Every public school child who receives special education services must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The IEP must be a truly individualized document designed for a specific child. The IEP creates opportunities for school administrators, teachers, parents, and the student to work together to improve educational results for the child with disabilities.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires certain information to be included in each child?s IEP. States and local school systems can include additional information in IEPs 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 they may look different from one education system to another. However, each IEP must meet the federal requirements and is critical in the education of a child with a disability.
To create an effective Individual Education Program, parents, school staff, and even the student must come together to look closely at the student?s needs. The participants pool their knowledge and experience to develop an educational program that will help the student be involved and progress in the school's curriculum. The IEP guides the delivery of special education supports and services for the student with a disability.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act defines a child with a disability as follows:
Once it has been determined that a child needs special education services, a meeting to create that child's IEP must be held within 30 days. There are several specific members who are required by law to participate in the creation of a child's IEP. The team members are as follows: the child's regular education teacher, the child's special education teacher, a school system representative, a person to interpret the child's academic evaluation results, a transition services representative, and the parents. The child should be included in the process if old enough to understand and possibly assist the team in planning for the child's future. Other individuals with specific knowledge about or expertise with the child can also be included on the IEP development team. It is important to note that one person could be qualified to fill more that one of these positions and may do so. Each of these team members will be further explained below.
Teachers are critical participants at the IEP meetings. A regular education teacher can assist with the IEP group's determination of what types of services and educational programs can help the child to learn. The regular teacher also has knowledge about the general curriculum that is taught in the school. The teacher may even have prior experience working with a child with similar learning and/or behavioral issues. Once strategies for the IEP are determined, the regular education teacher can inform the group of any specialized training that the teacher or other support staff will need to help the child meet the IEP goals.
The special educator is the person who is devoted to working with the student and delivering the special education services. This teacher can also work with the regular educator as well in larger classroom settings and help school staff address a child's unique needs. On the IEP team the special educator can help modify the general curriculum to adjust it to the child's learning level and create evaluation tools to measure the child's progress. The special educator may also be able to suggest additional services or equipment that can be put in place to assist the child's classroom experience.
The administrator brings to the IEP team the authority to bring in whatever resources and services are deemed necessary to the program. The administrator also has knowledge about the special education programs offered within the school system and should have an understanding of how they operate to help the children they instruct.
The evaluator has a very important role on the Individualized Education Program team. This person must be able to evaluate where the child is academically and identify areas that need to be boosted to help the child progress. The evaluator's input will help the rest of the team determine what types of services will be required to support each area of need that is identified.
This person represents the agency that will be responsible for dealing with the student's transition. The agency may actually provide the services or pay for the services. If the representative does not participate in the planning, the school is responsible for making the arrangements with the agency to ensure transition needs are met.
Transition refers to activities meant to prepare students with disabilities for adult life. These activities can include developing post secondary education and career goals, getting work experience, and connecting with adult service providers - whatever is appropriate for the student, given their interests, skills, and needs. Typically, transition is broken down into the planning stage, when the student reaches age 14, the services stage starting at about age 16. The planning stage is worked on with the student to help get course work arranged to meet long-term goals for when the student becomes an adult. The services stage is when the actual needs of the student are being addressed. These needs are related to adult living, college or technical school, employment, and interacting with the surrounding community.
The parents should be obvious members on the IEP planning team. No other people involved in the process should know more about their child's abilities and limitations. Parents can offer comments on how their child best seems to learn things at home, and whether the things the child learns in school are being used at home. The parents can explain the child's interests and things that motivate the child. Parental input combined with the input from other team members can fully round out a child's progress and potential for the entire team to understand.
The student's involvement in the IEP can be very important. The student can take an active part in planning for his or her own future, providing confidence and assuring that wants and needs are addressed. In older students, getting them involved in their transition planning and services allows them to have a fuller understanding of where they are heading for their future.
This person, or people in some cases, is invited to attend the planning meetings by either the parents or school district. A knowledgeable expert can be a private tutor that has been working with the child, the child's advocate, physicians, or any other person who has specific expertise in some aspect of the child's life. Knowledge experts can also be service professionals who have been directly involved in the services being provided to the child or services that would better help the child in the future.