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IEP's for Students

If you are a parent, you probably have this blue sky idea that schools should serve your child in very special ways. Yes, schools should teach everyone, but you are sending your precious youngster to school, and no one ever mattered any more to you than this defenseless little imp.

This is a little rascal for whom you locked up medicine cabinets, paid for baby sitters, listened to the howling while you put him or her into a car seat. You sacrificed candle light dinners, bought play pens instead of designer jeans, and had less sleep than ever in your life - including those party nights in adolescence.

Now, this little diamond in the rough heads to school. You want this to be a happy time, a safe time, a time worthy of half the child's waking hours. This education will prepare the child for life, teach him or her the basics, reading, math, playing well with others. . . and that is the way most parents really feel about their child and school.

Those of us who have children with disabilities have all those dreams, too. Some of the blue sky is clouded over, though. We are not certain what our child's potential is -- and we are pretty sure that the child will not be able to stand up and protect his or her rights. Often we feel even more protective and concerned about this one with big hurdles to jump -- disabilities. Some can't hear, or do not know that others are making fun. Some are going to face repeated challenges, just getting pants buttoned up. Some cannot even tell the teacher that toileting is imminent.

No wonder there has been so much litigation and so many parents have deep feelings of concern. We do not think of children with disabilities as being less important than other children -- in fact, sometimes we feel we need to champion their rights because they are so often treated as the underdogs.

After all the huffing and puffing, the lobbying and senate hearings, the court cases and class action suits, we have come to a process that is pretty effective if done correctly. It is mandated by law, initially called PL94-142 and now called IDEA or Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

That process is the I E P or Individual Educational Plan.

Who is eligible for an IEP?

There are ten general categories of students who are eligible for services.

Youth Involved (ages 6-21)
Percent of Disabilities
Specific learning disabilities 2,524,000 51.1
Speech or language impairments 1,024,000 20.8

Mental Retardation

MR with multiple handicaps





Emotional disturbances 428,000 8.7
Various health impairments 106,500 2.1
Hearing impairment 65,500 1.3
Orthopedic impairment 60,600 1.2
Visual impairment 26,000 0.5
Autism 22,800 0.04
Traumatic brain injury 7,200 0.0014

This data is from the U.S. Department of Education, 1996

How does the process begin?

The first step in determining if a student will receive an IEP, or needs special services, is called screening. The Screen meets these purposes:

determine whether a student has a school related disability

look for the kind of services that would make an educational difference

This is not the time for formal testing, this is a time to observe, look at the student's abilities and how closely they fit with age appropriate actions and abilities. It is a time to gather information, for each person who is interested in the well-being of the child to look for and strengthen clues to the needs of the child. Screening can include routine testing and every day, in the classroom assessments, and those tests can look at the strengths of the child, what is going well, what work is being done correctly, how the youngster feels about school, how the parents feel about the whole situation.

The next step provides help to teachers who find a child challenging or recognize that the child is not making the expected gains or adjustment to the social setting of the school and is called pre-referral. The purpose of this step focuses on helping the child and not jumping to the conclusion that special education is the best or only answer.

If it looks as though the student needs more services than those identified and provided in the pre-referral step, the student moves forward to the referral stage. Now there is a formal request, in writing, to have the student evaluated. Evaluation moves the student closer to a diagnosis and the school closer to receiving Federal funds to help provide additional services to the youngster.

Nondiscriminatory evaluation procedures

The purpose of this step is to do the very best possible job of identifying the child's strengths and weaknesses. The questions to be asked and answered are:

Does the child really have a disability that is serious enough to need additional services and support

What tests will give us the best look at the student needs and strengths

Can we evaluate the student, using tests that are the most free from cultural and linguistic bias

Safeguards for Nondiscriminatory Evaluation
Areas of Assessment include more than one test include wide range of developmental information, such as the PEPSI screening look at levels of functioning outside of the school setting include health, hearing, vision, motor ability, communication skills screening along with the academic evaluation assess specific areas of concern such as reading, math, not just a general IQ score or Achievement test score [they often measure the same things]
Administering the Assessments select them to be as culturally and linguistically unbiased as possible look for tests that have the greatest reliability and validity administer them in the child's primary language, remembering that a primary spoken language may not be a language the student can read access the child's true abilities rather than mirroring known sensory problems that make evaluation difficult a trained professional administers the tests and does so taking into account the child's age, ability to concentrate, attention to the test, rapport, appropriate testing setting, lack of distracters, sense of safety and esteem conform to the directions and expectations expressed by test authors include additional evaluations or re-evaluations if the testing situation does not match those that will provide the best student outcome include data from classroom observation, school behaviors, such as in the cafeteria, during special classes, when interacting with peers, on the bus -- with adequate time spent observing to provide a clear picture of the child's strengths and actions provide information about adaptations or changes made during testing that might skew results or invalidate the outcome when making predictions based on norms
Timing evaluation occurs before placement in special programs and prior to pulling a student out of a program reevaluations occur every three years unless student needs them more frequently or the transdisciplinary team sees no change and no need for additional evaluation and puts that in writing

