The Individualized Education Program: IEP

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Article first published as The Individualized Education Program: IEP on Technorati.Child with his Special Education Teacher. The IEP, or Individualized Education Program, is a tool used by educators to keep track of your child's progress through their disability. The process involves a lot of people, but is there for one purpose: to help your child get as close to mainstreaming as possible, and keep them educated with their peers. But the process can seem a little scary, or perhaps a bit intimidating, and a lot of parents seem to feel lost when they meet for their IEP with their team.An IEP is generally generated after the school system has evaluated your child and determined there is a significant learning disability of some sort. Autism falls in that category, as does any kind of hearing, sight, speech, or developmental delay. Once the team has determined a disability or delay is obvious, they look for reasons behind it. It should be noted that language barriers or "bad teachers" are not reasons for an IEP, just actual disabilities that impair a child's ability to learn.It should also be noted that the IEP process is different with each State, though just about every State Board of Education has the IEP process, and it should cover just about all the same services. If you have any questions regarding your specific State's IEP process, contact your school district's Special Education office. They can give you all the details you need.Once you have a confirmed reason for an IEP, the process starts. At this point it doesn't matter what the school's determination is for the reason, because the IEP is not standard for each "diagnosis". Rather, it's designed to be customized to the needs of the child, as determined by the IEP team.So who is this team I keep talking about? First and foremost, it is you as a parent, and your child. In addition, your child's Special Education teacher should be present, a representative from the school's Administration team (principal or delegated representative), any General Education teachers involved in your child's education (including any that advise but don't teach directly), and someone that interprets any evaluations given the child (generally a school psychologist).The first three are pretty obvious: you, your child as the student, and the Special Education teacher. But why have a member of the administration there was well? Well, IEP's are conducted by State regulations, and has the ability to allocate funds if necessary. They are often called Local Education Agency (LEA) Representatives, though they are generally from the Principal's office.Also, why have a general education teacher if your child is only in special education? Well, a general education teacher is there to represent the requirements expected of mainstreamed children. They know what the required educational goals are for typical students, and can help the Special Education teacher set goals that will bring the child closer to being mainstreamed. Because that is the goal of every IEP: to bring the child up to their grade-level expectations, and keep them there.So now you have your team, but what do the do? Well, they start by having written statements about present academic achievements and functional performance. These are done through either direct or indirect assessment (tests or observation), and evaluate where the child is currently performing. It forms a foundation on which the team can plan how to build your child's education program. Another way to look at it is a road's starting point.Next, your team will write down measurable goals for both academic and functional performance. Measurable means that your child will need to accomplish certain tasks X number of times, or attend to an activity for X number of minutes. Percentages doesn't mean anything in the measured world of your child's education, so don't let anyone get around you by adding that as a "measure". Focus on achieved results within specific time-frames and X number of times. If you have any questions on how something would be measured, it's not clearly measurable, at least to you. It may also help if you ask how it will be evaluated and assessed, that way you can do the same things at home to build on what your team has in store.Next comes written statements on whether or not your child should attend to specific activities (for the sake and safety of the child), any needed accomodations for measuring academic achievement (someone to read questions to the student that can't see or read, for example), and when the services will start, stop, and how long they will last. All this should be in your child's IEP, and you should recieve a copy! Interestingly enough, our oldest son's teacher will send us a copy of the IEP ahead of the team meeting, so we have a chance to review and come in prepared for discussions. It's unusual, but definitely welcome!So what should you as a parent ask when you meet with your team? Well:

  1. Are the IEP goals measurable? I focused on this quite a bit, and for good reason. Make sure you can measure your child's progress, and then you know your teachers can as well.
  2. Is my child in a regular education environment all or part of the day? Why or why not? If you feel your child should be allowed into a mainstreamed classroom, voice that concern! This is your opportunity to make sure you are heard.
  3. Does the IEP list your child's accomodation needs? That includes any State-side and district-side testing needs, not just the teacher's testing needs. That way you know when they get their Standardized Testing done, they have the accomodations and modifications necessary.
  4. Are the goals realistic for my child? Is the school listing goals YOU feel are attainable for your child? This is a tough question for everyone concerned, because you want to set goals that can be reached, but not so simple as to not challenge your child. The good news is that if the goals are reached "too soon", then they can easily and quickly be revised!
  5. Is my child expected and able to meet graduation requirements? Graduation is something that every parent looks forward to, and every child should as well. But you need to make sure the goals are working your child toward that point, even if their disability makes it seem almost impossible now. Always push for that point in your child's future, and look for ways to help make it happen. That's the whole point of the IEP anyway!
  6. When will the IEP be reviewed? This is a tough question. The State of Utah requires a review at least once a year to once every three years, but the review frequency is really up to the team, and that means you. If you are seeing significant improvement in your child's performance, or have any questions that need to get addressed, don't hesitate to contact your team members and request a review.

So now that you have gone through the IEP process, you are going to be asked to sign the IEP. Most States see this signature as an agreement to the document. But not Utah. In Utah, it means that you were present at the IEP process, and even if you don't agree with the IEP you can sign without binding yourself or your child to it's goals and guidelines. I've never had an IEP for my child with which I didn't agree, so I don't worry about it too much. If you do have any concerns and you are not in Utah, don't sign until they are addressed. Of course, that also means that the IEP can be implemented without parental approval in Utah, but there are safeguards for that, though that is another post.So that is the process of going through an IEP! I would like to thank the folks over at the Utah Parent Center for their presentation they offered to the few of us there on Thursday night! It was a great deal of useful information that was definitely needed.I'll post more on the IEP process later, so as to not overwhelm you all with posts.