The following information is adapted from Guide to the Individualized Education Program, Office of special Education and Rehabilitative, US Department of Education, July 2000.
The individualized Education Program (IEP) is a very important document for children with disabilities and for those who are involved in educating them. Done correctly, the IEP should improve teaching, learning, and results. Each child's IEP describes, among other things, the educational program that has been designed to meet that child's unique needs.
Elements of an Individualized Education Program (IEP)
By law, the IEP must include certain information about the child and the educational program designed
to meet his or her unique needs. In a nutshell, this information includes:
- Current performance: The IEP must state how the child is currently doing in school (known as
present levels of academic achievement and functional performance). This information usually
comes from the evaluation results such as classroom tests and assignments, individual tests
given to decide eligibility for services or during reevaluation, and observations made by parents,
teachers, related service providers, and other school staff. The statement about "current
performance" includes how the child's disability affects his or her involvement and progress in
the general curriculum.
- Annual goals: These are goals that the child can reasonably accomplish in a year. The goals are
broken down into short-term objectives or benchmarks. Goals may be academic, functional,
address social or behavioral needs, relate to physical needs, or address other educational needs.
The goals must be measurable-meaning that it must be possible to measure whether the
student has achieved the goals.
- Special education and related services: The IEP must list the special education and related
services to be provided to the child or on behalf of the child. This includes supplementary aids
and services based on peer-reviewed research to the extent practicable that the child needs. It
also includes modifications (changes) to the program or supports for school personnel-such as
training or professional development-that will be provided to assist the child.
- Participation with nondisabled children: The IEP must explain the extent (if any) to which the
child will not participate with nondisabled children in the regular class and other school
- Participation in state and district-wide tests: Most states and districts give achievement tests to
children in certain grades or age groups. The IEP must state what modifications in the
administration of these tests the child will need. If a test is not appropriate for the child, the IEP
must state why the test is not appropriate and how the child will be tested instead.
Dates and places: The IEP must state when services will begin, how often they will be provided,
where they will be provided, and how long they will last.
- Transition services: Beginning no later than when the child is 14 (or younger, if appropriate),
and updated annually, the IEP must include transition services, including the student's course of
study; appropriate measurable post-secondary goals based on age-appropriate transition
assessments related to training, education, employment, and independent living, as
appropriate; and a statement of needed transition services including, if appropriate, a
statement of a public agency's and a participating agency's responsibilities or linkages, or both,
before the student leaves the secondary school setting.
- Measuring progress: The IEP must state how the child's progress will be measured and how
parents will be informed of that progress.
IEP Team Members
By law, certain individuals must be involved in writing a child's Individualized Education Program. Note that an IEP team member may fill more than one of the team positions if properly qualified and designated. For example, the school system representative may also be the person who can interpret the child's evaluation results.
These people must work together as a team to write the child's IEP. A meeting to write the IEP must be held within 30 calendar days of deciding that the child is eligible for special education and related services.
Each team member brings important information to the IEP meeting. Members share their information and work together to write the child's Individualized Education Program. Each person's information adds to the team's understanding of the child and what services the child needs.
Parents are key members of the IEP team. They know their child very well and can talk about their child's strengths and needs as well as their ideas for enhancing their child's education. They can offer insight into how their child learns, what his or her interests are, and other aspects of the child that only a parent can know. They can listen to what the other team members think their child needs to work on at school and share their suggestions. They can also report on whether the skills the child is learning at school are being used at home.
Teachers are vital participants in the IEP meeting as well. At least one of the child's regular education teachers must be on the IEP team if the child is (or may be) participating in the regular education environment. The regular education teacher has a great deal to share with the team. For example, he or she might talk about:
- General curriculum in the regular classroom;
- Aids, services, or changes to the educational program that would help the child learn and achieve; and
- Strategies to help the child with behavior, if behavior is an issue.
The regular education teacher may also discuss with the IEP team the supports for school staff that are needed so that the child can:
- Advance toward his or her annual goals;
- Be involved and progress in the general curriculum;
- Participate in extracurricular and other activities; and
- Be educated with other children, both with and without disabilities.
Supports for school staff may include professional development or more training. Professional development and training are important for teachers, administrators, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and others who provide services for children with disabilities.
The child's special education teacher contributes important information and experience about how to educate children with disabilities. Because of his or her training in special education, this teacher can talk about such issues as:
- How to modify the general curriculum to help the child learn;
- Supplementary aids and services that the child may need to be successful in the regular classroom and elsewhere;
- How to modify testing so that the student can show what he or she has learned; and
- Other aspects of individualizing instruction to meet the student's unique needs.
