To create an effective IEP, parents, teachers, other school staff-and often the student-must come together to look closely at the student's unique needs. These individuals pool knowledge, experience, and commitment to design an educational program that will help the student be involved in, and progress in, the general curriculum. The IEP guides the delivery of special education supports and services for the student with a disability. Without a doubt, writing-and implementing-an effective IEP requires teamwork.
This guide explains the IEP process, which we consider to be one of the most critical elements to ensure effective teaching, learning, and better results for all children with disabilities. The guide is designed to help teachers, parents, and others-in fact, anyone involved in the education of a child with a disability-develop and carry out an IEP. The information in this guide is based on what is required by our nation's special education law-the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA.
The IDEA requires certain information to be included in each child's IEP. It is useful to know, however, that states and local school systems often include additional information in IEPs in order to document that they have met certain aspects of federal or state law. The flexibility that states and school systems have to design their own IEP forms is one reason why IEP forms may look different from school system to school system or state to state. Yet each IEP is critical in the education of a child with a disability.
The Basic Special Education Process Under IDEA
1. Child Find.
Child is identified as possibly needing special education and related services.The state must identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities in the state who need special education and related services. To do so, states conduct "Child Find" activities. A child may be identified by "Child Find," and parents may be asked if the "Child Find" system can evaluate their child. Parents can also call the "Child Find" system and ask that their child be evaluated. Or-
Referral or request for evaluation. A school professional may ask that a child be evaluated to see if he or she has a disability. Parents may also contact the child's teacher or other school professional to ask that their child be evaluated. This request may be verbal or in writing. Parental consent is needed before the child may be evaluated. Evaluation needs to be completed within a reasonable time after the parent gives consent.
2. Child is evaluated.
The evaluation must assess the child in all areas related to the child's suspected disability. The evaluation results will be used to decide the child's eligibility for special education and related services and to make decisions about an appropriate educational program for the child. If the parents disagree with the evaluation, they have the right to take their child for an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE). They can ask that the school system pay for this IEE.
3. Eligibility is decided.
A group of qualified professionals and the parents look at the child's evaluation results. Together, they decide if the child is a "child with a disability," as defined by IDEA. Parents may ask for a hearing to challenge the eligibility decision.
4. Child is found eligible for services.
If the child is found to be a "child with a disability," as defined by IDEA, he or she is eligible for special education and related services. Within 30 calendar days after a child is determined eligible, the IEP team must meet to write an IEP for the child. The writing of each student's IEP takes place within the larger picture of the special education process under IDEA. Before taking a detailed look at the IEP, it may be helpful to look briefly at how a student is identified as having a disability and needing special education and related services and, thus, an IEP. Once the student has been found eligible for services, the IEP must be written. The two steps below summarize what is involved in writing the IEP. This guide will look at these two steps in much greater detail in the following section.
5. IEP meeting is scheduled.
The school system schedules and conducts the IEP meeting. School staff must:
contact the participants, including the parents; notify parents early enough to make sure they have an opportunity to attend; schedule the meeting at a time and place agreeable to parents and the school; tell the parents the purpose, time, and location of the meeting; tell the parents who will be attending; and tell the parents that they may invite people to the meeting who have knowledge or special expertise about the child.
6. IEP meeting is held and the IEP is written.
The IEP team gathers to talk about the child's needs and write the student's IEP. Parents and the student (when appropriate) are part of the team. If the child's placement is decided by a different group, the parents must be part of that group as well. Before the school system may provide special education and related services to the child for the first time, the parents must give consent. The child begins to receive services as soon as possible after the meeting.
If the parents do not agree with the IEP and placement, they may discuss their concerns with other members of the IEP team and try to work out an agreement. If they still disagree, parents can ask for mediation, or the school may offer mediation. Parents may file a complaint with the state education agency and may request a due process hearing, at which time mediation must be available.
Here is a brief summary of what happens after the IEP is written. Child is reevaluated.
1. Services are provided.
The school makes sure that the child's IEP is being carried out as it was written. Parents are given a copy of the IEP. Each of the child's teachers and service providers has access to the IEP and knows his or her specific responsibilities for carrying out the IEP. This includes the accommodations, modifications, and supports that must be provided to the child, in keeping with the IEP.
2. IEP is reviewed.
The child's IEP is reviewed by the IEP team at least once a year, or more often if the parents or school ask for a review. If necessary, the IEP is revised. Parents, as team members, must be invited to attend these meetings. Parents can make suggestions for changes, can agree or disagree with the IEP goals, and agree or disagree with the placement. If parents do not agree with the IEP and placement, they may discuss their concerns with other members of the IEP team and try to work out an agreement. There are several options, including additional testing, an independent evaluation, or asking for mediation (if available) or a due process hearing. They may also file a complaint with the state education agency.
3. Progress is measured and reported to parents.
The child's progress toward the annual goals is measured, as stated in the IEP. His or her parents are regularly informed of their child's progress and whether that progress is enough for the child to achieve the goals by the end of the year. These progress reports must be given to parents at least as often as parents are informed of their nondisabled children's progress.
4. Child is reevaluated at least every three years the child must be reevaluated. This evaluation is often called a "triennial." Its purpose is to find out if the child continues to be a "child with a disability," as defined by IDEA, and what the child's educational needs are. However, the child must be reevaluated more often if conditions warrant or if the child's parent or teacher asks for a reevaluation.
Clearly, the 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. This part of the guide looks closely at how the IEP is written and by whom, and what information it must, at a minimum, contain.
Contents of the 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 is:
Current performance. The IEP must state how the child is currently doing in school (known as present levels of educational 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, 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 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 activities.
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 needs. Beginning when the child is age 14 (or younger, if appropriate), the IEP must address (within the applicable parts of the IEP) the courses he or she needs to take to reach his or her post-school goals. A statement of transition services needs must also be included in each of the child's subsequent IEPs.
Needed transition services. Beginning when the child is age 16 (or younger, if appropriate), the IEP must state what transition services are needed to help the child prepare for leaving school.
Age of majority. Beginning at least one year before the child reaches the age of majority, the IEP must include a statement that the student has been told of any rights that will transfer to him or her at the age of majority. (This statement would be needed only in states that transfer rights at the age of majority.) Measuring progress. The IEP must state how the child's progress will be measured and how parents will be informed of that progress. More information will be given about these IEP parts later in this guide. A sample IEP form will be presented (see page 17), along with the federal regulations describing the "Content of the IEP," to help you gain a fuller understanding of what type of information is important to capture about a child in an IEP. It is useful to understand that each child's IEP is different.
The document is prepared for that child only. It describes the individualized education program designed to meet that child's needs.
Just a note....We as parent have undergone the IEP process before and have found that doing your homework, receiving advice from advocates or trained professionals can even possibly help sway any arguments you may have with the school district in your favor sometimes. Do not be pressured to sign the IEP if you disagree with any portion of it! You have the right to challenge and work a solution. Also, make sure you leave the IEP with a "Dirty Copy" from the district. A dirty is basically a rough draft with changes made to it during your meeting that will be typed up neatly for you to officially sign.
Make sure you bring your "dirty copy" with you when you sign the final draft so that nothing has changed. Let's face it, in this economic times, schools are forced to cut back on programs....so read everything carefully and do not be afraid to ask a question or submit your opnions. This is your child and you as parents as your childs best advocate!