The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (Public Law 94-142) established that individualized education programs (IEPs) guide the educational experience of public school students with disabilities (Goldstein & Turnbull, 1982). This legislation mandated that parents, special education teachers, and administrators attend IEP meetings to develop IEPs for students with disabilities. For the first time in public school educational history, parents of students with disabilities attained formal educational planning status equal to that of teachers and administrators.
The required addition of parents to the educational planning process met with immediate skepticism. Farber and Lewis (1975), for example, thought the inclusion of parents into the IEP planning process represented a symbolic gesture rather than an effective means for improving educational planning and teaching. Yoshida, Fenton, Kaufman, and Maxwell (1978) surveyed the professional members of IEP teams and found that a majority of professional team members wanted parents to only gather and present information at the IEP meeting, and not to become involved in actual educational planning.
Goldstein, Strickland, Turnbull, and Curry (1980) studied IEP meeting interactions of students with mild learning problems who had been mainstreamed into general education classes. They found that special education teachers talked on average twice as much as parents, and parents talked more than anyone else at the IEP meeting. Educators and administrators directed most of their comments to the parents. These results suggest that parents had indeed become actively involved in the educational planning process. No students in Goldstein et al.'s study attended any of the IEP meetings.
Pub. L. 94-142 directed that students, whenever appropriate, could participate in their own IEP meetings and take an active role in the educational planning process (Gillespie & Turnbull, 1983). Strickland and Turnbull (1990) considered the inclusion of students into the educational decision-making process as one of Pub. L. 94-142's fundamental premises. Unfortunately, most parents and children with disabilities did not know that students could attend their IEP meeting, even though parents and students who did know overwhelmingly supported the concept (Gillespie, 1981). Because of the lack of knowledge, the past practice of not including students in the IEP meeting, and the paucity of literature on student involvement in their IEP process, few students actively participated in their own IEP meetings (Gillespie & Turnbull; Strickland & Turnbull).
The 1997 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), building on the earlier Pub. L. 94-142 foundation, added four innovative transition reforms designed to improve student postschool outcomes (Field, Martin, Miller, Ward, & Wehmeyer, 1998a; Johnson, Stodden, Emanuel, Luecking, & Mack, 2002; Storms, O'Leary, & Williams, 2000). First, students 14 years old and older must be invited to attend their IEP meetings. Second, the IEP discussions and decisions must reflect student interests and preferences. Third, students' postschool dreams provide the direction to develop a plan of study and needed transition services. Fourth, students' general education teachers must attend the IEP meetings. Twenty-two years after the passage of Pub. L. 94-142, students, parents, and general education teachers finally all meet to develop secondary educational plans.
These transition reforms should promote active student engagement at IEP meetings and facilitate the development of increased student self-advocacy, decision making, and other self-determination skills (Field, Martin, Miller, Ward, & Wehmeyer, 1998b; Furney & Salembier, 2000; Halpern, 1994; Martin, Huber Marshall, & DePry, 2001). However, implementation of these transition reform efforts has been slow, with most states failing to achieve even minimal levels of compliance (Grigal, Test, Beattie, & Wood, 1997; Hasazi, Furney, & DeStefano, 1999). The National Council on Disability (2000) reported that "88% or 44 states failed to ensure compliance with transition requirements" (p. 89). Williams and O'Leary (2001) found that many schools do not invite students to their own IEP meetings. Johnson et al. (2002) indicated that secondary education must improve student attendance at IEP meetings and prepare students to actively participate in their meetings so they can lead discussions about their plans and goals. The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs, Expert Strategy Panel Report indicated that today's secondary schools provide too few opportunities for students to learn and practice IEP leadership skills prior to their IEP meeting (U.S. Department of Education, 2001). Even so, a growing number of students do attend their IEP meetings. Many of the statewide transition system change grants sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education encouraged student involvement in their IEP meetings (Williams & O'Leary).
Emerging studies report that when students attend their IEP meetings without specific IEP meeting instruction, students do not know what to do, lack understanding of the meeting's purpose or language, feel like no one listens to them when they do talk, do not know the goals or other outcomes of the meeting, and think that attending the IEP meeting would be a meaningless activity (Lehmann, Bassett, & Sands, 1999; Lovitt, Cushing, & Stump, 1994; Morningstar, Turnbull, & Turnbull, 1995; Powers, Turner, Matuszewski, Wilson, & Loesch, 1999; Sweeney, 1996). These studies suggest that asking students to attend their IEP meetings without prior IEP meeting instruction may actually cause educational harm and result in more students becoming disillusioned with their formal education (Lehman et al.; Powers et al.).
IEP meetings occur for every student who is eligible for special education and related services. Much has been written on IEP procedural details and their impact on educational outcomes (Smith, 1990), but little information exists on participant perceptions. For example, we don't know the value-added benefit of students and general educators attending the IEP meeting, or the perceptions of IEP team members to student participation in the IEP meeting, and whether their perception differs when students do or do not attend the meetings. Answers to these questions may facilitate implementation of IDEA's secondary transition reform measures. Thus, this study examined the perceptions of IEP team members. Specifically, we wanted to determine if perceptions of IEP meetings differ by IEP team members' role, and if their perceptions changed when different team members, including the student, attended the meetings.
SUBJECTS AND SETTING
The 1,638 participants in this study attended 393 IEP meetings held over 3 consecutive, academic years. The number of participants at each IEP …