An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is a plan or program to benefit a child with a disability. An IEP is the accumulated work of a team of people from different educational disciplines, the child’s parents or guardians, the child, and any other advocates.
What is an IEP, and what is its purpose?
The IEP is developed for a child with an identified disability in elementary or high school to access special education services and specialized instruction. A team of educational experts from various disciplines will discuss what the child needs to realize their potential. The team will also include the child’s parents or guardians, the child, and any other advocates involved in the child’s life.
This free service gives concerned parents a voice and opportunity to help with their child’s education, due to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004).
Before the plan is even considered, the school will have to determine if the child is eligible for the specialized services. They can decide against establishing a plan, but if they go ahead, the process begins with the child’s diagnosis of a disability. The plan’s purpose is to ensure that the child has every advantage to do well despite any limitations.
What is the most common type of special needs?
Here are some of the most likely disabilities considered for IEP:
- Learning Disabilities*
- Hearing Impairment*
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)*
- Cognitive Challenges
- Emotional Disorders
- Visual Impairment
- Developmental Delays
- Speech and Language Impairment
- Physical Disabilities*
*These are the most common disabilities in schools.
How is an IEP used?
The school uses an IEP to guide them on the instruction and services the student needs to strengthen weaknesses and to do well academically. The IEP also helps to monitor the child’s improvements as they move through the plan. There are regular updates provided for all concerned to see progress in light of the annual goals. At least once a year, the IEP is reviewed and possibly revised. These meetings are attended by the whole team, including the parents, and insights are shared.
If a revision is deemed necessary, all of the original factors must be considered again. These include the parents’ opinions on their child’s education, the child’s strengths and weaknesses, their performance on tests, and the current evaluations or reevaluations.
The goal of the IEP is to be carried out in a regular school environment, like a classroom, resource room, or school library. A child may have individual sessions with a specialist, or children who have similar needs may form a small group. Occasionally, there may be more intensive sessions taking place outside of school in special school environments.
Who Writes an IEP?
The professionals consulted on a child’s IEP may include the following:
- An Educational Psychologist
- An Occupational Therapist
- A Physical Therapist
- A Speech Therapist
- A Sight or Hearing Specialist
- Other advocates, depending on the child’s needs
Once the parent or guardian permits testing to begin, each relevant professional will assess the child’s specific needs, and their findings are contributed to the plan. The tests may include general skills like speech and language or more specific school skills like math and reading. The initial compilation of the findings is called a comprehensive evaluation report (CER).
The parents have an opportunity to review the findings before the IEP is written. If the parents need an interpreter due to hearing impairment or if they’re non-English speakers, they should let the school know ahead of time. The school can arrange for an interpreter to be present at IEP meetings.
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What are the 8 components of an IEP?
Every IEP consists of these eight components:
1 Current Skill Level
The child’s current skill levels and performance must be included in the IEP. This will describe the child’s disability and how it affects their education progression. It also takes into consideration the ‘functional performance,’ which is their non-academic performance, like behavior, motor skills, and interpersonal relationships. This establishes a baseline for future evaluations.
2 Progress Tracking
This states how the IEP will measure the child’s progress toward the goals outlined. The metrics may be outcomes of regular testing or feedback from teachers. This is informative for the parents and everyone else involved.
3 Annual Goals
No plan would be complete without stated goals. The IEP must have stated goals for the child to reach, which are measurable and have deadlines. The goals may relate to behavior, academic performance, or physical mobility, depending on the child’s unique challenges.
4 Special Services
Here is where all of the proposed special services for the child are outlined. The IEP will describe any classes, durations, specific help, and even teacher training to help with the child’s special needs.
5 Duration of Services
So not only are the special services described in detail but also the duration of the services. Included here is the frequency of services and where they will happen. The degree of detail ensures that everyone involved is on the same page about what and when the child will receive the special services.
6 Testing Adaptations
The IEP will explain if the child is to take state and local achievement tests. If they are to be included with these tests, the plan will describe any accommodations they are to have. Accommodations may include extra time, a separate room, wheel-chair accessible test locations, etc. If the child will be taking a modified version of the tests, this is also described and explained in detail.
7 Participation in Mainstream Classrooms
Depending on the extent of the child’s needs, the IEP will show how much time the child will spend in mainstream classes and why. The goal is that the child should spend as much time as possible with their peers and not in other external environments. Inclusion is vital to the IEP program.
8 Transitional Goals and Services
The IEP is designed to meet the child’s needs in school (elementary and secondary) and prepare them for transition out onto jobs or college. So the plan will include how the child is being prepared for the future and what services they may still require from other sources. After a period with an IEP, a child and their parents will have the knowledge and language to advocate at other institutions for services they require.
What are the legal requirements of an IEP?
- Mainstream classroom participation
- Annual goals
- Special needs services required – when and where
- Testing plans
- Progress documenting
- Transitional preparations
While the IEP may contain much more, these must be present.
How do you explain IEP to students?
The IEP may be explained to students as a document put together by a team of people (including their parents) who want to ensure that they do well in school and life.
The document is an educational plan just for them that describes their:
- New skills to be taught
- What they’ll do in school this year
- The services they’ll require
- Where their learning will take place
If they’re old enough, let them know their insights are helpful, and they should be encouraged to actively contribute to the IEP.
What classifies a child as having special needs?
Special needs is a broad term covering various diagnoses, from quickly resolved issues to others that significantly impact the child’s life and education. Special needs may include developmental delays, psychiatric conditions, medical conditions, and congenital conditions.
Although many people feel negative about ‘labels,’ the designation is valuable. Being diagnosed with special needs will give the child access to services and specialized instruction to help them fulfill their potential despite limitations. A diagnosis will also provide a deeper understanding of the challenges the child faces, along with strategies to overcome or manage those challenges.
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