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In the United States an Individualized Education Program, commonly referred to as an IEP, is mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In Canada and the United Kingdom, an equivalent document is called an Individual Education Plan.
An IEP defines the individualized objectives of a child who has been found with a disability, as defined by federal regulations. The IEP is intended to help children reach educational goals more easily than they otherwise would. In all cases the IEP must be tailored to the individual student's needs as identified by the IEP evaluation process, and must especially help teachers and related service providers (such as paraprofessional educators) understand the student's disability and how the disability affects the learning process.
The IEP describes how the student learns, how the student best demonstrates that learning and what teachers and service providers will do to help the student learn more effectively. Developing an IEP requires assessing students in all areas related to the known disabilities, simultaneously considering ability to access the general curriculum, considering how the disability affects the student’s learning, forming goals and objectives that correspond to the needs of the student, and choosing a placement in the least restrictive environment possible for the student.
As long as a student qualifies for special education, the IEP is mandated to be regularly maintained and updated up to the point of high school graduation, or prior to the 22nd birthday. If a student in special education attends university upon graduation, the university's own system and procedures take over. Placements often occur in "general education", mainstream classes, and specialized classes or sub-specialties taught by a special education teacher, sometimes within a resource room.
An IEP is meant to ensure that students receive an appropriate placement, not "only" special education classrooms or special schools. It is meant to give the student a chance to participate in "normal" school culture and academics as much as is possible for that individual student. In this way, the student is able to have specialized assistance only when such assistance is absolutely necessary, and otherwise maintains the freedom to interact with and participate in the activities of his or her more general school peers.
The individual needs of each individual child in the IEP. Such as resources available to ensure they receive accurate education according to their needs.
In the US, the IDEA requires public schools to develop an IEP for every student with a disability who is found to meet the federal and state requirements for special education. The IEP must be designed to provide the child with a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). The IEP refers both to the educational program to be provided to a child with a disability and to the written document that describes that educational program. The IDEA 2004 requires that an IEP must be written according to the needs of each student who meets eligibility guidelines under the IDEA and state regulations, and it must include the following:
IEPs also include other pertinent information found necessary by the team, such as a health plan or a behavior plan for some students.
The outcome of the IEP development process is an official document that describes the education plan designed to meet the unique needs of one child with a disability.
Before an IEP is written for a child with a disability, the school must first determine whether the child qualifies for special education services. To qualify, the child's disability must have an adverse effect on the child's educational progress. Merely having a disability is not sufficient for eligibility.
To determine eligibility, the school must conduct a full evaluation of the child in all areas of suspected disability. Based in part on the results of the evaluation, the school along with the parents meet to review the results and the child's current level of performance and to determine whether special education services are needed.
If the child is found eligible for services, the school is required to convene an IEP team and develop an appropriate educational plan for the child. The IEP should be implemented as soon as possible after the child is determined eligible. IDEA does not state specific timeframes for each step. However, some states have added specific timelines that schools must follow for the eligibility, IEP development, and IEP implementation milestones.
The IEP team must include the student and student's parent(s) or guardian(s), a special education teacher / case manager, at least one regular education teacher, a representative of the school or district who is knowledgeable about the availability of school resources, and an individual who can interpret the instructional implications of the child's evaluation results (such as the school psychologist).
The parent or school may also bring other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child. For example, the school may invite related service providers such as speech and occupational therapists. The parent may invite professionals who have worked with or assessed the child, or someone to assist the parent in advocating for their child's needs, such as a parent advocate or attorney. Many parents choose to bring at least one other person with them to IEP meetings because meeting with such a large group of school personnel can be intimidating to parents.
If appropriate, the child may also participate in IEP team meetings. For example, some children begin participating in their IEP meetings when they reach middle school age.
A typical IEP team meeting includes:
Parents are considered to be full and equal members of the IEP team, along with school personnel. Parents are crucial members of the team because they have unique knowledge of their child's strengths and needs. Parents have the right to be involved in meetings that discuss the identification, evaluation, IEP development and educational placement of their children. They also have the right to ask questions, dispute points, and request modifications to the plan, as do all members of the IEP team.
