If your child receives special education services, he must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). That’s the law. An IEP is an important legal document. It spells out your child’s learning needs, the services the school will provide and how progress will be measured.
Several people, including parents, are involved in creating the document. The entire process can be a great way to sort out your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Working on the IEP can help you figure out ways to help him succeed in school.
Creating an effective IEP often takes time, effort and patience. We’ll walk you through the legal language and procedures so it’ll be easier for you to participate. The more you know about the process, the better you can advocate for your child.
What is an IEP?
A federal law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that public schools create an IEP for every child receiving special education services. Kids from age 3 through high school graduation or a maximum age of 22 (whichever comes first) may be eligible for an IEP.
The IEP is meant to address each child’s unique learning issues and include specific educational goals. It is a legally binding document. The school must provide everything it promises in the IEP.
Here’s a quick look at what an IEP must include, by law:
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- A statement of your child’s present level of performance (PLOP)—this is how your child is doing in school now
- Your child’s annual educational goals
- Special education supports and services that the school will provide to help your child reach goals
- Modifications and accommodations the school will provide to help your child make progress
- Accommodations your child will be allowed when taking standardized tests
- How and when the school will measure your child’s progress toward annual goals
- Transition planning that prepares teens for life after high school
Who qualifies for an IEP?
Your child struggles in math class, and the teacher’s interventions—extra help after school, a chance to correct his mistakes—don’t help. A scenario like this doesn’t make your child eligible for an IEP. Two things must happen before a child can get special education services.
1. An evaluation. Parents, teachers, a counselor, a doctor or anyone else who suspects a child is struggling can request an evaluation. The school psychologist and other professionals may give your child various tests. They also may observe your child in the classroom.
Keep in mind that a physician or another medical professional—not the school—diagnose medical conditions, including ADHD. School evaluators don’t offer “diagnoses.” Find out more about the comprehensive evaluation process.
2. A decision. The IEP team, which includes parents and school officials, decides whether or not your child needs special education services in order to learn the general education curriculum. IDEA says that having any of 13 disabilities may qualify a child for special education. The school and parents review the evaluation and determine whether the results show that your child needs services and supports.
If the IEP team agrees that your child needs services, then the next step is to create an IEP. If your child is found ineligible, you can still try to get services for your child. For instance, you might pursue a 504 plan.
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