5 Elements of a Well-Developed Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

Oct 13, 2021

The IEP is a written plan of action, developed and agreed upon by a team, for a student with a disability who requires special education and related services. It describes the child's disability and how it affects their education, what the team decided about the child's needs, and how they will meet these needs for the next school year. An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is designed to help students with disabilities learn at their own pace. The goal of an IEP is to help students reach academic and functional goals and provide them with the necessary supports and services needed to reach these goals.

To determine eligibility for special education services, the team uses information from evaluations of the student's abilities and skill level. The assessments may include achievement testing, aptitude testing, interviews with parents/guardians, observations of the student's behavior in different settings, reviews of records from physicians or hospitals, psychological testing, physical examinations by physicians and other professionals.

It is important that each IEP be written with the student in mind. It should reflect the unique strengths and needs of that child. An IEP that applies to all children with disabilities fails to meet this requirement. The IEP is written on the premise that every child with a disability is unique and needs tailored instruction and support to thrive emotionally, physically, and academically. While IEPs are legally required documents, not all IEPs are created equal and tailored to a child’s specific needs. Understanding the elements of a well-developed IEP can assist parents in advocating for their children. It also guides in championing your child to receive the best education and highly specialized related services.

Here are key elements of a well-developed Individualized Education Plan (IEP):

Present Level: An IEP should include an adequately summarized present level that clearly states your child’s academic and functional abilities. This is an up-to-date statement of your child’s present levels of performance in major areas of educational concern, including academic and functional performance in communication, social and emotional development, physical development, and cognitive development.  The team should summarize the child's present levels of performance academically and functionally in relation to state and local standards. In other words, what is this child doing now in school, and what is the child able to do on a daily basis that demonstrates his or her level of achievement? This should include information about the effects of the disability on your child's ability to function within age-appropriate limits.

Goals: These goals should align with the principles of SMART(Specific, measurable, achievable,  realistic, and Time-bound)  goals. Ensure that every single goal in your child’s IEP meets these criteria. Also, ask the team to clearly state how progress on these goals will be measured. For example, we might want to say that we want to teach Johnny to write sentences with a certain level of complexity, or that we want him to be able to read and comprehend a certain number of words. These goals might help us measure progress: if we're teaching Johnny to write with complexity, we can look at his writing and see what the characteristics of the complex sentences are. If we're teaching him to read and comprehend words, we can have him read a list of words and then ask him what they mean. But is this really what we mean?

Are these goals specific? Is it clear how to measure them? Is it realistic to expect Johnny will be able to write sentences with a certain level of complexity, or will he need extra support doing so? And how do these goals relate to the principles of SMART(Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound) goals?

Are these goals something you can help your child achieve in the classroom? Or are they best achieved at home through extra support from parents? Knowing your role in helping your child achieve his IEP goals can be part of the solution.

Special Education and Related Services - This should address ALL services and related services (e.g., speech/language, APE, OT, AT,  and PT). Your child’s need for these services should be data-driven. Your child may need special services at school, like speech therapy or occupational therapy. These services are crucial for your child to progress in school and maybe crucial for your child to progress in life. However, the important thing is that these services be data-driven. That means that services provided should be based on your child's specific needs, not on whether you want them or think they will help. If your child doesn't need these services, you should not get them. More time spent receiving related services means less time receiving academic instruction.

in progress.... ⚠️

The Extent of Non-participation in General Education Classroom - It should be noted and discussed the extent to which your child will not participate in the general education setting. The supporting reasons should also be provided. There are many reasons why a child may not participate in the general education setting. In some cases, a child may have a physical disability that prevents him/her from participating in activities with his peers. In other cases, a student is simply not performing at the academic level needed to participate in the general education setting. In these situations, a student may be placed into a program that is more conducive to his/her learning needs. In most cases, the IEP team will work with the parents to determine which kind of program would best suit their child's needs. Instructional methods and delivery models will vary depending on whether the child is receiving his/her instruction on campus or at home and what grade level he/she is currently enrolled in. The IEP team will ensure that all students receive an appropriate level of academic instruction as outlined by their respective IEPs.

Service Delivery: The specific date that all services will be initiated. Ideally, all services should commence as soon as the IEP is approved. The frequency and duration of all services should be documented. Additionally, the location of service delivery should be noted. This provides a time frame for parents and teachers to plan ahead. The IEP should indicate how frequently each service will be provided and for how long. This is important information for parents and teachers to know in order to effectively monitor the implementation of the IEP. It also serves as a reminder to teachers that an IEP is a living document that must be reviewed on a regular basis for its continued appropriateness and effectiveness.

The location where services are delivered should be noted. If a service provider, such as a speech therapist, works in multiple locations, all possible locations should be documented in the notes section of the IEP. If a child attends multiple schools, all possible locations where services can be delivered should be documented. In this case, it is important that information about the location of service delivery be clearly stated in the IEP so that any additional services needed during summer school or other alternative education programs can also be included in the student's IEP.

Remember, you are the advocate your child really needs. Your advocacy stands by understanding the document designed to help your child thrive. Your input and analysis of the IEP matter. This is the framework to guide your child’s progress.

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