Teachers know that none of their students are equal in the ability to understand and perform in an educational setting, being a teacher, a student’s ability to understand a subject, can be a matter of psychological constraints. However, it does not have to be a matter of distress for children or the educator. Such students do not need the subject explained in a simple way rather they need a special educational plan which is an Individualized Educational Plan—or IEP.
This is going to be a different subject for some people especially who have never had an experience with a student with special needs to educate them.
To start with let us discuss the purpose of an IEP before learning the traditional definition.
The purpose of an IEP is to provide a plan to help a student meet individual outcomes or goals beyond his or her current skills. For this reason, an understanding of what a student can and cannot do is essential to the individual education planning process. Each IEP is individual to the student for whom it is designed. As members of an IEP team, parents should be part of the individual planning process and sign the IEP for their child.
Talking about the traditional definition of the term, The Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) is a plan or program developed to ensure that a child who has a disability identified under the law and is attending an elementary or secondary educational institution receives specialized instruction and related services.
This is not the only way of educating students with special needs in fact, a 504 plan is considered an effective way to teach children that seems to struggle with the mainstream syllabus which is described as a plan developed to ensure that a child who has a disability identified under the law and is attending an elementary or secondary educational institution receives accommodations that will ensure their academic success and access to the learning environment.
Let us start with the IEP which can be implemented by teachers and parents who should take equal part in the process of education anyways. Technically, the IEP itself is a legal document which outlines exactly how the public school system is going to provide appropriate education to a student with disabilities.
Federal and state laws are in place to guide the process and ensure each child receives equitable support services. Working closely with the school district, parents play an important role in helping shape the IEP, ensuring your student gets the best support possible.
The concept of Individual Education Plans began in 1975 as a part of the Education of All Handicapped Children’s Act (EHA). This law mandates that public schools provide students with disabilities a “free appropriate public education” in the least restrictive environment. Since 1975, EHA has been expanded and renamed several times.
In 1990, the EHA was amended and renamed the “Individuals with Disabilities Education Act” (IDEA). This change requires schools to include children ages 3-5, and that parents have the right to participate in the development of IEPs for their special needs children.
In 2004 the law was again modified by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) and it was further expanded to include new regulations regarding the criteria used to determine if a child has specific learning disabilities.
Today, IDEA is a detailed statute comprising 8 subparts and more than 800 subsections which dictate precisely what is required of the public education system when it comes to serving students with disabilities. Understanding what the law requires is important for parents who are new to the world of special education.
Now let us learn about the differences between IEPs and 504 Plans and then we will move forward to learn about the implementation strategies of an IEP.
Often an IEP is confused with a “504 Plan”. While these two plans can be similar in many ways, it is important to know there are key differences between them. One difference is that IEPs fall under the IDEA statute, which is an education law. 504 plans fall under the Rehabilitation Act, which is an anti-discrimination law. IEPs are intended to address special education needs, while 504 plans are intended to provide services, accommodations, and changes to the learning environment to allow students to remain in general education classrooms.
Qualifying for and acquiring an IEP is often a more involved process than acquiring a 504 plan. Developing an IEP is a collaborative and ongoing process. Successful IEPs are the result of strong working partnerships between parents and school district administrations to identify the best possible supports for the student.
What Qualifies a Student for an IEP?
A thorough evaluation of a student’s progress or academic abilities must be assessed before an effective IEP can be developed so a student can receive special education and related services. Parents, a teacher, an administrator, or even a doctor can request a special needs evaluation through the public school district, free of charge. It is often a teacher who first notices the signs of a learning disability and initiates the process.
Based on the results of a child’s evaluation, an eligibility determination will be made. If your student is eligible for additional supports, the IEP process will begin. The school district, the parent, and the student are important team members in the developing of the IEP. Depending on the district or school system, specialized service providers like ChanceLight Education may provide expert consultants or special education professionals who specialize in IEP services.
The objective of the IEP process is to help the student maximize their learning potential. When conducted as intended, the IEP process leads to establishing and documenting a plan that facilitates effective teaching, learning, and the best possible results for the individual student.
Creating an Individual Education Plan is a fairly formal process. To begin with an IEP Team is formed. The team must consist of the child’s parents or legal guardian, a general education teacher, a special education teacher, a school administrator, and any individuals having knowledge or expertise regarding the child who are invited by the parents.
During the IEP meeting, the team is required to take into consideration: the child’s strengths, the parents’ feedback, the child’s most recent evaluation, the specific needs of the child, and any special factors. With these considerations in mind, the child’s IEP is formally put into writing.
Now I’m going to discuss 8 specific things that go into an IEP
Number 1: Current Skill Level
Every IEP must include a description of your child’s current performance and skills in all areas of concern. It should explain how their disability affects their progress in the general education curriculum. It will also assess their “functional performance” in non-academic areas like motor skills, behavior, and interpersonal relationships.
IEP teams typically use formal assessments to determine how your child is doing and establish a baseline of performance. The team may also use anecdotal information and feedback from teachers to further describe their skills.
Number 2: Annual Goals
The IEP must contain information about your child’s goals, which need to be updated at least once a year. Depending on what challenges your child faces, goals can relate to academic performance, behavior, improving their physical mobility in navigating between classes, and more.
Each objective should be measurable. With the help of regular evaluations, teachers and parents should be able to see how close a child has come to reaching their goals by the end of a school year.
Number 3: Progress Tracking
The IEP must explain exactly how progress toward your child’s goals will be measured, whether it’s regular testing or feedback reports from teachers. This gives you a clear idea of how your child is being evaluated throughout the year, and also provides reassurance that you will be kept in the loop about your child’s achievements and setbacks.
Number 4: Special Education Services
The IEP must clearly describe the student’s special education program and how it’s been designed to suit their particular needs. This provides details like separate instruction time, the use of one-on-one aides, and even special faculty training to help teachers learn more about how to best support your child.
Number 5: Duration of Services
The IEP must include a projected beginning and end date of any services the IEP team proposes. This includes details on the frequency of the services and where they will be delivered. The intent is to ensure that everyone understands exactly when and where your child’s individual program will take place.
Number 6: Participation in Mainstream Classrooms
This section ensures that supportive staff and faculty are doing all they can to keep your child in the “least restrictive environment” as possible. With an aim of inclusion, this part of the IEP will detail how the child can join the general, mainstream classroom environment whenever it’s appropriate.
Number 7: Testing Adaptations
The IEP must explain if your child will participate in state and local achievement tests that other kids at their school take. If they will, it’s important that the IEP specifies what types of testing accommodations will be used for them. Testing accommodations might include extra time, distraction-free rooms, and wheelchair-accessible tests.
If you and teachers decide it’s best that your child take modified or different tests to assess achievement, the rationale for that decision must be included in the IEP.
Number 8: Transitional Goals and Services
An IEP is designed to help your child succeed in the here and now, but also prepare them for the next phase of their education. For that reason, starting around a child’s 14th birthday, an IEP must include plans for transitioning a child beyond grade school.
Transitional goals and services focus on instruction and support services needed to help your child move from the school environment and into a job, vocational program, or another program designed to promote independent living. If your child aspires to go to college, the IEP should also include steps to help prepare them for advocating themselves in that environment.
Parents are usually asked to sign the IEP document. In some states, signing the IEP constitutes consent for the plan, while in other states it simply acknowledges that the parents were present for the IEP meeting. Either way, parents are not required to sign unless they choose to do so.
IEP rights, laws, and regulations can differ widely from state to state. Reading the most up-to-date information for your state on IEPs will help you know what to expect and how to prepare for the process.