Meeting Their Needs: A Guide to Individualized Education Plans

Special education is a rewarding field, helping students with special needs reach their goals and become as independent as possible. To be an effective educator, good communication must be maintained with all of the team members and the Individualized Education Plan(IEP) must be followed at all times. IEPs are essentially the blueprint for a student’s education, so creating one is not a process to be taken lightly. Since the IEP requires careful planning, considerations and a team-based approach, here is some information on how special education teachers can help develop truly individualized education plans to benefit their students.

What is an IEP?

An IEP describes a student’s specific learning goals as well as all of the supports that he or she needs to be successful in the classroom. The U.S. Department of Education states that goals and services are decided based on assessment data, observations, testing and other factors. The IEP specifically discusses how a student’s disability affects his or her learning and how the IEP will help the student achieve measurable goals. The IEP typically consists of the following components:

  1. Current school performance
  2. Goals broken down into benchmarks
  3. Services (e.g. speech therapy) with frequency and location
  4. Educational setting(s)
  5. Testing modifications
  6. Transition planning
  7. Plan to measure progress and share information

The IEP Process

If a student is suspected of having a learning disability, a referral is made to the Committee on Special Education (CSE) so the student can be evaluated for special education services. The New York State Department of Education explains that the CSE is made up of the student, parents, special and regular education teachers, a CSE chair, service providers and anyone else who can interpret assessment data or provide input on a student’s education. The CSE receives referrals and plans assessments to deem eligibility for services, then creates an IEP (if eligible). The IEP is reviewed at least once a year. It is important to note that the IEP is a legal document.

Individualizing Education

The key word in IEP is “individualized.” The student must always be the central focus, and in order to keep the IEP process a positive one, it is best to focus on a student’s strengths rather than his or her weaknesses. A special education teacher does a child a great disservice by not listening closely to input from all team members and keeping an open mind when it comes to trying new approaches. The more you know about a student, the stronger the IEP and educational experience will be, so establish open communication early on with parents, service providers and other educators.

Assisting Parents

The IEP process can often be intimidating to parents, and raising a child with disabilities comes with both joys and frustrations. Special education teachers can help empower parents by connecting them with advocacy and support groups, and familiarizing them with the IEP lingo and process. My Child Without Limits suggests meeting with parents several weeks before an IEP meeting to discuss concerns, recommendations and priorities. Regularly communicate student progress, and connect parents with the school’s parent advocate. Finally, connect parents with KPS4Parents, which offers advocacy training, communication tools for educators and teachers, and information on rights and responsibilities throughout the IEP process.


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