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What Is an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 29 March 2014
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An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or Program is a mandated part of the education of people who have been deemed to have special education needs. These programs exist in many countries, and technically when the term "plan" is used it may refer to special ed programs in the UK. Program is more commonly used in the US in official literature, but actually Plan is the more common everyday term for an IEP in the US. An IEP essentially defines the individual nature of the special ed issues faced by a student and determines what steps can be taken to level the playing field and give this student greatest access to learning at levels at which the student is capable of learning.

In the US, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) define demand for creation of an Individualized Education Plan. This is a federal law, which means it applies to all states, and a state cannot fail to comply with its terms. Some funding for any additional support needed by a special ed student may be drawn from federal funds, though it has been noted, that this is not always the case. Individual school districts may sometimes bear the brunt of additional costs needed to provide accommodations.

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Essentially, once a child has been identified as having minor to major learning disabilities, which usually takes parental request for testing, a school team including the parent must meet to make determinations about how to best serve that child. They create an Individualized Education Plan, which is usually immediately put into effect. This plan includes modifications/accommodations to help the child learn better, and these can be varied since each plan is tailored to each child. For instance, some children might need placement in a special class, and others could require occupational therapy, special PE classes, or speech therapy.

Whatever has been identified as needed and beneficial to the child is typically given, though funding can create an issue that stalls some help. At the same time, the Individualized Education Plan team creates benchmarks or goals, by which to judge current interventions. These are a good way of assessing if more or less accommodations could be needed in the future. Usually the IEP team meets once yearly, reworking the plan as necessary, but any member of the team, including the parents, may call for a meeting sooner if it is needed.

When the Individualized Education Plan is successful, students get the support they need to participate to their fullest capacity in the school environment, with the vast majority of them attending mainstream classes. From a legal standpoint, all people at the school have to comply with the IEP, but this can get extremely challenging as children progress through school. Once they have six or more teachers at the middle school level, compliance with the Individualized Education Plan may drop dramatically, and it is often up to parents to demand continued adherence to the plan. Even one teacher may derail a plan, and parents may have to be continual advocates for their children, in this respect.

Another thing that it’s important to note is that school districts or states may have rules about modifications to curriculum on an Individualized Education Plan for middle school and high school students. While students may be eligible for accommodations, they may not graduate if they have modifications. These suggest a child is pursuing other than the standard curriculum.

To sum, there are a few things that can be said about the IEP. These are the right of any child deemed to have a qualifying learning disability. They can be changed over time, and parents have rights to request changes. Parents also may appeal decisions, if they feel that the plan in place is not appropriate. Each plan is different, meant to serve the needs of the individual child, and each school, teacher and other staff member must comply with details of the plan. Failure to comply should be reported, as this violates federal law.

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