A Fresh Look at IEPs

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS
pile of folders

As we approach a new school year, our students with special needs will continue to come to us with complicated medical and educational needs. No one could have imagined how special education has grown and evolved. In 2001, 5,810,658 or 12.4% of all public school children in the U.S. have an IEP document on file.

IEP, as most of the readers of this blog will know, stands for Individualized Education Program. IEPs were mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and federal regulations detailed in Public Law 94-142 passed in 1975. Educators and parents who are involved with students in special education know that every single child identified as having special needs must have an IEP on file and that each child must be evaluated at least once each year. Many of these evaluations will occur early in the school year.

I don’t think anyone could question the need or the benefits of having an Individualized Education Program for each student found to have a disability. One could successfully argue that all children need an IEP. That, however, is not likely to happen. Schools don’t have the money to put such a process in place. Also, IEPs in and of themselves don’t guarantee any improvement in the teaching and learning process.

It is true that a good IEP describes how a student learns best, how the student best demonstrates that learning, and what educators can do to help the student learn more effectively. Unfortunately, some IEPs are drafted, agreed upon, and then placed in a drawer where they are seldom viewed until it is time for a yearly evaluation.  I know this may seem strange to the teachers and administrators who use IEPs properly, but believe me when I say that it’s true. Over time, there have been software products developed to help streamline the process, but some schools still keep old paper and pencil files.

An IEP should be a well-worn document by the end of the school year. Teachers should have them handy and review them often. Lesson plans should be annotated to include strategies for those students that need special attention based on those IEPs. Although special education classes tend to be smaller than mainstream classes, special education teachers still must have a separate IEP for every single student.  Some lessons can cover multiple IEPs. Others do not. Individualized instruction is difficult.  It has been tried time and again in mainstream classes and often proves to be overwhelming to the teachers.There is a movement, UDL (Universal Design for Learning) that is promoting the notion that all classrooms need to be designed for individual student needs. Professional development plans at the district level will increasingly provide training in UDL principles and practices.

If you are a teacher who reviews IEPs regularly, uses them to develop daily lesson plans, and makes sure you are doing everything necessary for your students to meet their IEP goals, you are to be applauded.

If you are a principal, it is your responsibility to make sure IEPs are developed and used properly. If you are a parent, I suggest that you be familiar with your child’s IEP. Look for progress reports that reference the IEP and monitor the papers and information coming home to you to make sure the IEP that was filed is being followed. Keep a calendar handy so you can stay on top of meetings and IEP review schedules.

An Individualized Education Program may be one of the greatest rights of the special needs child. Unfortunately, it is no more valuable than the paper on which it is written unless it leads both teacher and students to the accomplishment of the goals it contains.


Grant Name:  Walmart Foundation Grants

Funded By:  Walmart Foundation – Partnering with Sam’s Clubs for Local Giving Programs

Description:  Giving to K-12 Public Schools/Districts, Charter Schools, Community/Junior Colleges, State Colleges and Universities; Private schools and colleges with current tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code; and Churches and other faith-based organizations with proposed projects that address and benefit the needs of the community at large. See the website for eligibility requirements and additional information. The grant maximum depends on the facility to which you are applying. The community involvement coordinator or manager at the facility nearest you will be able to advise you as to the grant maximum for their location.

Program Areas: Adult Literacy, After-School, Arts, At-Risk/Character, Community Involvement/Volunteerism, Disabilities, General Education, Health/P.E., Homeless, Reading, Safe/Drug- Free Schools, Science/Environmental, Social Studies, Special Education, TAG, Technology, Vocational

Recipients:  Public School, Private school, Higher Ed, Faith-Based, Other

Proposal Deadline:  Local Giving:  December 1, 2013

Average Amount:  $250 to $2,500 (depends on individual store)

Telephone:  800-530-9925

Website:  http://walmartstores.com/CommunityGiving/9628.aspx

Availability:  All States


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