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Winter 2002 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)
By DeAnn Hyatt-Foley, M.Ed., Parent, Lubbock, Texas
Editor's note: DeAnn has vast experience with the special education process, both personally and as past West Texas Director for PATH, the Parent Training and Information Center for Texas, www.partnerstx.org. DeAnn continues to work with parents of children with special needs, teaching them how to advocate for their children. She and her husband, Matt, have a teenage son with Asperger Syndrome. The article that follows this one, "What the Schools May Not Know About a Student with a Visual Impairment", discusses the additional evaluations required to specifically address the needs of a child with a vision impairment. It includes a good checklist specific to vision issues that can be used in conjunction with the basic IEP checklist described below.
For more than 20 years, children with disabilities have been guaranteed the right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). States that receive Federal special education funding are subject to Federal laws that require local school districts to identify and provide FAPE to children ages 3 to 21, in the Least Restrictive Environment. This Federal law is called Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). An interesting aspect of IDEA (formerly known as Education of All Handicapped Children Act) is that parents were the driving force with their "right-to-education" suits which eventually led to these Federal laws. As a result of these efforts, all parents are equal participants in the IDEA decision making process.
Some school districts do little to ensure the parents know their role and their rights in the IEP process. Consequently, many parents of children who qualify for services under IDEA do not know the basics of writing an Individual Education Plan (IEP). They are typically unaware of what must be in this document and what makes a good IEP.
Every child who receives services under IDEA is entitled to an IEP. School personnel and the child's parents must develop the IEP before the beginning of the student's school year and then implement the plan. Federal law clearly states that a team of people, which includes the parents of the child, must write the IEP. Parent participation is the result of recognition by lawmakers that parents have a wealth of valuable information regarding their child. The IEP is a written plan designed for one student. It is the agreement between the school and the parents that specifies how the student will be educated. The IEP has three basic components.
Evaluation is the first step in the IEP process. All the IEP team's decisions must be based on evaluation data. The child must be evaluated in all areas of suspected disability. The evaluation includes formal testing (i.e., WISC-III, Woodcock-Johnson, etc.), informal testing (i.e., daily grades, classroom tests), interviews and observations. The team must consider all data from evaluations, even evaluations from the parents. The team must also consider information brought in by the parent.
Curriculum is the next step. Present Levels of Performance (PLOPs) are taken from the child's evaluation data. They state exactly what the student is currently able to do. For example, "According to the Woodcock-Johnson Reading Mastery Test, Johnny is able to comprehend reading material on a 4th grade level with 90% accuracy." Formal assessment is just one method of determining PLOPs. Daily grades and teacher/parent reports can also be used.
After the PLOPs have been identified, the team begins the process of writing measurable annual goals. According to Federal law 34 CFR 300.347 (2) (i), they must be "related to meeting the child's needs that result from the child's disability to enable the child to be involved in and progress in the general curriculum," and (ii), "Meeting each of the child's other educational needs that result from the child's disability." The goal is a statement of what the IEP team expects the child should be able to master by the end of the school year. For instance, "By May 29, 2000 Johnny will be able to comprehend reading material independently on a 5th grade level with 90% accuracy as measured by the Woodcock-Johnson Reading Mastery Test." The key to annual goals is that they must be observable and measurable. In other words, could you go into the classroom and see the student working toward the goals. I have seen many goals listed as, "The student will make measurable progress in reading (math, writing)." Another example of a common goal is, "The student will act appropriately in the lunchroom." As you can see, neither goal is measurable or observable. Avoid vague wording such as appropriate, will learn, etc. When considering goals, a good question to ask your IEP committee is, "How will we know by the end of the year if Johnny has been successful? What will successful look like?"
Developing measurable objectives or benchmarks follows the writing of goals. These are best thought of as three or four intermediate steps between the PLOP and the goal. For example, we've determined that Johnny can comprehend on a 4th grade level and we want him to comprehend on a 5th grade level by the end of the school year. The IEP committee determines the steps and process that need to take place for Johnny to reach the goal. Maybe by the end of the first semester Johnny will be able to comprehend written material on a 5th grade level with teacher assistance, or maybe he will be able to comprehend written material on a 4th grade-sixth month level independently.
Federal law requires that the IEP have a statement describing how the child's progress will be measured.
An important reason for making sure your child's IEP goals and objectives are measurable is to hold the school accountable for how they are working with your child. It is very difficult to establish that the child has not made progress with vague wording. When the goals are specific, observable and measurable, the parents have a system of keeping up with their child's progress. The IEP must also list how the child's parents will be informed of their child's progress toward the annual goals. The parents must be notified as often as parents of a nondisabled child would be (i.e., report cards). The IEP must include the extent to which the child's progress is sufficient to enable the child to achieve the goals by the end of the school year. I highly recommend that the IEP team use a standardized assessment to measure the child's progress during the middle part of the school year. A standardized tool in conjunction with report cards can be an effective system of "checks and balances." If the student is not making the expected progress, the IEP committee then has some time during the middle of the year to meet and make changes in the IEP.
After writing goals and objectives, the IEP committee must write a statement of special education services (i.e., related services, program modifications and support for school personnel) that will be provided to the student. These services must support the child in advancing toward mastery of the annual goals. They must also help the child be involved and progress in the general curriculum, including extracurricular and other nonacademic activities.
Placement is the last step of the IEP process. There must be a statement that includes how the child will be educated and participate with other children with disabilities and without disabilities. If the child will not participate with his/her nondisabled peers in the regular class and activities, the team must note why in a written explanation. Placement decisions are based on the child's IEP goals and objectives. The child is placed in more restrictive settings only if the goals and objectives can not be met in the general classroom with supplementary aids and supports. The IEP team must make a good faith effort to provide appropriate support before removing the child to a more restrictive setting.
For over twenty years, the language in IDEA has been very clear. Parents are expected to play a primary role in developing their child's IEP. Many parents do not know the basics of the IEP process. Uninformed parents are not equal participants in the decisions being made for their child's IEP. It is important that parents are involved and informed about the IEP process. There are many sources of support for parents in their state. The Internet is a wonderful resource for information on the special education process. A well written IEP not only follows the intent of the IDEA; it holds the school accountable for how your child is educated. It has been my experience in working with parents for several years (and my own personal experience) that once parents understand the IEP basics, they become truly effective advocates for their child.
The following information must be written in the IEP document.
Special thanks to Matt Foley with Foley, Hyatt-Foley and Associates and Mary Durheim with Educational Rights Information & Consulting Center for their help editing this article.
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Last Revision: February 04, 2002