Many parents of children with disabilities at some point will need to determine if their child needs an Individualized Education Program. IEP’s are essential for any child that requires modifications and services to progress in the general curriculum. However, sometimes it can be hard to understand the basics of what an IEP is, what it includes, and how to determine if your child will qualify. Here are some important aspects to help you better understand your next steps.
What is an Individualized Education Program?
In the United States, if a child qualifies for Special Education and related services, they must have an Individualized Education Program written for their unique needs. The IEP must be designed specifically for the child, and it must highlight their requirements to meet their educational goals best. The IEP is written and developed as a collaborative effort between school administrators, Special Education teachers, teachers, therapists, the student, and parents.
The goal of the IEP is to pool the knowledge of the team and develop a plan that will enable the student to progress and thrive in the general curriculum. The plan can include modifications and accommodations needed to help the child meet those goals. It can include what role special education will play in their daily curriculum. Services that they need will also be factored into the IEP.
The U.S. Department of Education has built a guide that helps schools and families write the plans. This guide provides the most critical aspect that must be included in the IEP. Also, because the IEP falls under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, it is essential that the IEP follows the guidelines and rules under IDEA. Specific criteria under IDEA is required for every IEP, but schools and states do have some flexibility in what the IEP includes.
What is Included in an IEP?
The Child’s Current Performance: The IEP must include information on the current performance of the child. Performance information will be gathered from a combination of how they are doing in their classroom, evaluations they have completed for the IEP, testing that has been done by the school, and observations that are made by teachers, parents and other team members that work with the child. The goal of including current performance is to highlight how the child’s disability affects their ability to be a part of and progress in the general curriculum.
Annual Goals: After the team has assessed the current performance of the child, they will develop reasonable goals that the child can complete within the year. Goals can be academic, social, behavioral, or related to services such as speech, occupational therapy, or physical therapy. Any goal that is written into the plan must be able to be measured to ensure that the goal is either met or not completed.
Special Education and Related Services: The IEP must include what role Special Education will play in their school day. It must also include other services the child needs to meet their educational goals. Modifications to the curriculum would be included in this section. If the child needs additional support via an aid, it would be included in this section. Services such as Speech, Occupational Therapy, and Adaptive Phy Ed would be included in this portion of the IEP. If the staff needs training or education related to the needs of the child, it would be included in this section.
Participation with Non-Disabled Students: Laws require that the IEP outlines that it must explain if the child will not be participating with non-disabled children in regular classes or activities. An example of this is if the child will need to have time outside of the class for 1:1 instruction. If they are not able to participate in specific activities that non-disabled children will attend, it must be included in the IEP
Participation in State and District-Wide Tests: Schools are at times required to test and assess the progress of children in specific grade levels. The IEP will outline what modifications will be needed for the child to participate in the testing. If the child is not able to be tested, the IEP will describe why the child cannot participate. If the child is not tested, it will also outline how they plan to measure the progress the child.
Dates and Places: An outline of services will be required in the IEP. The IEP will have to include the dates of when services will begin when they end, and where the services will take place.
Transition Service Needs: Once a child reaches age 14, the IEP will include the needs of the child to reach their post-education goals. The IEP will highlight and include any services needed to reach those goals. A statement of transition must also be included in every IEP following their 14th year until the IEP ends.
Needed Transition Services: When the child is 16, the team will begin to assess what services will be required to help the child transition out of their education. These can include any courses or programs that will enable the child to lead a more independent life.
Age of Majority: In states that transfer rights of majority to the student, the student must be notified at least one year before of their rights and what will be transferred to them.
Measuring Progress: By law, it is required that the IEP include how the school will be measuring the progress of the child. The IEP must also include how parents will be informed.
How Do I know if my Child Qualifies?
Schools are required to identify if children are in need of special education. This can be done in several ways. A teacher can refer a child for an evaluation for special education. A parent can also request that the school evaluate the child to determine if they qualify for special education services.
Once the request has been made, evaluation and assessment will be done by the school and a team of professionals to determine what services will be needed. This will include any areas the team feels the child’s disability impedes on their progress in the general curriculum. Parents are also able to provide insight and feedback on what services the child needs.
After the assessment is done, the team will determine if the child is eligible for the IEP. If it is decided the child needs services, the school will work to set up the initial meeting for the IEP. The meeting will include all participants of the child’s team from teachers, aides, administrators, and therapists.
Once the meeting is scheduled, the meeting will be held, and the IEP will be written. Any disagreements parents have with the IEP must be worked out with the team and modified or corrected before signing the final draft.
After the IEP is finalized and signed by the parent, services will begin for the child. The services will include any modifications needed or services the child needs to progress in their education. The child’s progress will be measured via what is written in the IEP. Parents will be notified of their progress.
The IEP has to be reviewed at a minimum annually, but it can be discussed more often if requested by the parents. Each review will include any updates or assessments needed to evaluate the current needs of the child.
The IEP evaluation and qualification is done every three years. Every three years an assessment must be completed to ensure the child continues to qualify for an IEP.
For a further breakdown of the IEP, please visit the Department of Education