Most teachers have at least one or two students with IEPs in their classrooms each year, and sometimes many more. What is an IEP, and how does it affect students, teachers, and families? Here’s what you need to know.
Source: Modern Teacher
IEP stands for Individualized Education Program. It’s a legal document that clearly defines how a school plans to meet a child’s unique educational needs that result from a disability. IEPs were first introduced in 1975, when Congress passed legislation that gave children with disabilities the right to attend public schools.
Today, IEPs are covered under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This federal law entitles all children with certain types of disabilities a free, appropriate education. Children who qualify must be provided with an education that meets their unique needs, provides access to the general education curriculum, and meets state grade-level standards.
The IEP is the cornerstone of a child’s special education program. It assesses their present performance, sets reasonable measurable goals for the child, and specifies the services the school will provide. IEPs grow and change along with a child and are regularly reevaluated to ensure they’re still effective (at least annually, sometimes more frequently).
IDEA says that school districts must provide a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) to all children. What’s more, they must allow students to participate in that education in the least restrictive environment (LRE) possible. They must be given the opportunity to participate in the traditional school experience to the full extent possible.
Source: LREs at Undivided
When federal law first required public schools to admit special education students in the 1970s, many of them grouped these students together into special ed classrooms or buildings. This isolated them from their peers, leading to stigma among the general public. Plus, students of wildly varying abilities were often all in one classroom, making it difficult to meet all of their needs.
When IDEA went into effect in 1990, one goal was to change the stigma and give all students a more appropriate education among their peers. To that end, the law stated students must learn in the least restrictive environment. In other words, schools were urged to find ways to serve students with special needs in the general classroom whenever possible.
An IEP can help schools and teachers figure out how to help students succeed in the LRE that’s right for them, which for many is a general education inclusion classroom, possibly with push-in, pull-out services. For some students, a general classroom isn’t an appropriate LRE. However, the law requires schools to do their best to keep kids learning alongside their peers before opting for a different choice.
Learn more about Least Restrictive Environments (LRE) here.
IDEA covers children from birth until they graduate high school or turn 21, whichever comes first. To qualify, a child must fall under one of 13 disability categories, and their disability must adversely affect their school performance. Just because a child has a disability does not mean they need special services or require an IEP. They do have the right to be evaluated for one, though.
These are the included categories and legal definitions under IDEA:
Each IEP must be an individualized document, created especially for the child in question. There is no standard form, but the law does require it to include sections for present levels of performance, goals, and services. See a sample IEP with its sections explained here.
Source: Maryland Online IEP
This section documents a child’s current school performance and how their disability affects their progress and involvement. These are reevaluated on a regular basis, at least annually, and updated as needed. They should include a detailed look at:
Learn more about the Present Level of Performance component of an IEP here.
Source: A Day in Our Shoes
An IEP must include measurable goals for the student that can be reasonably accomplished in a school year. The goals are based on the student’s present level of performance and focus on the student’s specific needs.
It’s vital that the goals on an IEP be “measurable.” This means they must be very specific in their wording. A goal should include how success will be measured, and when progress is expected to be seen.
Here’s an example of a poorly written IEP goal: “The student will improve their reading skills by focusing on sight words.” This goal doesn’t include any way in which progress can be measured, or a projected time frame for meeting the goal.
Instead, this goal might say, “At the end of the first grading period, the student will demonstrate mastery of a list of 50 common sight words by reading aloud the words when presented on flash cards, with an accuracy of 95%.”
Discover much more about IEP goals here.
Source: IEP Related Services at Undivided
In this section, schools state the ways they’ll help the child achieve their IEP goals. This might include:
Under IDEA, schools are required to actively seek out and identify students who qualify for special education services. It’s often a classroom teacher who first suggests a student be evaluated for these services. Other times, a doctor, counselor, or parent may initiate the process.
Once a school decides to evaluate a student, they must seek parental approval. Schools usually have set processes in place, including assessments and evaluations, but they must follow the law. Most districts have IEP coordinators to help with the process. Parents may also choose to have their children evaluated privately, at their own cost.
After an evaluation determines a child qualifies for special education services, the IEP team is assembled. This might include:
The IEP team changes over time, and not all members must attend meetings. However, at each formal yearly evaluation, it’s best to assemble as many members of a team as possible.
Source: Dr. Nicole Connolly
The law gives parents some very specific rights in the IEP process. Parents and legal guardians have the right to:
Find out more about IEPs and parental rights here.
In addition to the resource links throughout this post, here are some additional places to find info for parents, teachers, and schools on IEPs.
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