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Writing the IEP

By: U.S. Department of Education (2000)

To help decide what special education and related services the student needs, generally the IEP team will begin by looking at the child's evaluation results, such as classroom tests, individual tests given to establish the student's eligibility, and observations by teachers, parents, paraprofessionals, related service providers, administrators, and others. This information will help the team describe the student's "present levels of educational performance" -in other words, how the student is currently doing in school. Knowing how the student is currently performing in school will help the team develop annual goals to address those areas where the student has an identified educational need.

The IEP team must also discuss specific information about the child. This includes:

  • The child's strengths;
  • The parents' ideas for enhancing their child's education;
  • The results of recent evaluations or reevaluations; and
  • How the child has done on state and district-wide tests.
  • In addition, the IEP team must consider the "special factors" described in the box below.

It is important that the discussion of what the child needs be framed around how to help the child:

  • Advance toward the annual goals;
  • Be involved in and progress in the general curriculum;
  • Participate in extracurricular and nonacademic activities; and
  • Be educated with and participate with other children with disabilities and non-disabled children.

Based on the above discussion, the IEP team will then write the child's IEP. This includes the services and supports the school will provide for the child. If the IEP team decides that a child needs a particular device or service (including an intervention, accommodation, or other program modification), the IEP team must write this information in the IEP. As an example, consider a child whose behavior interferes with learning. The IEP team would need to consider positive and effective ways to address that behavior. The team would discuss the positive behavioral interventions, strategies, and supports that the child needs in order to learn how to control or manage his or her behavior. If the team decides that the child needs a particular service (including an intervention, accommodation, or other program modification), they must include a statement to that effect in the child's IEP.

Special factors to consider

Depending on the needs of the child, the IEP team needs to consider what the law calls special factors. These include:

  • If the child’s behavior interferes with his or her learning or the learning of others, the IEP team will consider strategies and supports to address the child’s behavior.
  • If the child has limited proficiency in English, the IEP team will consider the child’s language needs as these needs relate to his or her IEP.
  • If the child is blind or visually impaired, the IEP team must provide for instruction in Braille or the use of Braille, unless it determines after an appropriate evaluation that the child does not need this instruction.
  • If the child has communication needs, the IEP team must consider those needs.
  • If the child is deaf or hard of hearing, the IEP team will consider his or her language and communication needs. This includes the child’s opportunities to communicate directly with classmates and school staff in his or her usual method of communication (for example, sign language).
  • The IEP team must always consider the child’s need for assistive technology devices or services.

For more information about these special factors, see §300.346.

Will parents need an interpreter in order to participate fully?

If the parents have a limited proficiency in English or are deaf, they may need an interpreter in order to understand and be understood. In this case, the school must make reasonable efforts to arrange for an interpreter during meetings pertaining to the child’s educational placement. For meetings regarding the development or review of the IEP, the school must take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that parents understand the meetings--including arranging for an interpreter. This provision should help to ensure that parents are not limited in their ability to participate in their child’s education because of language or communication barriers.

Therefore, if parents need an interpreter for a meeting to discuss their child’s evaluation, eligibility for special education, or IEP, they should let the school know ahead of time. Telling the school in advance allows the school to make arrangements for an interpreter so that parents can participate fully in the meeting.

Deciding placement

In addition, the child's placement (where the IEP will be carried out) must be decided. The placement decision is made by a group of people, including the parents and others who know about the child, what the evaluation results mean, and what types of placements are appropriate. In some states, the IEP team serves as the group making the placement decision. In other states, this decision may be made by another group of people. In all cases, the parents have the right to be members of the group that decides the educational placement of the child.

Placement decisions must be made according to IDEA's least restrictive environment requirements-commonly known as LRE. These requirements state that, to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities must be educated with children who do not have disabilities.

The law also clearly states that special classes, separate schools, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment may occur only if the nature or severity of the child's disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.

What type of placements are there? Depending on the needs of the child, his or her IEP may be carried out in the regular class (with supplementary aids and services, as needed), in a special class (where every student in the class is receiving special education services for some or all of the day), in a special school, at home, in a hospital and institution, or in another setting. A school system may meet its obligation to ensure that the child has an appropriate placement available by:

  • Providing an appropriate program for the child on its own;
  • Contracting with another agency to provide an appropriate program; or
  • Utilizing some other mechanism or arrangement that is consistent with IDEA for providing or paying for an appropriate program for the child.

The placement group will base its decision on the IEP and which placement option is appropriate for the child. Can the child be educated in the regular classroom, with proper aids and supports? If the child cannot be educated in the regular classroom, even with appropriate aids and supports, then the placement group will talk about other placements for the child.

After the IEP is written

When the IEP has been written, parents must receive a copy at no cost to themselves. The IDEA also stresses that everyone who will be involved in implementing the IEP must have access to the document. This includes the child's:

  • Regular education teacher(s);
  • Special education teacher(s);
  • Related service provider(s) (for example, speech therapist); or
  • Any other service provider (such as a paraprofessional) who will be responsible for a part of the child's education.

Each of these individuals needs to know what his or her specific responsibilities are for carrying out the child's IEP. This includes the specific accommodations, modifications, and supports that the child must receive, according to the IEP.

Parents' permission

Before the school can provide a child with special education and related services for the first time, the child’s parents must give their written permission.

Implementing the IEP

Once the IEP is written, it is time to carry it out-in other words, to provide the student with the special education and related services as listed in the IEP. This includes all supplementary aids and services and program modifications that the IEP team has identified as necessary for the student to advance appropriately toward his or her IEP goals, to be involved in and progress in the general curriculum, and participate in other school activities. While it is beyond the scope of this guide to discuss in detail the many issues involved in implementing a student's IEP, certain suggestions can be offered.

