Laura Kaloi, public policy advisor at the National Center for Learning Disabilities, explains the ins and outs of Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) from the National Center for Learning Disabilities.
IEP is the acronym for the individualized educational plan that must now be written for each identified child with a disability prior to his or her placement in a special education program. The Education of All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (PL 94–142) and subsequent legislation such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) required that states receiving federal funds for special education services develop and implement a written statement regarding the specific special educational services and related services each child with a disability is to receive. At a minimum, it is mandatory that each written plan include the following:
A statement of the child’s present levels of educational performance, including:
(i) How the child’s disability affects the child’s involvement and progress in the general curriculum (i.e., the same curriculum as for nondisabled children); or
(ii) For preschool children, as appropriate, how the disability affects the child’s participation in appropriate activities.
A statement of measurable annual goals, including benchmarks or short-term institutional objectives related to:
(i) Meeting the child’s needs that result from the child’s disability to enable the child to be involved in and progress in the general curriculum (i.e., the same curriculum as for nondisabled children), or for preschool children, as appropriate, to participate in appropriate activities; and
(ii) Meeting each of the child’s other educational needs that result from the child’s disability.
A statement of special education and related services and supplementary aids and services to be provided to the child, or on behalf of the child, and a statement of the program modifications or supports for school personnel that will be provided for the child:
(i) To advance appropriately toward attaining the annual goals;
(ii) To be involved and progress in the general curriculum in accordance with paragraph 1, and to participate in extracurricular and other nonacademic activities; and
(iii) To be educated with other children with disabilities and nondisabled children in the activities described in this section.
An explanation of the extent, if any, to which the child will not participate with nondisabled children in the regular class and in the activities described in paragraph 3.
(i) A statement of any individual modifications in the administration of state or district-wide assessments of student achievement that are needed in order for the child to participate in the assessment; and
(ii) If the IEP team determines that the child will not participate in a particular state or district-wide assessment of student achievement (or part of an assessment) a statement of:
Why that assessment is not appropriate for the child; and
How the child will be assessed.
The projected date for the beginning of services and modifications, and the anticipated frequency, location, and duration of those services and modifications.
A statement of:
(i) How the child’s progress toward the annual goals described in paragraph 2 will be measured; and
(ii) How the child’s parents will be regularly informed (through such means as periodic report cards), at least as often as parents are informed of their nondisabled child’s progress, of:
Their child’s progress toward the annual goals; and
The extent to which that progress is sufficient to enable to achieve the goals by the end of the year.
(34 C.F.R. § 300.347[a]). In addition, beginning at age 14 (or earlier if deemed appropriate by the IEP team), the IEP must include a statement of the transition service needs of the student, focusing on the student’s course of study. Beginning at the age of 16 (or earlier, again, as deemed appropriate by the IEP team), the IEP must also include “a statement of needed transitions services for the student, including, if appropriate, a statement of the interagency responsibilities or any needed linkages” (34 C.F.R. § 300.347[b]). There are additional requirements regarding notice to the student in states where rights are transferred when the student reaches his or her majority. There are also special requirements for students with disabilities convicted of criminal offenses as adults and imprisoned in adult correctional facilities (34 C.F.R. § 300.311[b] and [c]). Proposed regulations implementing the most recent reauthorization of the IDEA, issued June 21, 2005, would make minor, primarily nonsubstantive changes to the requirements of 34 C.F.R. § 300.347 (70 Fed. Reg. 35865).
Under these guidelines, the IEP team must meet at least once a year to review and, if necessary, revise the educational program as originally outlined. It is obvious that the goals—long- or short-range—specified in the initial IEP would periodically be in need of revision for a number of reasons: the original goals may be inappropriate for the individual child, or the child may meet or make progress on many of the goals, thus requiring revision and development of new goals.
According to some authorities (e.g., Reynolds, Gutkin, Elliot, & Witt, 1984), once a year reviewing is not enough to ensure the best educational programming for a handicapped child. They do, however, acknowledge that this mandated requirement is far better than prior practices that seldom ensured the review of educational plans for handicapped students.
