Special Education: What Is An IEP?

Learn exactly what an IEP is, and what you can do as a parent to make sure that your child's IEP meets his needs.

The world of special education is filled with acronyms such as IEP, ARD, IDEA and many others. Often, parents are told to attend an ARD (Admission, Review or Dismissal) meeting in order to help complete an IEP. An IEP is an Individualized Education Plan. It is a plan that is put into place specifically to help your child achieve to the best of his ability and to provide the services needed for him to do that. It is part of The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and is a very specific document that you should be familiar with it before you attend the ARD meeting. Often, the IEP has been developed in advance, and may be merely awaiting your signature. If this is the case, stop! Make sure that you understand everything that is on the IEP before you sign it.

An IEP should address a number of things. The committee should go over:

Current contact information, including who the case manager is and how to contact her

Physical needs that your child may have. This includes medications administered at school, glasses or a hearing aid, along with other physical needs.

Standardized and assessment test scores

Teacher reports on your child's progress

Whether or not your child's speech assessment (or any other) is up to date

If you child still qualifies as a student with a disability

Behavioral concerns does your child's behavior affect his learning? Does he understand school rules?

Language and communication needs. Non-English speaking parents are entitled to an interpreter during the meeting.



The present levels of your child's educational performance. This can be determined by teacher observations, grades on class work and tests, your child's ability to complete assignments and other factors.

Strengths and weaknesses. This will help the ARD committee to set goals for the coming year.

What type of instruction your child will receive inclusion, resource or a combination. Inclusion is instruction in a general education classroom where the student receives assistance from a special education teacher, or where the curriculum is modified. A resource classroom is one where the student goes to concentrate on the skills that he needs to learn in a particular area. Some students may have all resource classes, while others may only have one in the area of reading or math, for example. The least restrictive environment needs to be discussed. You do not want your child, who is very capable in math, to be in all resource classes simply because of scheduling issues or something that is not related to the well being of your child.

Whether or not the curriculum needs to be modified for your child

What tests your child will take and if he or she will be exempt from any of them

Accommodations and modifications for tests and classroom assignments

Your child's schedule for the year

An IEP should be done every year at a minimum. You may request that a new IEP be developed if there is a change in circumstances, such as your child failing classes in the middle of the year. If the current provisions in the IEP are being met, and your child is still failing, then it is time to have another meeting. It is also a good idea to stay in contact with your child's case manager. It is this person's job to make sure that the accommodations and other provisions set forth in the IEP are being implemented. She may also serve as a liaison between you and the child's teachers, providing you with updates on his progress. During the ARD meeting, you should reach an agreement on how you will be updated on how your child is doing. This is the only way you will know if the IEP is effective or not.

Each item discussed during an ARD meeting should be documented on the IEP. There is a section available for additional comments. Before you sign the paperwork, make sure that you see that the items that you have agreed to are written down. Do not allow the administrator at the meeting to tell you that she will mail the paperwork to you later after you have signed the signature page. The paperwork can easily be changed, and you do not want to take that chance. Do not allow yourself to be rushed though the meeting. If all of your concerns are not met, and the allotted time is up, simply ask for a continuance. Then you can finish the meeting and know that your child's Individualized Education Plan is complete, and is serving his best interests.

If you would like more information on IEP's and how they work, go to your State Department of Education website, or try LDOnline.org, which is an excellent resource for parents. It can be difficult for parents, who may be trained in a field other than education, to provide themselves with an in-depth education about learning disabilities, but it is necessary if you are to be an advocate for your child. Join organizations specific to your child's disability and online bulletin boards to get tips on how other parents have been successful working with the school system and their child's disability. Ultimately, you'll be the expert, because, after all, who knows your child better than you?

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