The Individualized Education Plan (I.E.P.) is a key document in a special needs child's education. It is mandated by law to ensure a child is receiving the accomodations he/she needs in order to reach his/her full educational potential. It provides a comprehensive overview of the child's strengths and weaknesses, accomodations needed and applicable teaching strategies. The document is reviewed and modified as needed annually by the school team and parents. The school team usually consists of but is not limited to an administrator, resource teacher, classroom teacher and therapy providers. The timeline for the creation and format of an I.E.P varies depending on the school or district. This document sounds like it will set the tone and foundation for a special needs child trying to succeed in a formal education setting. Yet the realities of the I.E.P process can be fraught with difficulty. It is difficult to write and implement an I.E.P. that has real meaning for the everyday classroom. Here are some of the difficulties I have experienced as a teacher. 1) The I.E.P. is not really individualized. I.E.P.s are actually so general they could be applied to any student. Teaching strategies such as "will benefit from having extra time to take tests" and "being seated near the front of the classroom" are applicable to most special needs students. This usually happens because in order for teachers, especially high school teachers, to create all the needed I.E.P.s in a timely manner drop down menus with a variety of strengths, weaknesses, accomodations and teaching strategies are used. Teachers do choose from the drop down menus while thinking specifically of the special needs child but it also limits how much teachers think outside the drop down menus.
2) Time constraints prevent collaboration. In most of my teaching situations, I have prepared the I.E.P. with minimal collaboration with my colleauges or the parents. After I have finished the I.E.P. it is reviewed by an administrator and is sent home. The parents review the I.E.P., sign it and return it to the school. The I.E.P. is placed in the student file. It is rare I have a meeting with my colleagues and the parents before writing the I.E.P.. It is rare I get feedback or suggestions for changes from my colleagues or the parents. Time constraints play a big part in this. Let's take a look at some scenarios to illustrate this. In one classroom, a teacher has 3 special needs students who need I.E.P.s. If a one hour meeting before and after writing an I.E.P is needed, this teacher has 6 hours of just meetings to attend. This time doesn't include actual I.E.P. preparation and is usually taken from the teacher's daily classroom preparation time. Let's think about the administrator now. If in a school there are 20 classrooms and 3 I.E.P.s on average per classroom, the administrator is already committed to a minumum of 60 meetings at least an hour in length each. The administrator could possibly accomplish this in a 2 week period if all the meetings were held back to back and they had no other responsibilities.
3) The I.E.P. is not taken as seriously as it should be. As a teacher, I have to admit I am gulity of this. Too often, the I.E.P. is just one of the many things on my list to accomplish and ashamedly because I don't feel like it will be looked at much I don't take it as seriously as I should. This is wrong thinking! The I.E.P....
provides continuity of accomodations and teaching strategies between school years.
allows for parents and teachers to see what accomodations and teaching strategies work and what needs tweaking.
is needed to substantiate certain accomodations. If your child needs a computer program that can read text to them such as the Kurzweil system, it will be difficult for you to get the school board to buy it. If your child needs a scribe for the Secondary 4 History exam, it needs to be written in the I.E.P.. If you feel your child needs more hours with an integration aide, the I.E.P. can help show why and how the hours need to be allocated.
There is much teachers and schools can change in their operational procedures to create more meaningful I.E.P.s but this is an uphill battle and does not meet your child's immediate need of a meaningful I.E.P.. The school system has its responsibilities but here I want to give an encouragement to my parents. YOU ARE THE BEST ADVOCATE FOR YOUR SPECIAL NEEDS CHILD! Please help your teachers and schools to do their best job possible by advocating for a meaningful I.E.P.. Speak with your teacher early on in the school year regarding your child's weaknesses, strengths and teaching strategies that have previously worked. Call your adminsitrator early in the year to ask for a meeting to discuss the I.E.P. and follow up. Go to the I.E.P. meeting with concrete suggestions. If you, as a parent, advocate strongly for child, your child will have the best your teacher and school can offer.
An I.E.P. is not just a blank piece of paper waiting to be filled. A meaningful I.E.P. is difficult to come by but when prepared well it has the power to change the educational experience of a special needs child for the better.