What is an IEP?
An Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) is a written educational plan for a student in special education.  The federal law governing special education in public schools (IDEA) requires that schools create a new IEP once a year for each student in special education in an ARD meeting (see Article #2 ‑ “What is an ARD?”)   However, it is important to note that a student’s IEP can be revised as often as necessary.  An IEP consists of many important components.  In fact, there are so many components that may be included in a student’s IEP, that it is not possible to review them all in this article.  Because many components of IEPs are specialized for specific circumstances, this article will focus on the basic and common aspects of most IEPs.
In order to plan for the next twelve months for a student in special education, it is critical to have a firm grasp on what progress he/she has made in the past twelve months.  This review will include information from teachers, parents and therapists.  The ARD committee will review the student’s progress in areas such as reading, writing, and mathematics as well as physical health, social skills and emotional functioning.  The committee will review the student’s progress by way of anecdotal reports, formal test results, report cards and progress on specialized goals and objectives developed by the committee in the previous annual ARD.  (Incidentally, these goals and objectives are often referred to as “IEPs”.)
After the ARD committee reviews a student’s performance on tests in the previous year, they make decisions about what tests and evaluations are needed in the upcoming year.  There are three basic categories of tests and evaluations: (1) statewide competency tests (such as the current STAAR test or its predecessor, TAKS); (2) nationally administered tests of basic academic skills (such as the CogAT and the ITBS (“Iowa”)); and (3) clinical tests administered by licensed or certified evaluation personnel in the school (IQ Testing, “Woodcock‑Johnson”, “Wechsler”, speech testing, psychological testing, etc.) (see future article entitled “Special Education Testing” to learn more).
A student=s goals and objectives for the upcoming year make up the core of the student’s IEP.  Once the committee sets the student’s goals and objectives, the rest of the IEP is designed in a way that it can be reasonably expected that the student will achieve those goals and objectives.  A “goal” is an overarching bar at which the committee wants the student to achieve. An example might be “master algebra concepts at a 70% rate as measured by report card grades every six months.”  An “objective” is a concrete measure of a smaller component of a larger goal.  Building on the example above, one objective might be “the student will rework corrected homework 90% of the time that she is directed to do so.”  Goals and objectives may be created by the ARD committee in all of the traditional academic areas as well as non-academic areas such as social skills, speech and language, fine motor skills, self-help skills (toileting, eating, etc.), and a host of other areas.
After the ARD committee sets goals and objectives for a student, they determine if any modifications to the student’s classroom, equipment, or instruction are required.  Common examples of such modifications include access to a quiet room for taking tests, extra time for taking tests, and highlighted textbooks.
Schedule of Classes and Services
The ARD committee then determines what the most appropriate classes will be for the student.  The committee takes many things into consideration when making this decision.  The child’s grade, age, intellectual functioning and behavior are common examples of such considerations.   The committee will select the subjects, the location (regular classroom or special education), the length of time for each class, and if there will be special education support in each class.  Then the committee will determine if the student requires any special education related services in order to benefit from regular education. Examples of related services include occupational therapy, sign language interpretation, and clinical counseling with a psychologist.
Reaching Consensus
After the committee drafts the student’s IEP, each member is asked to indicate in writing whether or not they agree with the new IEP.  This is a much more intimidating question for parents than it would seem.  The school personnel have extensive training on developing IPEs and they move though hundreds of checkboxes and fill in hundreds of lines on forms during the course of an hour‑long meeting with the parent.  Very few parents can fully comprehend the hundreds of decisions the committee just made in such a short period of time.  However, the school personnel expect parents to sign their agreement with the new IEP and trust that each of those hundreds of decisions were made in the student’s best interest.   Parents have the right to take a copy of the draft IEP home and review it before deciding if they agree with each and every one of those decisions.  In fact, parents are even permitted to disagree with the IEP.  If you know a parent who is experiencing frustration with their child’s public school, please pass this article on and let them know I am here to help them understand and exercise their rights and the rights of their child.