IEP – in a nutshell

Dr. Rita Honan provides an overview of an Individual Education Plan (IEP) and what it should contain.

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What is IEP?
A framework for the out-of-the-ordinary goals, procedures and resources a child may require in school due to a disabling condition or learning difficulty.
What’s it for?
To identify specific goals and objectives to work towards during the school year THAT ARE DIFFERENT FROM the usual class goals, and to track the student’s progress on these goals.
What’s in it?
  • Date agreed.
  • Names of everyone who contributes to it.
  • List of any device/technologies the child requires.
  • A manageable number of goals.

What is it? 

A framework for the out-of-the-ordinary goals, procedures and resources a child may require in school due to a disabling condition or learning difficulty.

What’s it for?

To identify specific goals and objectives to work towards during the school year THAT ARE DIFFERENT FROM the usual class goals, and to track the student’s progress on these goals.

What’s in it?

  1. Date agreed.
  2. Names of everyone who contributes to it. This is a team effort, with parents being equal members of the team along with teaching staff and any involved professionals.
  3. List of any accommodations the child requires or would benefit from, e.g.
    1. Adapted seating or physically assistive devices
    2. IT of any sort e.g. laptop; iPad; voice output / speech generating devices.
    3. Test and / or exam accommodations needed to level the playing field.
    4. Communication systems if verbal is not present or benefits from alternative forms of communication (e.g. PECS, Lámh, software).
  4. A manageable number of goals stated in measurable terms.
    1. Each goal should be something that
  • improves the child’s quality of life,
  • is socially important and
  • is achievable in the time specified.

This may require goals to be broken down into smaller ones and then further, into interim objectives.

  1. Goals must be INDIVIDUALISED. So, if the class is working on addition or putting their hand up before answering a question, they wouldn’t be in an IEP because everyone is doing it.  With what does this child need extra assistance, to be successful at it?
  2. Goals can be academic, behavioural, emotional (e.g. anxiety) and/or developmental, as long as they relate to the child’s distinct needs in that area.
  1. Who will work on the goals, when and how (briefly e.g. mention a particular reading programme, therapy or behavioural strategy).
  2. How data/performance on the goals/objectives will be recorded, e.g.
  • level of assistance or number of prompts needed;
  • time it takes for student to do a specific task;
  • intensity, duration and/or frequency of a behaviour;
  • score on a test.
  1. Any special procedures to be followed or equipment or supplies needed to work towards the goal.
  2. Review dates. Every 10 weeks is good – data to be presented on each of the goals and reviewed by IEP team members either by sitting down together or via individual reviews, which are shared with all other members of the IEP team to allow for dialogue.
  3. Anything else the parent, school staff and/or clinician agree are important and specific to this student that needs to be given extra attention and monitoring.

Some IEPs go on for pages and pages, listing every assessment that has been done and their findings, an extensive explanation of what’s to be learned or accomplished and how.  If the class and resource teachers are good at working with their students, utilising age and functional level curricula and materials, they access resources to inform themselves with regard to the special needs of their students, and goals are based on appropriate assessment methods, I don’t believe more is necessary or indeed helpful. The more that’s written down, the less the document will be referenced. The document should also be adapted for the student in a manner that s/he will understand, e.g. pictorial; written at a level the child can comprehend; by video representation.

My preference is to hone in on key learning and social goals for the year and prepare a written agreement in a document (IEP) that’s not any or much longer than this article. This allows for it to be kept visible in the classroom for frequent reference by teaching and support staff. This also allows for the student, teachers and other carers to remain focused, to be successful and to raise the roof with cheers when an objective or goal is met.

An initial IEP meeting should be held during the first school term if there’s not an active one in place and being implemented.  It can always be modified during the reviews if needed.  Otherwise the school will want to stagger the dates throughout the year to allow for the demands IEP preparation places on teachers.  The Irish Department of Education describe the main features of an IEP in the National Council of Special Education guidelines and some sample templates are provided: www.ncse.ie.  Schools may nonetheless differ on the importance they place on this process and document, but whatever you do, be absolutely certain your child has an up to date IEP annually and that it’s being followed.

Rita HonanDr Rita Honan is a Chartered Educational, Counselling & Clinical Psychologist with the Psychological Society of Ireland and a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst. Rita is the founder of Honan & Associates and works part-time in private practice. The practice is comprised of specially-trained psychologists and behaviour analysts with a particular interest in working with verbal adolescents, young adults and mature adults on the autism spectrum and their families to improve skills, behaviour and quality of life. Email is the best way to get in touch: honanandassociates@gmail.com

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