An Individualized Education Program, or IEP, is a special service provided in public schools. Children with disabilities or educational learning issues may be eligible for these services, which are provided free of charge.
In many instances, parents need to advocate for their children's educational needs, particularly when learning support and additional help is required. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA) contains provisions for parents to be more involved with the educational team responsible for creating the IEP. Parents may work with teachers to create the individualized education program for their child to ensure greater success within the child's school learning experience.
The IEP comprises a specialized program for the individual child's special needs. It contains a description of the program, the specific goals and the learning support required to achieve these goals. An IEP is generally written for an entire school year.
When a child has learning difficulties that affect his or her ability educationally, as well as functional capacities, the child is considered a special needs student. An IEP is then created to accommodate the special needs and to facilitate progress. Students may receive additional support or be taught in a way that best serves their situation.
There are a range of special needs situations arising where children require individualized educational attention. This may include students with learning disabilities, developmental delay, emotional disorders or cognitive challenges. Hearing, visual, or speech and language impairment constitutes candidacy for IEPs. Children on the autism spectrum also require an IEP.
Once the IEP goals are outlined and the support needs detailed, the method for implementing the program and the appropriate venue are established. Depending on the individual child's special needs, the IEP may be carried out in a regular classroom, in the school's resource room or specialized learning centers. However, in intensive cases, programs may take place in a special needs school or environment, generally with a small ratio of children to teacher. These programs are led by staff trained in helping special needs children. Classes may be given to a few children at a time or one-to-one. Often, the school day is divided between time outside the regular class for the individualized educational assistance and time with the rest of the class for certain activities, either nonacademic classes or those in which the student does not required focused help.
An IEP is created once the child has been assessed and evaluated. This usually arises following concern expressed either by the teacher, parent or doctor regarding the child's academic or functional performance. An educational psychologist or counselor is called on to make an assessment. Information is gathered from the school, particularly in respect to attention and behavior in class, the ability to cope with the school work and test results. Where appropriate, a child may be assessed for learning disabilities or impairments. Special services are granted only when functionality at school is affected.
A variety of tests are carried out by a professional team to evaluate the child's level of learning disability and the issues arising. In addition to the educational psychologist, the professionals involved include physical, occupational, speech, vision and hearing therapists, a special educator and any other specialists the child's needs require. Eligibility for support is determined by the tests performed.
A comprehensive evaluation report (CER) is compiled from the individual tests. Results are included with an educational classification. A list of skills and support are outlined, indicating what the child will need. Parents are given the opportunity to review the CER prior to the drawing up of the IEP.
An IEP meeting among parents, the evaluation team and a teacher begins the process of developing a specialized education program to meet the requirements of the individual child. This comprises the goals, both short-term and annual, of the IEP and the specific needs to be addressed. Challenges include assuring synchronization of IEP and curriculum needs. The IEP states the type of services and the amount of times per week that the services will be offered. Support services range from special education support to medical, counseling, audiology, speech and other types of therapy.
The IEP can be altered at any time should it become apparent that changes will provide further help or comfort. It is reviewed on an annual basis to ensure that the goals are being met and the levels of support are appropriate for the child.
Parents are entitled to be involved with the setting up of the IEP and for checking progress during its duration. They can also request the timeframe, seeing that services commence as soon as possible, and may receive a copy of procedural safeguards clarifying the parent's legal rights during the IEP process. The rights of children with disabilities studying at a private school are not the same as when studying at a public school, in terms of receiving special support through individualized education programs.