Although the intent of the law is commendable, the actual implementation is often less than satisfactory. One example involves the extent to which the IEP is in fact individualized for the child. It is not uncommon for educational programs to be designed specific to the child’s classification (e.g., learning disabled) rather than the unique abilities of the child involved. Often individualized educational plans will simply be a reflection of the specific district or school the child attends. For example, states will frequently mandate that all children meet certain objectives within a given subject (e.g., reading). Therefore, it is not uncommon to find the short-range objectives specified for the learning-disabled child in reading to be simply a list of the reading objectives common to the district. This practice would seem in direct contradiction to the intent of the law and certainly not always in the best interests of the child with disabilities involved. Indeed, special educators have questioned the general value of these types of IEPs (Ryan & Rucher, 1991).
The law also stipulates who should be present at each IEP meeting, whether it be for the purposes of developing, reviewing, or revising a child’s IEP. The educational agency is charged with ensuring that those individuals are present. According to the IDEA implementing regulations, the IEP team must include:
The parents of the child;
At least one regular education teacher of the child (if the child is, or may be, participating in the regular education environment);
At least one special education teacher of the child, or if appropriate, at least one special education provider of the child;
A representative of the public agency who—
(i) Is qualified to provide, or supervise the provision of, specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities;
(ii) Is knowledgeable about the general curriculum; and
(iii) Is knowledgeable about the availability of resources of the public agency;
An individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results, who may be a member of the team described in paragraphs (2) through (6) of this section;
At the discussion of the parent or the agency, other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, including related services personnel as appropriate; and
If appropriate, the child.
(34 C.F.R. §300.344). The proposed regulations issued in June of 2005 make only nonsubstantive changes to these requirements (70 Fed. Reg. 35866).
In keeping with another major intent of IDEA to protect the rights of parents of children with disabilities to fully participate in their child’s education, each public agency is charged with the responsibility of exerting maximum effort in ensuring that one or both parents are present and participating (Van Reusen & Bos, 1994) at meetings where the IEP is developed, reviewed, and revised. To be in compliance with the law, the public agency serving the child with disabilities must have proof that they not only gave parents notice of the meeting, including all details, but that the meeting was arranged at a time that is mutually convenient to all involved. If the parents cannot attend the meeting, the agency must show that parent participation was elicited via other means (e.g., telephone conversations). Whether or not the parents are able to attend, they are to be given a copy of the IEP.
Various studies have been conducted investigating parental participation in IEP development and planning (e.g., Lusthaus, Lusthaus, & Gibbs, 1981; Polifka, 1981; Roit & Pfohl, 1984; Scanlon, Arick, & Phelps, 1981; Yoshida, Fenton, Kaufman, & Maxwell, 1978). Yoshida et al. (1978) found that educational personnel involved in the planning meeting expected parents to simply provide information as opposed to actively participating in the decisions as to what would constitute the plan. Interestingly, results of a parental survey conducted by Lusthaus et al. (1981) found that parents agreed that their role should be that of information giver and receiver instead of equal decision maker. This has slowly changed (Van Reusen & Bos, 1994). Roit and Pfohl (1984) indicated that printed information provided to parents regarding PL 94–142 and their rights (including their right to participate in the IEP process) was often not comprehensible to a large number of parents. More recent legislation and rulemaking has imposed stricter requirements about the notice to be provided to parents to make such notice more comprehensible to parents of children with disabilities.
Polifka (1981) reported on the results of a survey conducted as part of the Iowa Department of Public Instruction evaluation of special education services by a specific area agency. He found that parent satisfaction with the services their child received was significantly related to, among other variables, whether they were asked to help develop the IEP and whether they were invited to a meeting to review the IEP. It is impossible to determine the actual involvement these parents were allowed or whether the involvement was responsible for their satisfaction, but it does seem that active involvement should be fostered not only to ensure compliance but to promote active decision-making roles for the parents of children with disabilities.
In Encyclopedia of Special Education: A Reference for the Education of Children, Adolescents, and Adults with Disabilities and Other Exceptional Individuals.