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Individualized Education Plans (IEP’s): What Could Go Wrong?

The biggest problems with the Individualized Education Programs (IEP’s) process are associated with implementation. I am a firm believer in the ability of a well-planned IEP to help deliver appropriate education to a student with disabilities. That being said, a plan is only as good as its implementation. I will point out a few ways an IEP could be doomed before it is even written. [Disclaimer: this post could prove to be controversial. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine alone.]

  • Goals are not always individualized. It is terrible to say, but some states have adopted programs with drop-down menus for the goals section of the IEP’s. This means that little Johnny could be getting the exact same educational prescription that little Susie is getting, despite the fact that they are very different children, with different disabilities, living in wildly different circumstances. Goals and objectives are intended to address the specific strengths and needs of each student. These goals and objectives should be carefully crafted to deliver instruction at the student’s current level of academic functioning with a series of progressive objectives to guide a student towards the goal of approaching grade-level functioning. In order to work as IEP goals and objectives are meant to, the drop down menus must be exhaustive, with a myriad of different iterations for each type of academic goal (math, writing, reading) at every level of current functioning. However, that would defeat the purpose of a drop-down menu in the first place. It would be faster to write the goals from scratch than to scroll through an endless list of goals and objectives. I am thankful that in Hawaii, we use a terribly user-unfriendly and time-consuming program that requires almost every entry to be entered manually, thus allowing for a high level of student individualization.

  • Teachers are busy. That is not a good excuse, I know. But hear me out: we Special Education teachers are professionally trained, highly certified, and fairly compensated for the hours that we work (the last point may be contended by some). However, the responsibilities that special educators (and all educators) must address on a daily basis have been increasing every year. The hours haven’t changed, and very few states have decided to start paying their teachers more money. This means that the responsibilities that do not directly affect the day-to-day classroom dynamics are addressed outside of regular hours. These “outside the classroom” responsibilities include contacting parents, scheduling IEP’s, writing IEP’s, preparing documents for weekly data-team meetings, and preparing documents for intermittent accountability measures. Very few Special Education teachers (to my knowledge, at least) are given time within the school day to work on IEP’s. Given that time is a finite resource, these responsibilities are sometimes dealt in a rushed, less than thoughtful manner. Hopefully, your student’s teachers are the kind of people to focus “outside” time and energy on those responsibilities that have an impact on their student’s educational experiences (such as IEP’s). If this were the case, they would need to forgo some of the more progressive educational reforms that require teachers to participate in the time-consuming accountability measures. These accountability measures are a requirement for states hoping to compete for a slice of $5 billion dollars in the federal “Race to the Top” program. Some teachers face tension and repercussions from their administrations for making decisions to spend “too much time” on IEP’s in lieu of accountability measures. Teachers have a lot on their plates, and there is not enough time in a day to complete them all. As such, we must make professional decisions with how to spend our time. Personally, I work hard on the IEP's because I know it makes a difference for my students when done right. However, I find myself spending less time on the surprising amount of paperwork required for each component of our newly implemented teacher effectiveness rating system:

  • It is not easy to win an IEP dispute. The federal legislation requiring all students with disabilities to have IEP’s has specific protections worked into the process for parents who dispute the educational effectiveness of their child’s IEP. However, even with these protections, there are a number of daunting hoops to jump through. The process almost always involves mediation, where the state hires lawyers and an impartial mediator in an attempt to reach agreement without beleaguering the local court system. If the mediation process fails to provide a satisfactory solution, the parents have the right to sue the state in court. This process is expensive, time-consuming, and risky. In the end, the courts are more likely to rule in favor of the states. It is not unprecedented for a parent to win a big case against a school district. Usually, these cases make the front-page news. What you do not hear about are all of the cases that are taken to trial, but the evidence is not compelling enough to find the state at fault. Needless to say, the state is better funded and better prepared to take a case to court than your average parent. If you ever find yourself disagreeing with your child’s IEP, document everything and obtain an advocate as soon as possible. This is a good place to start.

This post has gotten longer than I expected it to, so I will leave it at this. What do you think about these points? What did I miss? I want to know your thoughts on this topic! Share your thoughts below! Share and retweet this article!

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