What is an IEP?

Whether you are the teacher or the parent of a child with special needs, it can be important to understand what an IEP is and how one is developed and carried out.

An IEP is a document whose initials stand for Individualized Education Program. It sets out to accomplish the individualization of an educational program for a child who needs special education services.

Within the United States, the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that all public schools develop such documents for every child with a disability. This is to ensure that all children have access to resources they need to learn and flourish.

Who Is Involved in Developing the Individualized Education Program

An IEP is generally developed by a team of people who are concerned and qualified to work on behalf of the child. This will usually include the child’s teacher (regular or special education, sometimes both), the child’s parents, and sometimes other qualified healthcare or educational specialists involved in the child’s life. It may also involve other staff members at a child’s school, and in some cases, the child may also get involved in helping to set educational goals, especially when they are older. The point of the document is to set measurable and reasonable goals that will help the student learn, pinpointing the services that need to be provided by the school and district for that to happen best.

Some of the Specifics

There are certain things that need to be included in every Individualized Education Plan. Before goals can be set, a child’s current learning levels need to be assessed. Understanding what the student has already accomplished will help those involved in implementing the plan to know how best to move forward. Goals are then written up for the following year. The team developing the plan will also list the services that the student needs to be provided. These might include things like regular work with a classroom aide or a special communication device. How those services will be given and used should be described. It will also be decided what environment the child would work best in. Some children who have special needs stay fully in a mainstream classroom, while others might combine time in a traditional classroom with time in a special education classroom. Finally, how the learning goals will be assessed for the child (including when and how often) will also be written up. To make the stated goals achievable, it’s important that everyone on the team understands how the child will be evaluated and when.

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If you’re a parent who is negotiating the world of Individualized Education Plans for the first time, all of this may seem challenging. It’s a good idea to educate yourself about the law and about your role in the process. Talk with other parents who have worked through the process, ask good questions of your child’s teachers and school administrators, and read resources about your children’s educational rights. You are your child’s most important advocate when it comes to planning an IEP that will maximize his or her learning potential.

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