Although IEP teams are required to work toward consensus, school personnel ultimately are responsible for ensuring that the IEP includes the services that the student needs. By law, school districts are obligated to make a proposal for services to the parent. If agreement cannot be reached, the school district cannot delay in providing the services that it believes are the best services to ensure that the student receives an effective educational program.
Under IDEA Part D, the U. S. Department of Education funds at least one parent training and information center in each state and most territories to provide parents the information they need to advocate effectively for their child. Some centers may also provide a knowledgeable person to accompany a parent to IEP meetings to assist the parent in the process.
The school is mandated to make an effort to ensure that one or both of the parents are present at each IEP team meeting. If parents do not attend, the school is required to show that due diligence was made to enable the parents to attend, including notifying the parents early enough that they have an opportunity to attend, scheduling the meeting at a mutually agreed on time and place, and offering alternative means of participation, such as a phone conference.
The school is required to ensure the parent understands the proceedings of IEP team meetings, including arranging for an interpreter for parents who are deaf or whose native language is not English.
After the child is determined to be eligible for special education services, the IEP team is required to develop an individual education plan to be implemented as soon as possible after eligibility is determined. Using the results of the full individual evaluation (FIE), the IEP team works together to identify the child's present level of educational performance, the child's specific academic, and any related or special services that the child needs in order to benefit from their education.
When developing an IEP, the team must consider the strengths of the child, the concerns of the parent for their child's education, results of the initial or most recent evaluation of the child (including private evaluations conducted by the parents), and the academic, developmental, and functional needs of the child. In the case of a child whose behavior impedes the child's learning or that of other children, the team is required to consider the use of positive behavioral interventions and supports to address the behavior.
The IEP team is required to consider the communication needs of the child. For example, if a child is blind or visually impaired, the IEP is mandated to provide for instruction in Braille and the use of Braille unless an evaluation of the child's reading and writing skills, needs, and future needs indicate that this instruction is not appropriate for the child. If a child is deaf or hard of hearing, the team is required to consider the child's language and communication needs, including the need to communicate with school personnel and peers, and the child's need for direct instruction in the child's language and communication mode. In the case of a child with limited English proficiency, the team is required to consider the language needs of the child as those needs relate to the child's IEP.
A matrix is drafted containing the student’s present level of performance, indicators about ways the student’s disability influences participation and progress in the general curriculum, a statement of measurable goals, including benchmarks or short-terms objectives, the specific educational services to be provided, including program modifications or supports, an explanation of the extent that the child will not participate in general education, a description of all modifications in statewide or district-wide assessments, the projected date for initiation of the services and the expected duration of those services, the annual statement of transition service needs (beginning at age 14), and a statement of interagency responsibilities to ensure continuity of services when the student leaves school (by age 16), a statement regarding how the student’s progress will be measured and how the parents will be informed in the process.
IDEA requires a child's IEP be developed solely based on the child's needs, and not based on pre-existing programs or services available in the district. Whether particular services are available in the district should not be considered when identifying the services a child needs to receive an appropriate education.
After the IEP is developed, the IEP team determines placement—that is, the environment in which the child's IEP can most readily be implemented. IDEA requires that the IEP be complete before placement decisions are made so that the child's educational needs drive the IEP development process. Schools may not develop a child's IEP to fit into a pre-existing program for a particular classification of disability. The IEP is written to fit the student. The placement is chosen to fit the IEP.
IDEA requires state and local education agencies to educate children with disabilities with their non-disabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate. A child can only be placed in a separate school or special classes if the severity or nature of the disability is such that appropriate education cannot be provided to the child in the regular classroom, even with the use of supplementary aids and services. When determining placement, the starting assumption must be the student's current academic level and needs as evident by the disability.
A few of the placement settings include the general education classroom, resource class, separate class, and other settings, which include separate schools and residential facilities.
The general education classroom is seen as the least restrictive environment. In addition to the general education teacher, there will also ideally be a Special Education teacher. The special education teacher adjusts the curriculum to the student's needs. Most school-age IEP students spend at least 80 percent of their school time in this setting with his or her peers. Research suggests student's with special needs benefit from being included in general education and from participation in the general education curriculum.