Beyond helping to write the IEP, the special educator has responsibility for working with the student to carry out the IEP. He or she may:
- Work with the student in a resource room or special class devoted to students receiving special education services;
- Team-teach with the regular education teacher; and
- Work with other school staff, particularly the regular education teacher, to provide expertise about addressing the child's unique needs.
Another important member of the IEP team is the individual who can interpret what the child's evaluation results mean in terms of designing appropriate instruction. The evaluation results are very useful in determining how the child is currently doing in school and what areas of need the child has. This IEP team member must be able to talk about the instructional implications of the child's evaluation results, which will help the team plan appropriate instruction to address the child's needs.
The individual representing the school system is also a valuable team member. This person knows a great deal about special education services and educating children with disabilities. He or she can talk about the necessary school resources. It is important that this individual have the authority to commit resources and be able to ensure that whatever services are set out in the IEP will actually be provided.
The IEP team may also include additional individuals with knowledge or special expertise about the child. The parent or the school system can invite these individuals to participate on the team. Because an important part of developing an IEP is considering a child's need for related services (see the list of related services in the next section), related service professionals are often involved as IEP team members or participants. Depending on the child's individual needs, some related service professionals attending the IEP meeting or otherwise helping to develop the IEP might include occupational or physical therapists, psychologists, or speech-language pathologists.
When an IEP is being developed for a student of transition age, representatives from transition service agencies can be important participants. Whenever a purpose of a meeting is to consider needed transition services, the school must invite a representative of any other agency that is likely to be responsible for providing or paying for transition services. This individual can help the team plan any transition services the student needs.
A child may require any of the following related services in order to benefit from special education.
Related services, as listed under IDEA, include (but are not limited to):
- Audiology services
- Counseling services
- Early identification and assessment of disabilities in children
- Medical services for diagnostic or evaluation purposes
- Occupational therapy
- Orientation and mobility services
- Parent counseling and training
- Physical therapy
- Psychological services
- Rehabilitation counseling services
- School health services
- Social work services in schools
- Speech-language pathology services
If a child needs a particular related service in order to benefit from special education, the related service professional should be involved in developing the IEP. He or she may be invited by the school or parent to join the IEP team as a person "with knowledge or special expertise about the child."
Transition refers to activities meant to prepare students with disabilities for adult life. This can include developing postsecondary education and career goals, getting work experience while still in school, setting up linkages with adult service providers such as the vocational rehabilitation agency--whatever is appropriate for the student, given his or her interests, preferences, skills, and needs. Statements about the student's transition needs must be included in the IEP. Please visit the Transition Planning page for more information.
Writing the IEP
To help decide what special education and related services the student needs, the IEP team will begin by looking at the child's evaluation results, such as classroom tests, individual tests given to establish the student's eligibility, and observations by teachers, parents, paraprofessionals, related service providers, administrators, and others. This information will help the team describe the student's "present levels of educational performance" -in other words, how the student is currently doing in school. Knowing how the student is currently performing in school will help the team develop annual goals to address those areas where the student has an identified educational need.
The IEP team must also discuss specific information about the child. This includes:
- The child's strengths;
- The parents' ideas for enhancing their child's education;
- The results of recent evaluations or reevaluations; and
- How the child has done on state and district-wide tests.
It is important that the discussion of what the child needs be framed around how to help the child:
- Advance toward the annual goals;
- Be involved in and progress in the general curriculum;
- Participate in extracurricular and nonacademic activities; and
- Be educated with and participate with other children with disabilities and nondisabled children.
Based on the above discussion, the IEP team will then write the child's IEP. This includes the services and supports the school will provide for the child. If the IEP team decides that a child needs a particular device or service (including an intervention, accommodation, or other program modification), the IEP team must write this information in the IEP. As an example, consider a child whose behavior interferes with learning. The IEP team would need to consider positive and effective ways to address that behavior. The team would discuss the positive behavioral interventions, strategies, and supports that the child needs in order to learn how to control or manage his or her behavior. If the team decides that the child needs a particular service (including an intervention, accommodation, or other program modification), they must include a statement to that effect in the child's IEP.
The child's placement (where the IEP will be carried out) must be decided. The placement decision is made by a group of people, including the parents and others who know about the child, what the evaluation results mean, and what types of placements are appropriate. In Caroline County, the IEP team serves as the group making the placement decision. In all cases, the parents have the right to be members of the group that decides the educational placement of the child.
Placement decisions must be made according to IDEA's least restrictive environment requirements-commonly known as LRE. These requirements state that, to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities must be educated with children who do not have disabilities.
The law also clearly states that special classes, separate schools, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment may occur only if the nature or severity of the child's disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.
