The Individual Education Plan is a specific academic and behavioral plan which addresses specific goals for every special needs child. The process itself has been revised over and over and today is fairly standard, varying only slightly from state to state. It involves a system of individuals who meet collectively to provide input into the best ways to help students achieve success. For and IEP to be legal, the following people must be present: The parent, special education teacher, mainstream general education teacher, an LEA representative (who must be there for responsibility for any financial obligations which are decided upon), an AEA team consisting usually of a consultant, social worker, and psychologist, and any outside agencies who are involved in working with this child. Often the child him or herself is asked to be present for part of the meeting, and any speech or occupational therapists etc. should have a chance to provide input.
The IEP itself consists of sections which describe the strengths and interests of the child, medications which are taken, educational goals, behavioral interventions, and other information which will help to provide the framework for a plan enabling the student to achieve success. The team shares data about possible accommodations and/or modifications the student might need to “level the playing field” for the achievement of maximum success. The parent section is very important, since parents have a unique perspective about their own child and should be able to share information about successes and problems which are encountered in the home setting. By the same token, a social worker or case worker (or even a parole officer, etc.) should attend and the information gained from these people is hugely valuable in forming an educational plan for the special student.
The IEP takes place every year as a review, and every four years as a “Reevaluation”. At this second type of meeting, it should be decided in advance if additional educational testing is needed to provide important data or whether a Functional Behavior Assessment could help in giving insights into problem areas the student might be facing. In the case of a Severe or Profoundly Developmentally Delayed student, the general or mainstream teacher at that grade level should still be there, to share information about what peers of the same age are supposed to be doing and to compare the district Standards and Benchmarks of academic and behavioral expectations for peers of the same age. The comparison is very important for forming the basis of goals which the child is expected to meet in an academic year and the benchmarks (or steps leading to these goals) which must be achieved along the way toward meeting the goals.
The student should be present to receive praise and reinforcement for each achievement, whether in Speech, Math, Behavior, or Reading. Parts of the meeting where problems or accommodations are discussed should be done outside the presence of the child, in order to keep discouragement or the feeling of “being different” from affecting his or her performance. The team’s teacher and/or the child’s parent should be able to know what parts of the meeting are vital for the student to attend.
The IEP meeting, of course, is just the beginning of the entire IEP process. Once the goals have been discussed and formed, the teacher should be responsible for collecting data each month to show the child’s progress toward meeting each of the IEP goals. If performance is consistently below the goal’s aim line on the IEP graph, the goal and method of instructional delivery should be changed. This change will make the IEP current and consistently meeting the specific needs of every child who has special needs.