Computer-Based IEP Writers: Are They the Promised Land for Special Education?
O'Donovan, Eamonn, District Administration
Is special education eating you alive? If you are a district administrator, how can you keep this beast at bay? The world of special education is a bewildering maze that continues to grow more complex. Students with diverse needs and increasingly complicated services flood the system. Regulations from federal and state governments grow more burdensome. Lawyers pounce on mistakes. We are all looking for the silver bullet that will simplify our processes for serving special needs students. Can computer-based Individual Education Plan writers be the answer?
It's important to go into this process with your eyes wide open. Pick a software package that meets your needs. Prepare for a substantial learning curve for staff and community.
How does a computer-generated IEP work?
Essentially, the IEP is written using computer software and is transmitted electronically to a central database. To start, the special education teacher creates a caseload of students. This is labor intensive when you start from scratch--all details have to be entered by the teacher: names, addresses, due dates and services. Once the caseload of students is established, certain functions become automated and routine. The teacher gets a reminder on screen that an IEP is due. He or she sends out the required meeting notices on a standardized form. Support providers are notified that reports are due or that their attendance is required at the IEP.
A draft IEP is prepared, often with suggested goals and objectives written by school staff (the final goals are worked out in the team meeting with parents and staff). All support staff show up at the appointed time and place for the IEP meeting. During the IEP meeting, the teacher enters data, modifies or writes goals and objectives, and records notes.
Before the paper IEP can be printed, the computer software checks for compliance and red flags problems that must be fixed. The IEP is then signed. The student receives the appropriate services and placement. The district database is automatically updated. Compliance staff at the district level can make accurate reports to state and federal agencies about their special education programs.
Sounds good, right?
These software packages promise to deliver in three key areas.
IEP documents are cleaned up. Deadlines are met for meetings, services, and reports. Districts write and maintain compliant IEPs. As processes become standardized across an organization, mistakes become fewer, in theory. A uniform IEP writing process, generated on a computer, is a vehicle to make sure that all teachers and support providers speak the same language and follow the same steps.
It is easier to manage and track special education services at a school site and in a school district.
It is less likely that students "fall between the cracks" as they transition from elementary to middle to high school. As districts are forced to comply with increasingly complex federal and state reporting requirements, an accurate database is essential. Reporting becomes much easier with these computer programs. Good data leads to good decisions.
Teachers write better IEPs. The software guides--or forces, some would say--teachers to follow a systematic set of procedures for the entire IEP process, from planning the meeting to reporting the IEP.
Sharpen Your Tools
The extent to which software can meet these proclamations depends on the focus of the tool itself. Some tools write IEPs and provide sophisticated reporting mechanisms. They claim to eradicate all compliance problems and meet all reporting and tracking requirements. …