When students with disabilities are struggling in school, you may hear the acronym ‘IEP’ thrown around in conversation. But what exactly is an IEP? How does having an IEP help student achievement? If you are interested in learning more about special education, check out our overview on how an IEP can benefit students of all ages.
Who Qualifies for an IEP?
An Individualized Education Program (IEP), or individualized education plan, is a legal document that specifically lays out what services and supports a child will receive throughout a typical school week. In other words, it is an educational blueprint for a child’s special education experience while at school. Because IEPs are created on a student-by-student case, no two IEPs are exactly alike. In addition, a child must be at least 3 years of age to qualify for an IEP (depending on the diagnosis).
To be eligible for an IEP, a student must have one or more of the 13 disability categories listed under IDEA. Although an outside psychologist’s report can influence if a student will receive an IEP, it is ultimately up to the school. How a student is determined to have one of these disabilities is different depending on the state and school district, but it often follows these steps:
- A struggling student is identified at the school by a teacher or support staff member and undergoes a multi-step intervention OR a parent notifies the school that they have deep concerns regarding their child and wishes for an evaluation, entering the student into the multi-step intervention
- If it is determined by the school team (which consists of the parent, teacher, relevant staff members, etc.) that the interventions are not enough, then the child is referred to the psychologist (employed by the district) for testing
- If the psychologist determines a student has a disability that falls under IDEA, the team will then decide whether an IEP or 504 plan would be sufficient for a child to have a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under Section 504
What Are the Benefits of Having an IEP?
When a child has an IEP, they are surrounded by a support team whose focus is to ‘bridge the gap’ between where they currently are and where they need to be compared to same age/grade peers. Some of the most important things listed on an IEP include:
- Detailed report of what a child’s present level of performance is – both academic and functional performance
- Educational goals that are revisited annually to help track progress
- The type of services a child receives: such as specialized instructions (e.g. time spent away from the general classroom with the special education teacher to work on goals) or related services (e.g. occupational therapist, physical therapist, counseling services, etc.)
- The amount of time a child is supposed to receive a service (e.g. once a week for 30 minutes)
- Allowed accommodations, or changes to the learning environment (e.g. extra time for completing assignments, preferential seating, lessons broken into smaller segments, etc.)
- Allowed modification, or changes to what a child is expected to learn (e.g. placed in a Specialized Varying Exceptionalities classroom, taken off state standards, etc.)
What Services My Child Receives?
In general, the services provided to a child are dependent on the school staff. Yes, parents can influence decision making, but sometimes it can be difficult for them to do so due to lack of special education knowledge. This is why parents will often seek out a special education advocate for their child in order to receive professional help before, during, and after an IEP meeting. Also, consider checking for available Government Education Subsidies to reduce the cost of education. If you are a parent in need of a second opinion or in need of support to better understand everything related to IEPs, feel free to follow the link provided above to speak to a certified advocate today.