  • Every individual involved in providing services to the student should know and understand his or her responsibilities for carrying out the IEP. This will help ensure that the student receives the services that have been planned, including the specific modifications and accommodations the IEP team has identified as necessary.
  • Teamwork plays an important part in carrying out the IEP. Many professionals are likely to be involved in providing services and supports to the student. Sharing expertise and insights can help make everyone's job a lot easier and can certainly improve results for students with disabilities. Schools can encourage teamwork by giving teachers, support staff, and/or paraprofessionals time to plan or work together on such matters as adapting the general curriculum to address the student's unique needs. Teachers, support staff, and others providing services for children with disabilities may request training and staff development.
  • Communication between home and school is also important. Parents can share information about what is happening at home and build upon what the child is learning at school. If the child is having difficulty at school, parents may be able to offer insight or help the school explore possible reasons as well as possible solutions.
  • It is helpful to have someone in charge of coordinating and monitoring the services the student receives. In addition to special education, the student may be receiving any number of related services. Many people may be involved in delivering those services. Having a person in charge of overseeing that services are being delivered as planned can help ensure that the IEP is being carried out appropriately.
  • The regular progress reports that the law requires will help parents and schools monitor the child's progress toward his or her annual goals. It is important to know if the child is not making the progress expected-or if he or she has progressed much faster than expected. Together, parents and school personnel can then address the child's needs as those needs become evident.

Reviewing and revising the IEP

The IEP team must review the child's IEP at least once a year. One purpose of this review is to see whether the child is achieving his or her annual goals. The team must revise the child's individualized education program, if necessary, to address:

  • The child's progress or lack of expected progress toward the annual goals and in the general curriculum;
  • Information gathered through any reevaluation of the child;
  • Information about the child that the parents share;
  • Information about the child that the school shares (for example, insights from the teacher based on his or her observation of the child or the child's classwork);
  • The child's anticipated needs; or
  • Other matters.

Although the IDEA requires this IEP review at least once a year, in fact the team may review and revise the IEP more often. Either the parents or the school can ask to hold an IEP meeting to revise the child's IEP. For example, the child may not be making progress toward his or her IEP goals, and his or her teacher or parents may become concerned. On the other hand, the child may have met most or all of the goals in the IEP, and new ones need to be written. In either case, the IEP team would meet to revise the IEP.

Look at those factors again!

When the IEP team is meeting to conduct a review of the child’s IEP and, as necessary, to revise it, members must again consider all of the factors discussed on page 11. This includes:

  • The child’s strengths,
  • The parents’ ideas for enhancing their child’s education,
  • The results of recent evaluations or reevaluations, and
  • How the child has done on state and district-wide tests.
  • The IEP team must also consider the "special factors," as listed earlier.

What if parents don't agree with the IEP?

There are times when parents may not agree with the school's recommendations about their child's education. Under the law, parents have the right to challenge decisions about their child's eligibility, evaluation, placement, and the services that the school provides to the child. If parents disagree with the school's actions-or refusal to take action-in these matters, they have the right to pursue a number of options. They may do the following:

  • Try to reach an agreement. Parents can talk with school officials about their concerns and try to reach an agreement. Sometimes the agreement can be temporary. For example, the parents and school can agree to try a plan of instruction or a placement for a certain period of time and see how the student does.
  • Ask for mediation. During mediation, the parents and school sit down with someone who is not involved in the disagreement and try to reach an agreement. The school may offer mediation, if it is available as an option for resolving disputes prior to due process.
  • Ask for due process. During a due process hearing, the parents and school personnel appear before an impartial hearing officer and present their sides of the story. The hearing officer decides how to solve the problem. (Note: Mediation must be available at least at the time a due process hearing is requested.)
  • File a complaint with the state education agency. To file a complaint, generally parents write directly to the SEA and say what part of IDEA they believe the school has violated. The agency must resolve the complaint within 60 calendar days. An extension of that time limit is permitted only if exceptional circumstances exist with respect to the complaint.

OSEP monitoring

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) regularly monitors states to see that they are complying with IDEA. Every two years OSEP requires that states report progress toward meeting established performance goals that, at a minimum, address the performance of children on assessments, drop-out rates, and graduation rates. As part of its monitoring, the Department reviews IEPs and interviews parents, students, and school staff to find out:

  • Whether, and how, the IEP team made the decisions reflected in the IEP;
  • Whether those decisions and the IEP content are based on the child’s unique needs, as determined through evaluation and the IEP process;
  • Whether any state or local policies or practices have interfered with decisions of the IEP team about the child’s educational needs and the services that the school would provide to meet those needs; and
  • Whether the school has provided the services listed in the IEP.

This guide is intended to help states and school districts write IEPs that comply with IDEA. Writing effective IEPs is a very important first step in improving educational results for children with disabilities.

Summary

The IEP is the cornerstone of special education. Writing and implementing an effective IEP involves many people, many different steps, and collaborative decision making.

The information provided in this guide about the IEP has been fairly general. To help you get better acquainted with the various parts of the IEP, a sample IEP form is presented on the next pages. The sample IEP form includes space for all of the information that an IEP must contain under federal law. (Remember that IEP forms in your area may require more information that may be of value to the student and those implementing the IEP.) The different parts of the sample are paired with direct quotes from the law, so that you can easily see:

how the law defines what type of information goes into the various parts of a child's IEP, and
how this information goes together to create an educational program for a particular child.

Attachment A presents the IDEA's regulations for "Individualized Education Programs" (§§300.340-300.350). Under §300.347, where "IEP content" is described, we have included additional information primarily from Appendix A and Attachment 1 of the regulations. This information can be very useful in developing a fuller understanding of what type of information is important to capture about a child in the IEP.