Special education has been through many stages of reform. By the 1970s, the need for safeguarding students with disabilities from erroneous or permanent special education placements gave way to the development of service contracts–individualized education programs. These documents, or IEPs, gave families protection from schools and made educators accountable for the services they offer children with disabilities. Today, IEPs continue to serve this purpose and guide special education services aiming to meet students’ individual needs.
What Are Individualized Education Programs?
Special education services are offered to qualifying children with disabilities ranging from ages birth to 21. When a child turns 3 years old, an IEP is developed as specified in Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The IEP is a written plan that details the special education and related services the child receives and the supplementary aids provided for the child. The key to IEP development is individualization.
The IEP Team
The IEP is developed collaboratively by the student’s parents, the student (when appropriate), a regular and a special education teacher, a local education agency representative (usually the principal), an interpreter of evaluation results, and other persons invited by the school or family.
Elements of the IEP
IDEA specifies several key requirements for IEPs. First, the IEP contains information regarding the student’s present levels of educational performance, including how the student’s disability affects involvement and progress in the general curriculum. Next, measurable annual goals and short-term objectives are developed to meet the child’s unique needs for participating in the general curriculum. Although children with disabilities do not always participate in the general curriculum, it is viewed as the ultimate goal.
Another element incorporated in the IEP is the services including special education and related services, supplementary aids, and program modifications or supports. Importantly noted, school personnel are provided the program modifications or supports, which enable them to assist the student in attaining goals, participating and progressing in the general curriculum, and learning with children without disabilities. A statement of the extent to which the student will not participate with students without disabilities in general education classes must also be incorporated within the IEP. Of further issue, the IEP must address the student’s participation or lack of participation in state or district-wide assessments and identify the modifications the student will need for such assessments.
For adolescents, there is an additional element to the IEP—a transition plan. Beginning at age 14, a statement detailing the student’s needs related to transition services is included. Beginning at age 16, the IEP describes all needed transition services that the student will receive, including interagency responsibilities and linkages as needed. Transition services are those services that promote the student’s movement to post school activities, such as employment, postsecondary education or training, independent living, and community integration. In addition, as the student reaches the age of majority, all rights transfer from the parents to the student. Parents and the student must be notified of these upcoming changes at least a year prior to this shift.
For services identified in the IEP, a timeline should be defined that includes the anticipated frequency, location, and duration of each. A statement of how students progress toward annual goals will be measured and how parents are informed of such progress should be included. The parents should be informed at least as often as parents of students without disabilities are informed of their children’s progress.
IEPs are to be periodically reviewed. This review, which occurs not less than annually, takes place to determine if the annual goals for the student are being achieved. The IEP may also be revised based on several issues: (1) lack of progress toward goals and in the general curriculum; (2) reevaluation results; (3) information presented to or by the parents; (4) student’s anticipated needs; and (5) other matters related to the student’s education.
IEPs provide the blueprint for educational planning for students with disabilities. Their development should aim to create the best possible special educational programming for these students.
- Gibb, S., & Dyches, T. T. (2000). Guide to writing individualized education programs: What’s best for students with disabilities? Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
- Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Amendments of 1997, PL 105-17, 20 S.C. §§ et seq.
- LD Online, http://www.ldonline.org
- Turnbull, , Turnbull, A., Shank, M., Smith, S., & Leal, D. (2001). Implementing IDEA’s principles. In R. Turnbull, A. Turnbull, M. Shank, S. Smith, & D. Leal (Eds.), Exceptional lives: Special education in today’s schools (3rd ed., pp. 40–71). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
- S. Department of Education. (2004). A guide to the individualized education program. Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/parents/needs/speced/iepguide/index.html
- Wrightslaw, http://www.wrightslaw.com