With the variety of learning styles and unique abilities of children, there are times when a student requires specialized instruction rather than a typical educational approach. Students are protected under the U.S. Department of Education’s Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for a free and appropriate education and may require special education services within an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) so they can receive the maximum benefit of their education.
What is an Individualized Education Plan?
After a student is determined to qualify for special education services, an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is developed. The IEP is a written document that is developed at an IEP meeting and becomes one of the guiding principles for a child’s schooling. This plan denotes specialized goals that are directed for that specific learner. It is developed collaboratively between the school team and the guardians to chart a path of success based on the student’s academic performance and areas of strength and need. At any point, a meeting can be called to review the IEP and make any revisions. In addition, annually, there will be a meeting to discuss progress and develop a new IEP. Every three years there is a reevaluation to determine continued eligibility as a result of standardized assessment results.
Which Students Need an IEP?
A student must go through the special education eligibility process to have an IEP. The identification progress begins with a referral meeting where the team decides if an evaluation is warranted. The evaluations are standardized assessments that are conducted to understand how the student learns and is performing. These tests may include cognitive functioning, academic performance tests, or other evaluations related to a student. The team has 60 days to complete the evaluations where the information will be reviewed at an eligibility IEP meeting. Analyzing the results and current student performance, the team then decides if the child qualifies for special education. The team bases their decision on whether there are factors interfering with the child’s ability to gain an education. This could be due to a physical impairment, a learning disability, medical condition, and/or behavioral concerns. While each state has different procedures, the end result is that students that require special education services need to have an IEP.
Who is Involved in the IEP Process?
The following people are included as part of the IEP process:
- Administrator – This can be a principal, assistant principal, director, or a designee.
- Regular education representative – Typically, this is the classroom teacher for younger students or for older students, a teacher representative that has the child in one of their classes.
- Special education teacher – Most of the time, this is a general special education teacher that has an expertise in academics.
- Pupil personnel representative – Often this can be one or more of the following people: school psychologist, speech/language pathologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, and/or social worker. The people attending either provide direct services or have knowledge that will support the development of the IEP.
- Parents – The parents or guardians of the child have insight into the child that only they can provide. They’re an invaluable resource.
Main Components of an IEP
While IEPs may vary from state to state based on state policies and procedures, there are five key components for each IEP. They are:
- Diagnosis – Any child with an IEP needs to have a disability. Some examples of these exceptionalities are specific learning disabilities, developmental delays, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and other health impairments. This is the primary factor that causes a student to need specialized instruction.
- Current Levels of Performance – This records how the student is currently functioning in a variety of areas. This includes academics, social/emotional, and areas of daily living skills. The current levels of performance are important as over time students should see progression in these items.
- Goals – The heart of the IEP is the goals. Each area should be broken down into goals for the student to achieve in one academic year. The goals should start off generally and include objectives to demonstrate mastery. For example, the goal may be to improve in reading as measured by an assessment. Then the objectives would be to be able to decode constant-vowel-constant words or specific traits towards fluency, comprehension, or decoding.
- Implementation/Services – If the goals are what the students are learning, the implementation is how they are learning it. On this portion of the IEP, it will note who is providing the specialized services, how many hours per week, and the location. The location includes where services take place (i.e. classroom, resource room) and also whether it is individual or small group instruction.
- Accommodations – Students that require an IEP may also need classroom accommodations. This may include support from a paraprofessional or other items required due to the student’s disability. For example, students with a reading disability may need access to audio books or may need to have material read to them. Other accommodations could be for a student with a vision impairment; this student may need things enlarged. Or a student with an “other health impairment” disability due to ADHD may require alternative settings for assessments.
While IEPs may differ due to students’ needs or local school district policies, the core of any IEP should detail individualized goals, supports towards meeting the goals, and accommodation to support the student to maximize their learning opportunities in a dignified manner for the student.