What type of placements are there? Depending on the needs of the child, his or her IEP may be carried out in the regular class (with supplementary aids and services, as needed), in a special class (where every student in the class is receiving special education services for some or all of the day), in a special school, at home, in a hospital or institution, or in another setting. A school system may meet its obligation to ensure that the child has an appropriate placement available by:
- Providing an appropriate program for the child on its own;
- Contracting with another agency to provide an appropriate program; or
- Utilizing some other mechanism or arrangement that is consistent with IDEA for providing or paying for an appropriate program for the child.
The IEP team will base its decision on the IEP and which placement option is appropriate for the child. Can the child be educated in the regular classroom, with proper aids and supports? If the child cannot be educated in the regular classroom, even with appropriate aids and supports, then the IEP team will talk about other placements for the child.
After the IEP is Written
When the IEP has been written, parents must receive a copy at no cost to themselves. The IDEA also stresses that everyone who will be involved in implementing the IEP must have access to the document. This includes the child's:
- Regular education teacher(s);
- Special education teacher(s);
- Related service provider(s) (for example, speech therapist); or
- Any other service provider (such as a paraprofessional) who will be responsible for a part of the child's education.
Each of these individuals needs to know what his or her specific responsibilities are for carrying out the child's IEP. This includes the specific accommodations, modifications, and supports that the child must receive, according to the IEP.
Implementing the IEP
Once the IEP is written, it is time to implement it by providing the student with the special education and related services as listed in the IEP. This includes all supplementary aids and services based on peer-reviewed research to the extent practicable and program modifications that the IEP team has identified as necessary for the student to advance appropriately toward his or her IEP goals, to be involved in and progress in the general curriculum, and participate in other school activities. The following suggestions are offered regarding the many issues involved in implementing a student's IEP:
Parental consent must be given before the school can provide a child with special education and related services for the first time.
- Every individual involved in providing services to the student should know and understand his or her responsibilities for carrying out the IEP. This will help ensure that the student receives the services that have been planned, including the specific modifications and accommodations the IEP team has identified as necessary.
- Teamwork plays an important part in carrying out the IEP. Many professionals are likely to be involved in providing services and supports to the student. Sharing expertise and insights can help make everyone's job a lot easier and can certainly improve results for students with disabilities. Schools can encourage teamwork by giving teachers, support staff, and/or paraprofessionals time to plan or work together on such matters as adapting the general curriculum to address the student's unique needs. Teachers, support staff, and others providing services for children with disabilities may request training and staff development.
- Communication between home and school is also important. Parents can share information about what is happening at home and build upon what the child is learning at school. If the child is having difficulty at school, parents may be able to offer insight or help the school explore possible reasons as well as possible solutions.
- It is helpful to have someone in charge of coordinating and monitoring the services the student receives. In addition to special education, the student may be receiving any number of related services. Many people may be involved in delivering those services. Having a person in charge of overseeing that services are being delivered as planned can help ensure that the IEP is being carried out appropriately.
- The regular progress reports that the law requires will help parents and schools monitor the child's progress toward his or her annual goals. It is important to know if the child is not making the progress expected-or if he or she has progressed much faster than expected. Together, parents and school personnel can then address the child's needs as those needs become evident.
Reviewing and Revising the IEP
The IEP team must review the child's IEP at least once a year. One purpose of this review is to see whether the child is achieving his or her annual goals. The team must revise the child's Individualized Education Program, if necessary, to address:
- The child's progress or lack of expected progress toward the annual goals and in the general curriculum;
- Information gathered through any reevaluation of the child;
- Information about the child that the parents share;
- Information about the child that the school shares (for example, insights from the teacher based on his or her observation of the child or the child's classwork);
- The child's anticipated needs; or
- Other matters.
Although the IDEA requires this IEP review at least once a year, in fact the team may review and revise the IEP more often. Either the parents or the school can ask to hold an IEP meeting to revise the child's IEP. For example, the child may not be making progress toward his or her IEP goals, and his or her teacher or parents may become concerned. On the other hand, the child may have met most or all of the goals in the IEP, and new ones need to be written. In either case, the IEP team would meet to revise the IEP.
What If Parents Don't Agree With the IEP?
There are times when parents may not agree with the school's recommendations about their child's education. Conflict, misunderstandings, and poor communications do sometimes occur. It is in the child’s best interest that these situations be resolved in a positive and productive manner. The first step in resolving concerns and conflicts is to address them with the staff member who is most directly involved. In most cases, this will be your child's general education or special education teacher. A parent may want to request a conference and follow up with a note identifying specific concerns. Of course, the school principal may be contacted at any time regarding concerns.
When disputes arise that cannot be resolved between parents and school-based personnel, the parents and school staff members are encouraged to contact the Supervisor of Special Education for the Caroline County Public Schools at 410-479-3246.