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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What does an IEP contain?
IEPs are designed to meet kids’ unique needs. That means that every IEP will look different. But by law, all IEPs must contain the following elements:
Your child’s present level of educational performance (PLOP): This is a thorough description of your child’s current abilities, skills, weaknesses and strengths. It’s the part of the IEP that explains how your child’s learning issues affect his ability to learn the general education curriculum. PLOP (also sometimes called PLP or PLAAFP) includes details on how your child handles academic subjects and everyday or “functional” activities, like socializing.
PLOP should be based on teacher observations and objective data, like test results. It’s important that PLOP is not simply copied “as is” from one year’s IEP to the next. Each year your child matures and masters skills. And each year the work becomes more challenging. So his performance and needs will change.
The results of your child’s evaluations and tests: This should include district-wide and state assessments.
Special education and related services to be provided: The IEP spells out what kinds of support and services your child will receive. If your child is going to have speech therapy, for instance, it will say how many minutes a week he will receive this therapy.
Accommodations and modifications: These help your child learn the general education curriculum. Accommodations are changes in how a child shows what he has learned. They can help your child work around his learning issues. For example, he may be given extra time on tests.
Modifications are changes in what is taught to or expected of a student. Some IEPs have what’s called “modified promotional criteria.” This defines the percentage of grade-level expectations a child must meet to move on to the next grade.
Supplementary aids and services: These are supports to help a child learn in the general education classroom. They might include a one-on-one aide, highlighted classroom notes, equipment or assistive technology, such as software.
Annual educational goals: These should be realistic, achievable and measurable. The IEP lists the academic and functional skills that the IEP team thinks your child can achieve by the end of the year. Annual educational goals should help your child participate in the general education classroom.
If your child has multiple or severe disabilities, the law requires that the IEP list short-term goals. These are also called objectives or benchmarks.
A description of how your child’s progress will be measured and reported to you: By law, the IEP must explain how the school will track your child’s progress toward goals. And it must describe how the school will share those results with you.
For instance, one goal might be that your child be able to read at a third-grade level. The IEP will specify how that will be tracked—informal and formal assessments, for instance—and how often those results will be reported to you. If these interim reports show that your child’s progress has stalled, you and the IEP team may discuss new interventions.
An explanation of how much your child will participate in general education classes and extracurricular activities: Participation at the fullest level possible is required by law. This is called the least restrictive environment.
The date the IEP will go into effect: Many states have formal timelines for this.
Depending on your child’s age and situation, his IEP might also include:
A transition plan: This kicks in when your child turns 16. Transition planning includes services and support to help a student graduate from high school and achieve post-high school goals.
Extended school year services: Some students receive special education services outside of the regular school year, such as during the summer or, less commonly, during extended breaks like winter break.
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