Understanding the IEP process
By: LD OnLine (2001)
When a public school child needs special education services, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) must be designed with the help of parents, teachers, school personnel, and, sometimes, the student. An IEP gives details about the educational supports and services that will help the child with a disability receive valuable instruction in special education. New regulations emphasize that the IEP team must consider a student's strengths as well as areas of weakness when formulating an educational plan.
Federal law does not tell us what the IEP should look like. Federal law does mandate, or tell, what information is needed. Each state or, in some cases, each county or each school designs their own IEPs for their students with disabilities.
Parents should receive an invitation to the IEP meeting. The invitation might include documents explaining due process rights to parents. Due process assures that special education laws are followed throughout the special education process and placement. Parents might also receive a question and answer guide to the IEP or information regarding ESY (Extended School Year).
The invitation will confirm the date, time, and meeting place of the IEP. Parents should attend the IEP meeting or call the school to schedule another date and time. The purpose of the meeting is stated in the notice (e.g., an initial IEP, a review of the IEP, an addendum to the IEP). The invitation lists the names of the IEP team members who will be attending the meeting. A representative from general education is invited to the meeting if the child is participating in the regular education environment. Parents should let the school know if an interpreter will be needed to discuss their child's educational plan.
Some schools will send home a parent information sheet where parents can write down their concerns. Some schools will request this information at the actual IEP meeting.
Prior to any assessment for a special education placement parents should also receive a letter requesting permission to use tests to assess whether a child has a learning disability.
- IEP team members are introduced. Each person's relationship to the student should be explained. Parents and legal guardians are introduced as participating members of the IEP team.
- The purpose of the IEP meeting is explained. For example, the meeting's purpose might be an initial IEP, an addendum to the IEP (e.g., parents or educators may want to add services or other changes), an annual IEP, or a transitional IEP (e.g., for students age 14 or 16).
- Parents or legal guardians sign the cover sheet at the end of the IEP meeting. This signature determines if they AGREE or DISAGREE with the contents of the IEP.
If parents do not agree with the contents of the IEP, they should first try once more to reach an agreement with the other members of the IEP team. Next, parents can ask for mediation (a third party who is not involved in the disagreement and can offer advice). Finally, if both parties continue to disagree, parents can ask for a due process hearing or file a complaint with the state education agency. Parents may at any time request to convene an IEP meeting to revise or review the contents.
The IEP must include a declaration of the transition service needs of the student when the student is a certain age. The plan might make recommendations for the following year, list a course of study (e.g., for students transitioning to middle or high school), list career interests, or describe a list of activities that will help the student transition into independent living situations. Representatives from related agencies might be invited to attend when transitional plans are discussed at the IEP meeting.
Statement of measurable annual goals and short term objectives
Annual goals and short term objectives are written to help address the student's educational needs that result from the child's disability. Annual goals and short-term objectives should be measurable:
At a 4th grade level, John will solve multi-step multiplication and division problems with 85% accuracy on 4 out of 5 samples.
Educators should indicate how and when progress or lack of progress is made towards the student's goals and short term objectives. How the parents will be informed of their child's progress should also be discussed (e.g., report cards).
Curriculum/classroom accommodations and modifications
Depending on the student's area of need, the IEP team lists supplementary aids, services, and modifications that will be provided in order to help the child benefit from special education and progress towards their annual goals.
If behavior interferes with learning, the team would need to discuss strategies or services that will focus on managing the behaviors. These modifications and services regarding behavior issues are also taken into consideration when writing the child's annual goals and short term objectives and when determining participation in state and district-wide tests.
Present level of educational performance
The IEP for each child with a disability must include a statement of the child's current performance in school. This section may also provide more detailed information about the child's school history, academic status, behavior issues, and strengths and weaknesses.
Statement of any individual modifications in the administration of state or district-wide assessments
An IEP must include any modifications or accommodations needed in order to assist the child while taking state or district-wide assessments (e.g., student will mark in test booklet, student will respond by word processor). If testing is not appropriate for the child, the IEP team must state its reasoning and indicate how the student will be assessed. Information about graduation requirements may be discussed at this time.
Explanation of extent, if any, to which the child will participate with children without disability in regular education programs
The IEP must explain and determine the extent, if any, to which the child will participate with children who are nondisabled.
The IEP team will determine the best possible school placement for the child and explain why the placement is considered the least restrictive environment (LRE).
The IEP must name, if any, the related services the child needs (e.g., occupational therapy, psychological therapy, transportation) as well as frequency and duration of the services.
Some final points to remember
- You do not have to sign an IEP that has been prepared by a teacher before the IEP meeting if you do not agree with its content. The purpose of the meeting is to determine the best educational placement for your child. A committee is convened for that purpose.
- You have the right to request that the IEP committee be reconvened if you do not believe the IEP is working.
- You have the right to bring outside support to the IEP meeting. You can request that an advocate, your child's private psychologist, psychiatrist, or other outside professional attend the meeting.
- The best way to resolve apparent conflicts is to mediate. Overtly expressed anger raises defenses at a meeting and rarely results in the changes you want. A "squeaky wheel" that keeps requesting needed accommodations in a friendly manner will be heard over the angry outburst. Be consistent and work to achieve needed educational programs.
- If the IEP team leader says that the meeting can only last for a certain period of time and requests that you sign the IEP document even though you do not believe the process has been completed, request that the committee reconvene at a different time to complete the process.
- Stay involved. If the IEP is written at the end of the school year, make certain it is being implemented at the beginning of the next school year. This is especially important at times of transition. A child that leaves elementary school to begin middle school may find that teachers have not been adequately made aware of needed accommodations. Follow through to see that they are put into place.
- Make certain requested accommodations are reasonable within the context of the program being administered. Federal regulations also stipulate that accommodations must be reasonable. For example, if a nationally normed test uses a multiple choice format, it may not be possible to have that test completely rewritten in essay format. This is because the test results are based on a large nationally normed sample. Changing the test cannot assure similar meanings from test results. Ask instead if there are other tests that can measure the same thing or accommodations that can better enable the student to take the test.
- New IEP regulations encourage student participation in the IEP process. This is required for a student 16 years and older when the transition IEP is written.
- Finally, if an IEP meeting is set for a time when you cannot attend, request a time when you will be able to attend.