When a child has been determined eligible for special education, school systems are required to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) in collaboration with the parents to articulate the details of the child's educational program and commit the resources necessary to complete the program.
The process for developing an IEP
The writing of your child's IEP is one aspect of the special education process under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The procedures for identifying a student as having a disability, needing special education, and, therefore, requiring an IEP, include:
- Identification as possibly needing special education services. The IDEA requires states to identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities in the state who need special education and related services. In addition to proactive state efforts, a school professional may request an evaluation for your child. Parents can contact a child's teacher or other school professional to ask for an evaluation.
- Evaluation. The evaluation must assess your child in all areas related to the suspected disability. The evaluation results will be used to decide your child's eligibility for special education and related services and to make decisions about an appropriate educational program for your child. If you disagree with the evaluation, you have the right to take your child for an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) and you can ask that the school system pay for this IEE.
- Eligibility determination. After the evaluation, the parents will meet with a group of qualified professionals to look over your child's evaluation results. Together, you decide if your child is a "child with a disability," as defined by IDEA. If your child is found to be a "child with a disability," he or she is eligible for special education and related services. Within thirty calendar days after your child is determined eligible, the IEP team must meet to write an IEP for your child.
- IEP meeting. The school system schedules and conducts the IEP meeting. The IEP team will gather to talk about your child's needs and write the IEP. Parents and their child (when appropriate) are part of the team. Before the school system can provide special education and related services to your child for the first time, you must give consent. The child begins to receive services as soon as possible after the meeting. If you do not agree with the IEP and placement, you may discuss your concerns with other members of the IEP team and try to work out an agreement. If there is still disagreement, you can ask for mediation, or the school may offer mediation. You can file a complaint with the state education agency and can request a due process hearing, at which time mediation must be available.
- Special education services provided. The school ensures that your child's IEP is being carried out as it was written. Parents are given a copy of the IEP. Each of your child's teachers and service providers has access to the IEP and knows his or her specific responsibilities for carrying out the IEP. This includes the accommodations, modifications, and supports that must be provided to the child, in keeping with the IEP.
- Progress is measured and reported. Your child's progress toward the annual goals is measured, as stated in the IEP. You are regularly informed of your child's progress and whether that progress is enough for the child to achieve the goals by the end of the year. These progress reports must be given to you at least as often as parents are informed of any nondisabled children's progress.
- Review of the IEP. Your child's IEP is reviewed by the IEP team at least once a year, or more often if you or the school ask for a review.
- Reevaluation. At least every three years, your child must be reevaluated. This evaluation is often called a triennial review. This reevaluation determines whether your child continues to be a "child with a disability," as defined by IDEA, and what your child's educational needs are.
Contents of an IEP
The IEP is the focal point of each student's special education program. It articulates the details of the program as agreed upon by both parents and school personnel and commits the resources necessary to complete the program. It also serves as a management tool for school systems to ensure appropriate education and related services. School systems, parents, and individual students all have a stake in having a well-written, comprehensive, and accurate IEP that is revised at least annually to reflect a student's most current needs and progress. All DoD schools use a standardized form for the IEP, but individual state agencies have their own formats for documenting the required components of the IEP. By law, the IEP must include certain information about your child and the educational program designed to meet his or her unique needs. This includes the following:
- Special educational and related services. The IEP must list the specific educational and related services the student will receive including the extent to which the child will or will not participate in the regular education program. This includes supplementary aids and services needed, as well as modifications to the program or supports for school personnel - such as training or professional development - that will be provided to assist your child.
- Time and duration of services. The IEP lists the time and duration of services including dates for the beginning and ending of each service, where the related services will be provided, and how often services will be provided.
- Goals. The IEP lists annual goals and specific objectives for reaching those goals. The goals are broken down into short-term objectives or benchmarks. Goals may be academic, address social or behavioral needs, relate to physical needs, or address other educational needs. The goals must be measurable - meaning that it must be possible to determine if the student has achieved the goals.
- Evaluation methods. The IEP contains criteria, methods, and timelines for evaluating achievement of short-term objectives contained in the program. The IEP must also state what modifications are needed for your child to participate in any required state and district-wide achievement tests. If a test is not appropriate for your child, the IEP must state why the test is not appropriate and how your child will be tested instead.
- Current performance. The IEP must state how your child is currently doing in school. Typically, this is collected from classroom tests and assignments, individual tests given to decide eligibility for services or during reevaluation, and observations made by parents, teachers, related service providers, and other school staff.
- Participation with nondisabled children. The IEP must explain the extent (if any) to which your child will not participate with nondisabled children in the regular class and other school activities. Your child's IEP must be delivered in the least restrictive environment that is able to accommodate your child's needs without jeopardizing the educational needs of other students. In other words, children should only be removed from the regular classroom when the nature and severity of their disability makes it necessary to do so. The school's intent to educate students with disabilities in the regular classroom to the greatest degree possible is also called "inclusion."
- Transition services. Once your child is sixteen, the IEP must address the courses he or she needs to take to reach his or her post-school goals. A statement of transition services needs must also be included in each of the child's subsequent IEPs. Once your child is sixteen, the IEP must state what transition services are needed to help your child prepare for leaving school.
- Age of majority. Beginning at least one year before the child reaches the age of majority (usually the age of eighteen), the IEP must include a statement that your child has been told of any rights that will transfer to him or her at the age of majority.
For even more information about IEPs, you can read through the DoD Special Needs Parent Tool Kit: Birth to 18, Module 2: Special Education.