The Individualized Education Plan
The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is a foundational document for every American child who receives special education or related services through the public school system. The IEP is an individualized document unique to each student, and serves as an assessment tool, a comprehensive analysis of needed services, and a outline of educational goals for the child. Parents, teachers, other staff, and often even the student collaborate to tailor the plan to the child’s unique needs. There are ten basic steps to creating an effective IEP:
Step 1: The child is identified as an IEP candidate
Each state is obligated to identify and evaluate all children with disabilities who need special education or assistive services. Teachers, doctors, or other professionals familiar with the child may notify the state, or the parents of the child may petition to have their child evaluated. No child may be evaluated without parental consent.
Step 2: The child is evaluated
Special education professionals evaluate the child and determine the nature and level of the child’s suspected disability and his/her eligibility for special services and education. If the parents do not agree with the state examiner’s analysis, they have to right to request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE), and can ask that the state pay for this IEE.
Step 3: The child’s eligibility is determined
The parents of the child meet with a group of professionals and discuss the examination results. Together, they compare the child’s needs to the definition of a “child with a disability” as found in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Parents who disagree with the eligibility decision may request a hearing.
Step 4: The child is deemed eligible for special services
If Step 3 determines that the child is a “child with a disability,” he or she qualifies to receive special education and assistive services. Within 30 calendar days of this decision, the IEP must be written for the child.
Step 5: The child’s school system arranges the IEP meeting
The child’s school system contacts the parents and relevant professionals, and schedules a joint meeting to draft the IEP for the child. The parents are allowed to invite people to this meeting who have special expertise with or knowledge of the child, even if these people were not initially contacted by the school system.
Step 6: The child’s IEP is written
Together, the parents and the IEP team draft the document that outlines the needs, necessary services, and education goals of the child. Parents must give consent before the school system may provide special education. If the parents disagree with the recommendations of the IEP team, they may continue to meet to resolve their differences or seek mediation.
Step 7: The child receives special services
The child’s school is responsible for ensuring that the guidelines established in the IEP are carried out. The child’s IEP is available to the parents, each of the child’s teachers, and all service providers, so that the child’s unique needs are clearly known.
Step 8: The child’s progress is measured
The child’s progress toward the IEP goals is regularly measured. These findings are reported to the parents, and they are also informed if the apparent progress is enough for the child to achieve their stated IEP goals by the year’s end. These progress reports are due to the parents as often as progress reports are given for nondisabled children.
Step 9: The child’s IEP is reviewed
Annually, or more often if requested by the parents or school, the child’s IEP is reviewed by the IEP team. At this time, the document may be revised based on the recommendations of the parents or team members, or it may be deemed to still be fully applicable for the child. Sometimes additional testing of the child is necessary to make this decision.
Step 10: The child is reevaluated
Every three years, the child must be reevaluated. This “triennial” evaluation is conducted to determine if the child still qualifies as a “child with a disability” as defined by the IDEA. It also reexamines the child’s educational need. If the child’s parents or teacher request it, the child can be examine more frequently than the three-year period.The IEP is a very important document in the educational life of a child with a disability. The IEP process is not meant to be belittling or embarrassing for the child or parents, but serves as a written statement of the child’s unique needs and plan for education. For more information, contact your local school board or speak with an educational professional.