Individualized Education Plans
What is an IFSP or IEP?
The student’s plan is formalized using a document called the Individual Family Services Plan (IFSP) for children in Early Childhood Special Education (birth through age 2) or the Individualized Education Program (IEP) for school-age children.
Development of the “Team”
The first step in the development of an IEP is the identification of the IEP Team. IDEA-97 emphasizes the importance of working cooperatively as a team. The team is facilitated by the school district. The team brings together parents, the student, general educators, special educators and administrators.
The following people are required to be on the team and in attendance at the meetings:
- At least one parent
- At least one general education teacher
- Special education teacher
- District representative (This person is qualified to provide or supervise the provision of specially designed instruction, is knowledgeable about the general education curriculum, and is knowledgeable about the availability of school district resources).
- The student, if appropriate
There may be other team members as appropriate. These may include Adapted Phy-ed Teachers, Assistive Technology Specialists, School Nurses, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, Paraprofessionals, Psychologists or Social Workers, Speech Clinicians. Parents can bring anyone they wish to the IEP meetings. As a courtesy, advise the school district if you are bringing additional guests or participants.
What is the Role of the Team?
The team process has important, integrated steps. Under IDEIA-2004, the IEP process is a focal point for reaching improved outcomes for students with disabilities. This process is critically important to children with disabilities and must be carefully managed to ensure that the unique needs of the student are addressed. An appropriate evaluation, development of the IEP, appropriate services and periodic progress reports are crucial.
The team process is a collaborative process between parents, school staff members and other professionals involved with your child. As a parent, you have a unique and critically important perspective on the child’s learning style, strengths and needs. The school staff should ensure you feel comfortable throughout the process and identify specific contact people for you to connect with throughout the year.
You have the right to be involved in ALL meetings that discuss the identification, evaluation, IEP development and educational placement of your children. The law ensures you and school personnel are equal partners in all steps during the team process.
Student participation is important and students are considered important members of the team. As students get older, they should become more and more active at team meetings, and their interests and preferences should determine the direction for the identified goals and services in the IEP. Supporting active student participation in the team process assists students in developing self-determination skills, which are necessary in adult life. If the student does not attend the meeting, the district must take other steps to ensure the student’s preferences and interests are considered. It is not mandatory for the student to attend. The decision to attend is up to the student and his or her parents.
Contents of an IEP
By law, there are certain things an IEP must include about the student and the educational program designed to meet his or her needs. This information includes:
Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP): The IEP must state how the student is currently doing in school. This information comes from many sources and may include the evaluation of classroom tests and assignments, formal tests used to decide special education eligibility and observations from staff, teachers and parents.
Goals and Objectives/Benchmarks: This section defines the areas of focus for educational planning. Goals describe what the student is expected to accomplish within a year of writing the IEP. As a parent you should let the team know what goals are important to you. Short-term objectives or benchmarks are the steps that help the student reach the goals.
Special Education and Related Services: This area lists all services the district has agreed to provide. This is where direct and indirect services would be defined.
- Direct services are provided directly to the student by a special education teacher or related service professional.
- "Indirect service" means special education services which include ongoing progress reviews; cooperative planning; consultation; demonstration teaching; modification and adaptation of the environment, curriculum, materials, or equipment; and direct contact with the pupil to monitor and observe. Indirect services may be provided by a teacher or related services professional to another regular education, special education teacher, related services professional, paraprofessional, support staff, parents, and public and nonpublic agencies to the extent that the services are written in the pupil's IEP and IFSP.
- This section also defines what the special education service is, where the child will receive services, the amount of time, the frequency of the service, when they are to begin and how long they will
Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) Explanation: This section is here to remind us all that we need to consider how much time a student is spending outside of the general education classroom. Teams should report the amount of time and the rationale for removal.
Course of Study: When the student reaches grade 9 (or before, if appropriate), the IEP must address the courses, services, etc., planned to help the student reach his or her post-high school goals.
Transition Activities and Services: During a student’s 9th grade year (or younger if appropriate), the IEP must state what transition activities and/or services are needed to help the child prepare for leaving school.
Transfer of Rights at Age of Majority: Beginning at least one year before your student reaches the age of majority (18 years old), the IEP must state the student has been informed of any rights that will transfer to him or her at that time.
Progress Reporting: The IEP must indicate the frequency and manner in which the team will report on your student’s progress on their goals. You should be informed of progress at least as often as parents of children without disabilities.
Program Placement Decisions: Once all the elements of the IEP are determined, including services and supports, a placement decision must be made.
- The first placement option considered for each student with a disability must be the general education classroom with the provision of needed aids and
- The law requires that students not be placed outside of the general education classroom unless their disability requires another
- The team must always consider the educational needs of the student before making the final placement
While the goal is to have children taught in their neighborhood school, this is not always appropriate. A student with specific needs may be placed in a program that best addresses his or her needs.
Accommodations and Modifications: Some students with disabilities may be able to participate in the general classroom and be successful with the use of accommodations or modifications.
- An accommodation allows students to do the same work as the other students but with a change that allows them to be more successful.
- A modification lowers the rigor of the material and changes what a test or assignment measures, as compared to the rest of the class.
- Accommodations and modifications should be written into a student’s IEP.
- It is important to involve the student, as appropriate, in this process to get his or her ideas on what changes would be helpful.
Participation in State and District-Wide Tests: Most states require achievement tests to be given at various grade levels. The IEP must state what modifications or accommodations are to be provided when the test is administered to the student. If the team determines the test is not appropriate, the IEP must state the reasons why and what alternative testing will be used instead.
Extended School Year: School districts are required to provide extended school year services (ESY) to students if the IEP team determines the services are necessary during a break in instruction in order to provide a free appropriate public education.
The criteria used to determine ESY eligibility should be reviewed with the student’s case manager annually. A student qualifies for ESY if any of the following criteria are met:
- Evidence of significant regression of a skill or acquired knowledge from the student’s level of performance on an annual goal that requires more than the length of the break to
- Services are necessary to attain and maintain self-sufficiency goals on the IEP.
- The IEP team determines that given a unique situation affecting the student’s progress toward goals, the student needs ESY.
The team ultimately decides eligibility for ESY using information from prior observation of the student’s regression and recoupment over breaks, either summer break or scheduled breaks in the school year. The team also may look at the student’s degree of impairment and rate of progress, among other things.