Parental Notice - Parental Consent parents are fully informed of the consideration of special services parents receive a clear description of their rights and their child's rights in a language that is understandable and clear to them and they sign a document stating a summary of their rights and that they are clear about them parents consent to the testing to take place parents see the final evaluation, may have a personal copy and have the right to have findings explained to them in a way that makes the findings clear to them parents must be told of anything the school refuses to do that might be in their best interest parents have a right to a second evaluation at their own expense parents have a right to bring someone along who can help them understand and make good decisions for their child parents have a right to bring the student to the meetings parents have a right to privacy Agreeing to testing and evaluation is not the same thing as agreeing to placement or agreeing with the objectives that evolve. These are separate and may include new steps. Parents may request the assistance of a mediator if they feel they are not receiving adequate services Parents can and do sue districts when there is blatant disregard for the well being of their child.

Interpretation of Assessments This is usually done by combining the findings of the transdisciplinary team Refuse to make politically motivated choices or allow LEP, racial or linguistic bias to enter into the decision Help parents and others without assessment expertise to understand the findings in a commonsense manner Be honest and open about things that may change based on development, the student getting an adaptive device - such as a hearing aid, or the difference a change in teachers or gender of a teacher might make -- and the same is true of parents. They need to help the team understand conditions at home that might be transitory and lead to poor student achievement -- new child, blended family with new siblings, mother's serious illness, parental drug or substance abuse, pending divorce, etc.


This is also a critical time to pay attention to the rights of the child and the rights of the parents.

This is called Due Process

What is Due Process?

Right to know

Guaranteed active participation in the IEP Process

Appropriate Evaluation
Independent Evaluation
Placement Hearing Resolution
Input in the IEP
Communication of Team Decisions
Right to Information
Stay-put Provision
Right to Confidentiality
Right of Action in Federal Court

It is hoped that due process will accomplish the following purposes:


a better balance of power

fair & supportive treatment of child and parents

focus on understanding and meeting children's rights and needs

When there are irreconcilable difference between parents and schools, IDEA provides a mediation process that is called a Due Process Hearing. In fact, parents are not only strongly urged to go to mediation before suing the school, they must attend counseling and explore the benefits of mediation.

What is an IEP?

The IEP is developed to provide the very best possible set of services and educational growth plans for a student and it is designed to be a team process.

Required Contents
At least one general educator Student's present level of functioning
At least one special educator Way the disability affects the student's ability to learn
Parents Measurable annual goals and benchmarks
Student when practical, and always after age 15 Short term objectives to facilitate learning
An individual who can interpret the evaluations Objectives aimed at meeting disability related needs
Person qualified to supervise provision of local services Supplementary aids and services
Sometimes, a vocational expert to support a transition plan Extent inclusion will not be possible
Sometimes, the family's service coordinator if an IFSP (infants) Modifications necessary to allow participation in district assessment and evaluation process
Sometimes a speech therapist, occupational or physical therapist Date for beginning services
Sometimes an advocate for the family or child How progress will be measured and reported


Click here to see links to IEP sites

Want to give parents wings? Try these sites
Personal Notes

Building partnerships

Arizona site to support families

Arizona ARC home page

Mental health addressed for parents

National Parent Information Network


Beginning Checklist for IEP Development
Support System

Medical Concerns - Additional disorders - sensory disorders, seizures, diabetes, seizures, genetic issues

Medication - Does the youngster take medications, frequency, at school? Possible side effects?

Activities - Restrictions, side effects from meds interfere with exercise; preparation to deal with insulin shock, seizure, coma

Parents, nurse, physician
Travel - Transportation to and from school, need special accommodations like wheel chair ramps, lifts, need an aide to support the student or meet them at the bus Bus driver, aide, parents
Positioning - Are there special aids or devices needed to support the student sitting or standing; what positions are best for toileting, academic activities; are special supports needed during feeding, recreation; special standers, wedges, braces Physical therapist, occupational therapist, teacher, parent medical community, Assistive technologist, school nurse
Transfer and Lifting - Cautions or limitations for child with orthopedic impairment, visual or auditory cueing for students with sensory impairment, help with movement or transfer Physical therapist, parents, bus personnel, aide
Communication - Does the youngster have a sensory deficit, a speech or language problem - receptive or expressive; need for communication board, sign language, writing support Speech-language pathologist, teacher, parents
Self-care - Types of support student needs with dressing, feeding, toileting, School nurse, occupational therapist, parents
Educational needs - Academic strengths and weaknesses, medical or orthopedic considerations that contribute to or detract from ability and tenacity in a learning situation; developmental maturity across all areas; potential for academic or vocation success; related services; English as primary or secondary language; socio-culture dynamics School psychologist, previous teachers, academic assessments, evaluations,


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E-mail J'Anne Ellsworth at

Course developed by J'Anne Ellsworth


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