* The participation of parents and students in the development of an individualized education program (IEP) is generally thought to be a valuable practice when planning services or programs for students with disabilities. Commitment to this position has been associated with federal and state legislation that mandates parent involvement and encourages student involvement. For example, parent participation in the IEP planning process was originally addressed in Public Law 94-142, The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, and recently reaffirmed in P.L. 101-467, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990, which reauthorized P.L. 94-142. The regulations regarding parent participation also suggest that students with disabilities, especially those at the secondary level, participate in the IEP process whenever appropriate.
Currently, few validated models provide a means for both students and their parents to become active participants in the IEP planning process. Although strategies for facilitating parent involvement have received some attention (Cone, Delawyer, & Wolfe, 1985; Goldstein & Turnbull, 1982), focus on student involvement in the IEP process is limited (Adelman, MacDonald, Nelson, Smith, & Taylor, 1990; Gillespie & Turnbull, 1983; Phillips, 1990; Van Reusen & Bos, 1990; Van Reusen, Deshler, & Schumaker, 1989). To our knowledge, models that build on the interactive nature of the parent/child IEP relationship have not been developed and empirically tested.
Recent literature and reports focusing on the evaluation of the total IEP process also reveal disturbing findings. For example, Gartner and Lipsky (1987) reviewed available research on parent participation in the IEP process and concluded that many parents are minimally involved in providing information, making decisions, and advocating for their children's needs. Vaughn, Bos, Harrell, and Lasky (1988) studied parent involvement in the initial placement/IEP process 10 years after the enactment of P.L. 94-142 and characterized the conference as one of decision telling, not decision making. Smith (1990) reviewed the available literature and concluded that the IEP process, as implemented in today's school systems, is often mechanistic and compliant but falls short of the original intent of P.L. 94-142. Over the past decade, the findings reported on student involvement and educational decision making in the IEP planning process have been equally discouraging (Nadler & Shore, 1980; Ysseldyke, Algozzine, & Thurlow, 1980). Most students enrolled in special education programs are not being given the opportunity to participate in the development of their IEPs.
Although not all students with disabilities have the capacity to participate in the IEP process, many students, because of the nature of their disability and their age, have the capacity to actively participate. Adolescents with learning disabilities are a population of students that have the capacity to benefit from IEP planning instruction and conference participation. This group of students typically possess the highest levels of academic achievement and intelligence when compared with their school-age peers with moderate and severe disabilities. But when compared with their school-aged peers without disabilities, adolescents with learning disabilities present a variety of academic, social, motivation, cognitive, and metacognitive characteristics that affect their success in school and their ability to make the successful transition into postschool life, their communities, and productive adult careers. For example, Gartner and Lipsky (1989) reported that 47% of adolescents with learning disabilities drop out of school by the age of 16. Sitlington and Frank (1990) examined the adult adjustment of 911 students with learning disabilities 1 year following high school graduation. They reported that only 54% of the graduates interviewed met the following criteria: (a) employed or otherwise meaningfully engaged; (b) living independently or with a friend, parent, or relative; (c) paying at least a part of their living expenses; and (d) involved in more than one leisure activity. …