special education handbook that includes tips on how to access certain parts of the system, which is always available for staff,” she said.
  5. Set up “help desk.” At FCPS, a help desk is available during business hours to assist case managers with technical issues, Guillen said. “You have a support team that you can call if you’re having technical problems in the middle of an IEP meeting,” he said.
  6. Review what to do when e-IEP doesn’t allow changes. A benefit of e-IEPs is that they can improve compliance by requiring staff to complete certain required steps. Also, goals and services may be worded in a way that improves compliance. At times, however, a team may need to override these features, Guillen said. “While our software is designed to meet 99 percent of the situations, there’s always going to be that less than 1 percent exception,” he said. In those cases, the support team assists IEP teams with developing a paper version or a hybrid IEP, he said. Similarly, Norris said, teams in OCPS print out the IEP, cross out the service, and write in what the student needs, she said. Everyone at the meeting initials next to the change, she said.
  7. Warn staff about digital shortcuts. Electronic IEPs can save time because it’s faster to copy and paste information into an IEP than to handwrite it, Norris said. One caveat, however, is that digital shortcuts can lead to IEPs that don’t change much from year to year, she said. “One of the reasons I like our system over other systems is that it makes you start with a blank IEP every year,” Norris said. That encourages the team to think about how much the student has changed, she said. In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Endrew F., Norris said, it’s critical that IEP goals and objectives change and that the team reviews student progress each year. See Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1, 66 IDELR 31 (10th Cir. 2015), vacated and remanded, 69 IDELR 174 (U.S. 2017), vacated on remand, 117 LRP 31173 (10th Cir. 08/02/17).

Jennifer Herseim covers Section 504, education technology, and Common Core issues related to special education for LRP Publications.

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