The next setting is a resource class where the Special Education teacher works with small groups of students using techniques that work more efficiently with the students. This setting is available for students who spend between 40- 79 percent of their time in the general education classroom. The term “resource” in this context refers to the amount of time spent outside general education, not the form of instruction.
Another setting option is a separate classroom. When students spend less than 40 percent of their day in the general education class, they are said to be placed in a separate class. Students are allowed to work in small, highly structured settings with a special education teacher. Students in the separate class may be working at different academic levels. Other settings include separate schools and residential facilities. Students in these settings receive highly specialized training to address both special learning and behavioral needs. The students will acquire both academic and life skills instruction. These schools have the highest degree of structure, routine, and consistency.
After the IEP is developed and placement is determined, the student's teachers are responsible for implementing all educational services, program modifications or supports as indicated by the individual education plan.
Schools are required to have an IEP in effect at the beginning of the school year. Initial IEPs are required to be developed within 30 days of the determination of eligibility, and the services specified in the child's IEP are required to be provided as soon as possible after the IEP is developed.
The IEP team is responsible for conducting an annual review to ensure that the student is meeting goals and/or making progress on the benchmarks specified for each objective. If an IEP is not helping the student in the classroom, an immediate revision is to occur.
An initial IEP is required to be accepted and signed by a parent or guardian before any of the outlined services may begin. Formerly parents had 30 calendar days to take the paper work home for their consideration. Currently the IEP must be signed or appealed within 10 days, or the school can implement the most recent version.
Any member of the team may call a meeting at any time to edit the IEP.
School personnel have an obligation to provide parents with a Procedural Safeguards Notice, which is required to include an explanation of all of the procedural safeguards built into IDEA. In addition, the information must be in understandable language and in the native language of the parent.
A copy of the Procedural Safeguards Notice is required to be presented at an IEP meeting. The school is required to give the parent a copy of the child's IEP at no cost to the parent.
An extensive system of conflict resolution procedures are set out in the statutory provisions. They include: the right to examine records, advance notification of intent to change the educational program, the right to engage in mediation, and a right to an impartial due process hearing.
Specially designed instruction affects the instructional content, method of instructional delivery, and the performance methods and criteria that are necessary to assist the student make meaningful educational progress. This instruction is designed by or with an appropriately credentialled special education teacher or related service provider. Students may have better success with small-group instruction as presented in a resource room (mandated by program and placement outlined in the IEP) particularly with languaged-based instruction.
For some students, teachers may need to present information through the use of manipulatives. For other students, teachers may need to select and teach only important key concepts and then alter evaluation activities and criteria to match this content change.
The IEP team determines whether a specific type of instruction is included in a student’s IEP. Generally, if the methodology is an essential part of what is required to meet the individualized needs of the student, the methodology is included. For instance, if a student has a learning disability and has not learned to read using traditional methods, then another method is used. When including such an IEP recommendation, the Team describes the components of the appropriate type of methodology, as opposed to naming a specific program.
If the child needs additional services in order to access or benefit from special education, schools are required to provide the related services, including, but not limited to, speech therapy, occupational or physical therapy, interpreters, medical services (such as a nurse to perform procedures the child needs during the day, for example, catheterization), orientation and mobility services, parent counseling and training to help parents support the implementation of their child's IEP, psychological or counseling services, recreation services, rehabilitation, social work services, and transportation.
Some of a student's educational needs may be met using accommodations. Accommodations are typically provided by general educators within the general education environment. Accommodations do not involve modifying the material content but do allow students to receive information or to demonstrate what they have learned in ways that work around their impairment, thereby minimizing the likelihood of a significant disability.
Accommodations may include such provisions as preferential seating, providing photocopies of teacher notes, giving oral rather than written quizzes, alternative or modified assignments, extended time for tests and assignments, use of a word processor or laptop, and taking tests in a quiet room.
If necessary a student will be provided with specialized transportation. This can be the case if the student has a severe disability and requires a wheelchair, or is identified with an emotional problem.