Every year, a group of educators meet with parents of a special needs child to make an extremely important decision in his or her education. The result is a meeting in which a general education teacher, special educator, administrator, school psychologist and other representatives team up with the parents to create something that will ensure a child’s right and access to education.
The result of this meeting is a multi-page contract and plan called the Individualized Education Plan (IEP). It is a document in which members of the IEP team devise – and put into writing – a year-long plan for the child. This plan does many things: establish yearly educational goals and objectives; initiate the use of programs or resources to address his or her needs; establish accommodations or modifications; and address the child’s disability. Most importantly, the document helps a special needs child receive the same form of education that his or her non-disabled peers have.
IEPs are the result of numerous federal laws meant to protect the rights of students with special needs. Most notably, the Individual with Disability Education Act (IDEA) and its various renewals over the years helped to define what special education is today.
Its effect on a child with disabilities – in particular, those with learning disabilities – has led to the inclusion of these students into the general education population. At one time, this particular population would not only have been excluded from general education courses, they would have been barred from attending a public school (this was a practice that was done until the 1970s in several southern U.S. states).
An IEP is not just for the child. Portions of document are meant to help the teachers (general or special education) decide on the use of educational tools to individually instruct the child. These tools, accommodations or modifications, are meant to aid and support the child in the classroom.
Accommodations are methods, techniques or technology that’s meant to help the child. This may include using large prints, supplying notes for lectures, repeating or rephrasing lectures, using audio-recording, graphic organizers or allowing time for the student to process information. The curriculum or lesson being taught by the teacher is not changed. Accommodation is merely there to support the child.
Modification, on the other hand, is used in more extreme cases. Here, the lesson is changed. Instead of using grade-level reading, a teacher (in particular, a special education teacher) will use text written at a grade level that matches, or is slightly higher than the student’s own ability.
Another impact created by the IEP is an item called related services. The document (also considered a contract) initiates services to help the child such as speech therapy, counseling, transition services or transportation, to name a few.
The IEP also reserves time and space for transition goals and services. Transition refers to the period in which the child goes from one level of education to another. IDEA 2004 states that transitions need to be written for students turning 16 years-old. This particular transition deals with the period of change between graduation from high school and a post-secondary career- that may involve college or job training.
This document also records a child’s progress throughout the years. Test scores, assessments, grades, and the acquisition of course credits are often recorded in the IEP. Every three years, the IEP will record official assessments and psychological report findings made by a school psychologist. This particular IEP and its meeting – known as the triennial – can be used to mainstream a child (include placing him or her in general education courses) or to continue or exit the student from special education.
IEPs are documents that can follow a child throughout their primary and secondary school years. The document is designed to help and assist the child’s pursuit of education. Also, it is meant to instruct educators on ways to help the child, as well as provide services to address his or her disabilities. Ultimately, its purpose is to give the child reasonable access to the same education as their non-disabled peers, as well as protect them from discrimination.