Special Education: The Individual Education Plan (IEP)
Kit Richert, Ph.D.
What is an IEP?
The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) proclaims the right for all American children, including those with special needs, to receive a free and appropriate public education. It is therefore the duty of the public school to determine what is “appropriate” for a student considering their particular handicap. A “one size fits all” approach to Special Education is an idea of the past.
An Individual Education Plan (IEP) is a document developed by public schools that presents an academic program that is considered by an interdisciplinary team (called the IEP team) to offer an appropriate educational program for a child with regard to their particular disability.
The IEP Meeting
Before a child is placed in Special Education an assessment must be completed to explore the suspected areas of disability. It is important to note that not all students with a diagnosed condition (such as ADHD or Asperger’s Disorder) will qualify for Special Education if it can be shown that the child can function adequately in their General Education classroom despite their condition.
Following the assessment, an IEP meeting is then held that includes the parties that have assessed, the parents, a General Education teacher and an administrator (called the IEP team). The IEP team will review the assessment results to determine if:
1. The child meets eligibility criteria for 1 of 13 disabling conditions.
2. The child needs Special Education services (their needs cannot be met in a regular education setting).
Students may not be eligible if their learning difficulties can be attributed to:
• Low English language proficiency
• Temporary physical handicap
• Social maladjustment
• Cultural, socioeconomic, or environmental factors.
If a student is found by the team to meet disability criteria, an IEP is developed, which documents the instruction methods, accommodations, and modifications necessary for the student to learn successfully. Each IEP is developed with a set of written goals with the objective that Special Education services will help the child meet the goals within 1 years time. Goals may be written in multiple areas, including academic achievement, behavior, social skills, organization, motor coordination, etc. The IEP is equivalent to a legal contract, stating that a student must receive the services and address the goals outlined. A student may take their IEP to any school district in the country and by law must receive the same services and classroom accommodations listed in the IEP.
If you are a General Education teacher that has been invited to the IEP meeting of one of your students, you have an important role to play. It is helpful to review records regarding the child’s performance in your classroom. Come prepared to talk about the trends and patterns you’ve noticed regarding their homework, classwork, test taking abilities, their behavior and attitude, social skills, etc. Are they consistent or inconsistent? Have you noticed a change for the better or for the worse? What are their strengths and weaknesses as learners and as students? Do they seem process information differently than other students?
Your observations are very important to the IEP team’s decision to determine the best educational placement for the student. Remember, with Special Education all decisions are team decisions. You are a part of the team and your input is essential.
Special Education Service Delivery
The majority of Special Education students qualify with a Specific Learning Disability, and may only receive Special Education services to address goals in one subject area (Reading for example). Those students may be pulled out for small group instruction, or a Special Education teacher may push in to the classroom to deliver services. Students with moderate to severe disabilities may require greater levels of service and a Special Day Class, but many of them may be partially or fully included in a General Education classroom with support from one-on-one aids. As a rule, students are required to be in the “least restrictive environment”, which is should be the General Education classroom whenever possible.
In addition to academic support services, Special Education students may be eligible for other services in the school, district, or county. Students may receive speech and language therapy, counseling for emotional issues or social skills, or occupational therapy for gross and fine motor delays. Students with more severe disabilities may be also eligible for special transportation services, adaptive PE, and an extended school year.
General Education teachers will usually receive copies of the Special Education goals the student is working on and the classroom accommodations required by the IEP. The IEP accommodations selected by the IEP team (such as extended time on tests, preferential seating, or shortened assignments) must be implemented properly in all the classes attended by the child, or the school can be found liable. It is encouraged that regular communication occur between the General and Special Education teacher, as well as with the parents and all other parties working with the student. This will ensure that parties can collaborate to work on similar strategies, and learn from one another what is working best for the student.
IEP’s are redeveloped each year and new goals developed. Every three years Special Education students must be reassessed by the interdisciplinary team to explore their development. If a child has been successful in remediating their academic skill deficit they may be exited from Special Education or have their time in General Education increased. If there are any concerns about the appropriateness of the IEP, an IEP meeting may be called at any time by any party involved with the child’s education.