Special children warrant special consideration to help them succeed at school. This thought permeates the government’s creating, and 2004 revision of, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The regulations responsible for the content and fulfillment of an Individual Education Plan (IEP) are defined in the IDEA. Individual Education Plans impact children greatly by providing the help their physical or mental handicap demands in order to realize school success.
The primary but not exclusive members of an IEP team – school administrator, counselor, both the general education and special education teachers, staffing specialist and parent – meet at least annually to create a plan for each eligible student. Middle and high school students may attend also, and younger students when appropriate, particularly at middle and high school transition meetings. In order to realize the impact of an IEP on a child’s education, consider the following elements addressed within its pages.
Goals and benchmarks:
Specific goals for reading, math, language, behavior, as well as the related services, are written in the IEP. These goals indicate the levels the student is expected to reach by the end of the academic year. Benchmarks are written for each goal to identify the increments the child must achieve in order to reach the target. These appear on progress reports sent home with the student’s grade cards, so parents are aware of how their child is faring. Goals and benchmarks provide a measure of the child’s growth and help the IEP team make future decisions that will impact the child’s learning.
The IEP states where your child will receive their academic lessons and for what part of the day.
* Will they receive their course work in a general education inclusion class with nondisabled peers?
* Will they receive their lessons in a resource room? They may start out the day in a homeroom setting and then go to a resource room with other children needing the same help for a portion of the school day.
* Will the child remain in a separate ESE (Exceptional Student Education) classroom with a special education teacher for the entire time?
The IEP team must decide on the least restrictive environment that will provide the program that best meets the unique needs of the student.
The IEP provides goals and benchmarks for other services as well as academic instruction. Occupational and/or physical therapy, speech and/or language therapy, and counseling are often related services covered in the IEP. The specific time allocated to each of these is stated.
Transportation is another related service. If a child needs assistance getting to school and then to class, special buses can be designated to pick the child up at their home and deliver them back again. The education of a child who must remain in a wheelchair will not be jeopardized. If therapy is necessary to build their pencil grasp in order to write, they will receive therapy. If touch pad technology is needed to assist a child in learning, that too will be provided.
The IEP states whether the student will be evaluated by the state test or provided alternate assessment. Alternate assessments were initially designed for trainable and profoundly mentally handicapped children who would not be pursuing a high school diploma. Therein is the importance of exposing children to state test preparation and actual testing if the possibility exists that they can graduate with a diploma.
If a student must take the regular state test, the IEP identifies the specific accommodations that they can receive – and there are many. The most common accommodations include extended time, flexible setting, and flexible presentation such as having the passages read to them or using a scribe for the written portions. Other less common but allowable accommodations include tests with larger print, paper with raised lines, Braille tests, masking templates, highlighter tape and more. These accommodations level the playing field for children who are disadvantaged through no fault of their own. The rule though, is that the student must receive these accommodations throughout the year when completing daily work and testing in order for the accommodation to be provided on the state test. Thus, IEP accommodations impact the degree and type of help a child receives every school day.
Different from accommodations, modifications provide a special curriculum to meet the student’s lower academic level. For instance, if a third grade student is reading more than a year below their grade level, they may be provided a first grade reader as a modification so they can realize success with less anxiety and frustration. Depending on the needs of the child, their curriculum may be changed to address concerns about social skills, communication, or personal care rather than stressing academics.
Extended School Year:
The plan addresses whether or not the student needs to continue schooling throughout the summer months. The key question here is whether the child can retain what they have learned the school year. If they return from Christmas or spring breaks and have regressed considerably, they would be a candidate for an extended school year program to help them continue their upward learning curve.
As children mature and make gains in their studies and/or are facing a transition to middle or high school, it is necessary to acclimate them to a new environment. The IEP states measures to help the student adjust to the greater demands placed on them. The student is generally given increasing time and independence through trial placement in a general education setting.
Considering the many facets of the Individual Education Plan (IEP), it is evident that it impacts every aspect of a child’s schooling. The important thing is to remember that their individual needs dictate the content of the IEP. Rather than an inert document, this productive tool promotes student growth and achievement if parents and teachers make proper use of it. Child study teams can meet as needed throughout the year to tweak and make adjustments that benefit the child. The IEP is a legal document that must be reviewed annually and accompanies the child when they change schools. It ensures that a child with a disability receives whatever is necessary to learn.