Is the IEP Individualized or Cookie-Cutter?
Is the IEP individualized or cookie-cutter?
I am sure I am not alone. You are sitting at the IEP meeting and wondering if your child’s IEP is “individualized” as it is supposed to be, or is it a cookie cutter IEP? Be honest ….I have often speculated who has written the IEP that you and the Team are discussing and is this how it is supposed to look?
From the FL DOE publication, A Parent’s Introduction to Exceptional Student Education in Florida, 2012, the publication states “An IEP is a written plan that tells you, your child, the teachers, and other school staff which ESE services the school will provide to your child.” Therefore, your child’s IEP is specific to YOUR child only and should be individualized. The IEP should contain your child’s strengths & weaknesses, his/her present levels (from either recent evaluations/ re-evaluations or the standardized tests and work product during the year), and parent input on your child for their education. Since all of these are particular to your child, this part of the IEP will be individualized.
Goals should be written specifically for your child so that your child will meet the state standards; benchmarks may be written as the “stepping stones” toward meeting those goals. You may want to ensure that you, as parents, clearly understand your child’s present level so that your child will be working toward the goals which should line up to the state standards. Do not feel anxious or apprehensive about asking specifics about your child and where he/she is; I cannot stress this enough! To learn your child’s present level if it is not listed in the IEP, you could ask for a percentage or specifics, for example; Jennifer is able to correctly sound out 20 out of 26 letters; Patty does not know the sounds of the following letters – c, k, s, m, n. and z (this can also indicate what you can reinforce/work on at home).
Goals should be written specifically (for your child so that your child will meet the state standards; benchmarks may be written as the “stepping J stones” toward meeting those goals.
IEPs should be expressly tailored for your child
The IEP will also indicate which service(s) will be provided and by whom, how much time each service will be provided and where it will be provided (examples – classroom, ESE class, school-wide, etc). Placement and special factors will also be discussed at each IEP meeting. Again, because your child has unique needs, all of these should be tailored expressly to and for your child.
ESY (Extended School Year) will also be discussed and should not be decided on until the end of the school year (I have seen lEPs that have indicated ESY is not needed for the child and the IEP meeting was held at the beginning of the school year!). ESY is not for every child but if the “…team has reason to believe that the provision of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) for an individual student would be jeopardized without such services.” There are several questions which the IEP Team (which includes parents as an integral part of the Team) should address when deciding about ESY services for your child (included at the website link below). ESY could also be provided if a new service is introduced at the end of the school year so that your child can continue toward mastery of that goal. Unfortunately, many times ESY scheduling is not individualized. You are told at the IEP meeting that ESY will run from X week in June to Y week in July, from 8am- 12pm, Monday thru Thursday. This could be based on the district calendar, and ESY is not mandatory. You know your child, and you may want to discuss ESY prior to attending the IEP meeting.
Ask questions and be heard
Accommodations might not be as “individualized” for your child. From my experience, there are “generic” accommodations which the Team will usually agree on: extended time (for homework and/or testing); chunking of work; special seating; testing to be done in a small setting with prompts (Good job Brandon!) With the proctor checking that your child is on the same question and answer. There are other accommodations which should be tailored to your child and will also be written in the list of accommodations on an IEP: mobility cane; less clutter/materials on the desk; visual schedule.
Remember that your child has unique needs and those needs are the basis for the IEP and ESE services. Ask questions. Make sure the Team hears your viewpoint/ concerns and that they are noted in the conference notes. Together as an IEP Team, your child should benefit from those who are working FOR your child through their IEP!
Doreen Franklin is a tutor for AmeriCorps and a Special Education Consultant/Advocate (she assists families with children with special needs with their IEPs). Doreen & her husband adopted two daughters; both are special needs.
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This post originally appeared on our January/February 2016 Magazine