Developing Educational Plans

When a student’s evaluation deems him eligible for special education programs, an Individual Educational Plan (IEP) will be developed. A student’s Individual Educational Plan serves as a road map for his academic achievement. The plan is developed by a team which includes educators, counselors and at least one of the student’s parents. Schools have 30 days from the date a student’s eligibility is determined to develop his initial IEP. The school is also required to give parents sufficient advance notice so they can attend the IEP meeting. If you have a conflict that prevents you from attending a scheduled IEP meeting, notify the school immediately as they are required to take your availability into consideration.

The make-up of the IEP team must meet certain requirements. The people whose presence is required include: one of the student’s special education teachers (if he is currently enrolled in special education classes), one of the student’s regular education teachers, the student’s parents (at least one of them), someone from the school district who can speak to general education requirements and available resources, someone who’s qualified to determine the educational needs which were revealed by the student’s evaluation, anyone who can offer unique insight into the student (i.e. – a counselor), and – if appropriate – the student.

The IEP meeting notice you are required to receive from the school must list the team members. It falls to the parent to ensure that anyone who needs, or is required, to be there is there. Parents can agree to excuse certain members of the team if the member requests excusal and it’s determined that his or her presence at a particular meeting is not necessary. The parents also have the right, however, to not allow any excusals at all, and can submit a written request to the school that such requests not be made.

It is common for school districts to have IEP forms which are used to ensure that all IDEA requirements are met and that the meetings are efficient. It’s important to find out whether or not your school district uses this type of form. If it does, get a copy of the form in advance. You’ll want to review it carefully before the meeting so that you know what to expect and can be adequately prepared. Understand that this type of IEP form is simply a guideline. You have every right to request additional services or support for your child that are not addressed on the form.

When the IEP team meets, one of the first things it will need to do is assess the student’s current level of performance. His performance level must be determined using data such as test scores, teacher evaluations, and relevant information provided by the parents. From this information, a baseline or starting point will be ascertained and used to measure the student’s progress. Statements about the student’s performance need to be specific. The National Center for Learning Disabilities’ Parents’ Guidegives these examples of appropriate and inappropriate performance statements:

  • Inappropriate: “Susan is not progressing adequately in the second grade reading curriculum.”
  • Appropriate: “Susan is reading 15-20 words per minute (WPM) with three to eight errors in second grade material. She reads slowly with inaccurate decoding skills.”

The more specific a performance statement, the more accurately a child’s progress can be measured.

When developing performance statements and goals, the team must also consider the following factors:

  • What are your child’s strengths?
  • What are your concerns regarding your child’s education?
  • What were the results of your child’s evaluation?
  • What are your child’s academic, developmental, and functional needs?
  • Is the child’s behavior interfering with her education?
  • Is the child’s education hindered by a limited understanding of the English language?
  • Is the child visually impaired and in need of Braille instruction?
  • Is the child deaf or hearing impaired and needing to develop special communication skills?
  • Is there any special technology that will aid the child’s educational development?

Taking all of these things into consideration, a plan is developed for your child that includes specific academic goals, and the programs and services which will be used to help him reach those goals. New to the IDEA 2004 regulations is a requirement that special education services and programs must have strong evidentiary support of their effectiveness. Don’t be afraid to ask IEP team members if the programs and services they’re recommending have this kind of scientifically-based support. Be aware that the services a child receives should not be limited by his type of disability.

The specifics of an IEP will vary by state and sometimes even by school district, but the following 8 items are required by the IDEA:

1.    An evaluation of your child’s current level of academic performance
This is commonly called the Present Level of Educational Performance (PLOP) Statement. The PLOP is only required to address the areas in which the student will need special help. So if he struggles in math but isn’t having any trouble with reading, reading will not be mentioned in his performance statement. 

Though the purpose of the performance statement is to give a starting point for an educational plan, it is not limited to areas of academia. Topics like behavioral and social skills can be included as well.

2.    Goals and Objectives
Once current performance levels are determined, annual goals are set for each area in which the student needs special support. Again, information in this section is not limited to academic issues. If a student is hearing impaired and needs to learn sign language, it will be included in his goals and objectives. 

The goals are longer term (typically a year), while the objectives are small accomplishments a student can aim for along the way. 

3.    Progress Reports
A student’s IEP must include a section that details how and when progress will be measured, and how you – as the parent – will be notified of your child’s progress. It should also include the level of performance required by the student in order to reach the objectives. It should describe what “success” looks like for the student’s short and long-term goals. 

4.    Programs and Services
This statement outlines the programs and services that will be made available to the student to enable him to reach his goals and objectives. The programs and services must help the student:
    ◦    Reach his goals and objectives
    ◦    Participate successfully in the general curriculum
    ◦    Participate in extracurricular activities
    ◦    Participate in educational and extracurricular activities with children who don’t have disabilities

5.    The statement must also outline when the services will begin and end, where and when they will be provided, and the duration. (Note: “duration” refers to the length of each individual occurrence. If, for example, behavioral therapy services will be offered, “duration” will detail how long each therapy session will last.) 

6.    Time Spent in General Education
The IDEA prefers that children with disabilities spend a little time as possible outside the general curriculum classes. This section of the IEP details the type of support a student will need in order to participate in general education classes as much as possible. Any time the student spends outside general classes must be explained in the IEP. 

7.    Modifications and Accommodations – Classroom
The IEP team may determine that a child’s disability requires modifications or accommodations in class work, tests, or routine. A modification is a slight change to what’s being taught or expected – i.e. making homework assignments shorter for a student with ADHD. An accommodation, however, helps a student complete the same task as the other students, despite his disability – i.e. letting him take a test orally is he is dyslexic. 

8.    Modifications and Accommodations – State/District Tests
Students who participate in general education curriculum are required to take state and district assessments. This includes children with disabilities. Modifications or accommodations that are required in order for the student to take these assessments must be explained. In addition, if the IEP team determines a student should not take a particular assessment, it must explain why and offer suggestions for alternative assessments. 

9.    Transition
For students who are – or will be turning – 16, the IDEA requires that their IEP include plans for life beyond high school. At this point, it would be appropriate to have the student begin participating in the IEP team meetings, if he hasn’t been already. He should have the opportunity to determine the direction of his future.

IDEA requires a statement which details whether the student will continue on to a postsecondary education or seek employment. If the student intends to continue his education, postsecondary goals will be developed.

Again, this is just an overview of the Federal IDEA requirements. Your state or school district will have additional requirements with which you’ll need to become familiar. The more you know about the rights, services and programs available to people with learning disabilities the more capable you will be of advocating for your child’s education.

There are thirteen disability categories in the IDEA. A child who is eligible for special education services will be assigned to one of these categories (ADHD, for example), may also struggle with emotional issues caused by ADHD. According to IDEA regulations, your child has the right to receive help for the emotional issues as well, even though it wasn’t the primary diagnosis.

Finally, the team must determine how and when progress will be measured and reported. Reporting information must include when and how you will be notified of your child’s progress.