What is an IEP?

The Department of Education states that an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is an academic opportunity for parents, teachers and human services personnel to provide assistance to students with disabilities. Individualized Education Programs are written plans that state specific learning goals and designate educational services that will meet a student’s individual needs.

The IEP Process

Once a student is officially eligible for special education, an interdisciplinary team will work together to write the IEP. The IEP team may include the student, their parents, a regular teacher, a special education provider and other representatives, such as a social worker or relative child care provider. These meetings are required to be held within 30 days of the student’s acceptance into the special education program. Every IEP has the two main goals of setting reasonable learning goals and establishing academic services that the school will provide. The IEP should identify which state and district-wide assessments that the student will or will not participate in and why.

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The IEP Review

The IEP must include specific statements about the student’s current levels of functional performance and academic achievement. That is, the IEP must document the student’s historical accomplishments and how their disability impacts their progress of the general curriculum. There should be annual goals, both academic and functional, that focus on what the student can reasonably accomplish. There should also be benchmarks that measure progress and communication processes that inform parents and other parties of the student’s progress. The IEP must identify which special education services will be used, such as supplementary aids and communication devices. The IEP must estimate how much of every school day will be spent separately from non-disabled children.

Medical Assessments

Parents may wonder if the assessments used to determine eligibility for special education must include a physician’s medical diagnosis. This is especially relevant for students suspected of having autism, Asperger’s or attention deficit disorder. The Department of Education has not published any clear requirements that state a medical diagnosis is needed for eligibility determination. Instead, educational organizations are encouraged to use various evaluation tools and strategies to gather academic, functional and developmental information about the student. This may include medical data if the student has a documented disability.

Applicable Services

The IEP may require the school or other agencies to provide relevant services that the student will need to benefit from their special education. The most common type of service is occupational therapy, which helps students regain or develop movement lost because of injury or illness. Speech therapy, or speech-language pathology, and audiology services are for students who have trouble speaking or communicating. There are also counseling, mobility, transportation and therapeutic recreation services. Some special education students benefit from psychological, disability support or medical diagnostic services.

An Individualized Education Program does come with certain challenges, which include paperwork burdens and delayed bureaucratic decision making processes. Some programs may overly focus on recognizing needs and providing services, but fail to help students transition back into regular academic programs. Still, Individualized Education Programs provide safeguards for special needs students and help them achieve academic goals.