These three tips can help educators ease the backlog of IEPs and get students back on track

Where do IEPs stand two years into COVID?

These three tips can help educators ease the backlog of IEPs and get students back on track

There’s no doubt that every student lost valuable in-person school time over the last two school years. But students with IEPs faced additional challenges keeping pace during remote or hybrid learning.

Now that students have generally returned to their school buildings, educators are preparing for customary IEP reviews and progress reports. However, they are likely juggling a caseload that includes students who were not able to get IEPs during remote learning, not to mention a backlog of new IEP referrals that stacked up while our students have been transitioning between in-person, remote and hybrid situations.

Fallout from the last two years includes students who have had no in-person education for 12-18 months and special education teachers who were unable to work face-to-face with many of their students. We’ve also seen the teacher shortage grow, with many retiring or moving into other careers because of the stress, or having to quarantine as new strains of COVID arise. The combination of these factors makes it difficult to keep up with a caseload under normal circumstances, adding to the frustration for everyone.

Making it even more complicated are IEP meetings happening via Zoom or Google Hangouts, using sometimes-unreliable internet connections, and the need for increased parent involvement, which is not always possible.

As special education teachers prepare for their standard IEP reviews, progress reports, and to address the expected stack of new referrals, there are three tips to consider to help ease the backlog and get students back on track:

1. Consider students’ IEP goals and collect data

First, educators need to review the students IEP to be reminded of the student’s goals and accommodations. Then, whether you are utilizing your district’s universal screening and diagnostic tools, or finding assessment tools that are best for individual students’ needs, you need to start collecting data. This data can determine where there are gaps in knowledge and help educators understand how the student is currently functioning. In addition to collecting data regarding our students’ academic progress, input on their social and emotional functioning also will be needed to assist in decision making.

2. Evaluate the data

Once data is collected, it should be analyzed with the individual student’s goals in mind. Special educators will need to determine whether the students are “on track” toward meeting those goals or if additional intervention is needed. This process includes documenting whether students truly “showed up” last year during online instruction. Social and emotional learning (SEL) is also a variable. Parents and educators are reporting more anxiety and depression, so it’s important to factor in social and emotional considerations as well as academic considerations.

3. Decide whether to repeat, skip or intervene

The “summer slide” of years past is real, so many students routinely require repetition of content and instruction from the previous school year. However, repetition assumes that the student has previously been taught that information. One thing we need to consider now is whether the content was taught at all. You will need to determine whether the student only needs reminders or prompts to remember the sequence of steps or if it is a completely new concept.

There may be instances where content can be skipped. Instructional time may have been limited since March 2020 and very few school districts across the nation are adding instructional minutes this year to compensate. To determine whether content can be skipped, ask these questions:

  1. Is this an essential standard?
  2. Can my student meet their goal without learning this step?
  3. Does the curriculum spiral and will this concept be introduced at another time?

If the answer is “no” to the first question, then there’s a good case for skipping the content altogether. But if you answer “no” to questions two and three, then content should be reinforced.

Some students, though, may need intensive intervention. If your student has been taught and reminded of essential standards or steps along the process, then intervention may be the appropriate next step. Access evidence-based intervention programs and effective strategies to explicitly teach needed skills. Collect additional data to determine what changes may be needed if your student is not making the expected growth for that program.

The last two years have been chaotic, but we need to stick to the basics and what we know:  Informed decision making and problem solving must be based on data.  This was our process before COVID, and it should continue to be our process going forward.

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