Overview of Individualized Education Program (IEP) Plans
Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) is the educational program to help students with disabilities access their education by outlining special instruction and services they are entitled to rather than the general education curriculum. Students must meet specific criteria set forth by the school district to qualify for ESE (Exceptional Student Education). This almost always includes educational performance testing, a review of academic data, and information from the child’s teacher and school personnel. The child’s Parents’ input is also valuable when determining eligibility and creating the IEP plan. Every school is a little different in the way they write and implement IEPs, however, all public schools must comply with a special education law called IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and The IEP should be designed to provide the child with a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE).
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Qualifying for an IEP
Regular education interventions should be implemented before considering ESE. This might look like extra help from the teacher to re-learn skills not mastered. Or being pulled for a small support group with an intervention teacher. This extra help is referred to as MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Supports). Data taken throughout the MTSS process is an important part of the eligibility criteria for an IEP Plan. Students who continue to fall significantly below grade level, low-performance scores in different school activities, even with extra support, should be considered for special education programs. ESE services are also available to students needing emotional/behavioral, health, speech/language, or related services(Speech Therapy, physical therapy, Occupational therapy, etc). Some students receive support under multiple ESE programs based on specific student needs.
Initiating an IEP Plan
Schools should have a process in place for monitoring a child’s present condition, students who need extra help, and who have special educational needs. However, parents can request that the school evaluate a student for ESE, and parents need to give permission to school staff and authorities for an evaluation to be conducted. This evaluation aims to provide more information about a child’s disability, strengths, and weaknesses. Parents will be invited to review the results and have a conversation about eligibility once the evaluation is complete. If a child qualifies, parents can give permission for special education services to be initiated. Keep in mind, there are certain “exclusionary factors,” such as attendance issues, vision or hearing problems, etc. that must be addressed before an IEP process begins. Parents can also ask for reevaluation if the result seems wrong.
How do IEP Plans Support Students with Disabilities?
Just like your child’s needs, IEP plans are individualized. The plans should include specific, actionable, and measurable annual goals. Good IEP goals take into consideration where students are in their learning, grade-level expectations, and what would be real growth over a school year. Goals can be academic, speech/language based, behavioral, social emotional, etc. Unlike 504s, which provide accommodations within the regular teaching and learning system, IEPs often arrange for services provided by special education teachers, school psychologists, and specialists. For example, you might see an ESE Teacher, Speech Language Pathologist, or Occupational Therapist on a child’s IEP. Some team members from the IEP team go into the classroom to provide support, and others pull students out of class. Students with the most significant and unique needs may receive services in a separate ESE classroom altogether. IEPs also include classroom and test accommodations, such as extra time, breaks as needed, and testing in a small group setting with fewer distractions.
Tips for Parents
Communication is key. There are many different acronyms and procedures unique to education, which can be overwhelming for parents to navigate. Reach out to your child’s teacher or counselor to find out how your child’s school provides extra support to students in special need. Every school is a little different. Your school should keep you in the loop about what types of support your child is receiving and how they’re responding to the support. As a parent, you may want to ask things like: What has been tried? Is the plan working? What’s the next step? After all, you are your child’s biggest advocate and champion for their success. A strong partnership with your child’s school, coupled with a supportive home environment, can result in tremendous learning growth and higher self-esteem.