Creating Useful Individualized Education Programs
(IEPs). ERIC Digest.
by Smith, Stephen W.
The Individualized Education Program (IEP) is the cornerstone of the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which ensures educational
opportunity for students with disabilities. The IEP is a quasi-contractual
agreement to guide, orchestrate, and document specially designed instruction
for each student with a disability based on his or her unique academic,
social, and behavioral needs.
By law, the IEP must include certain information about the child and
the educational program designed to meet his or her unique needs (U.S.
Department of Education, 2000). This information includes:
* Current levels of educational performance
* Measurable goals and measurable objectives or benchmarks
* Special education and related services
* The extent of participation with non-disabled children
* A statement of how the child's progress will be measured and how parents
will be informed of that progress
* The extent of modification of participation in state and district-wide
* The dates and location of services to be provided
* Beginning at age 14 (or younger), a statement of transition services
the student will need to reach post-school goals
* Beginning at age 16 (or younger), a statement of transition services
to help the child prepare for leaving school
* Beginning at least one year before the child reaches the age of maturity,
a statement that the student has been told of any rights that will transfer
to him or her.
In defining the IEP and making these requirements, the intent of Congress
was to bring together teachers, parents, and students to develop an educational
program that is tailored to the student's needs and provides documentation
of a quality education based on those individual needs (Smith, 1990). Over
the years, however, complying with the explicit tenets of the law (i.e.,
procedures related to developing and documenting an IEP) took precedence
over developing a high quality program that educators can implement for
each student who has special needs (Smith & Brownell, 1995). Planning
and implementing a procedurally sound IEP will always be a challenge: The
developers of IEPs must deliver a high-quality framework to help teachers
perform at their best in providing specially designed instruction for each
of their students with disabilities.
CONNECTING THE IEP AND CLASSROOM INSTRUCTION
The law clearly states that a relationship should exist between the
IEP and classroom activities. Each student's present level of performance
should serve as the basis for IEP annual goals and objectives. This basic
link between the student's needs and his or her program represents the
very essence of special education and specially designed instruction.
Every effort should be made to ensure that each annual goal and short-term
objective is directly related to the statement of the student's present
level of performance. In this way, annual goals and objectives are based
on assessment data and not on unfounded beliefs about programs thought
to be beneficial to the student, irrespective of diagnostic findings.
The IEP should contain goals and objectives for all areas in which the
student cannot substantially benefit from the regular education program,
including related services. One suggestion is that an average of 4 short-term
objectives for each of 4 to 10 annual goals could be a recommended standard.
In planning interventions, the IEP team needs to take into account the
student's current skill level, the teacher's skill, the resources, and
the likelihood that the intervention will be implemented. This last factor
often depends upon the (a) effectiveness of the intervention, (b) the length
of time and skill required for the intervention, and (c) the significance
of the student's needs.
The IEP must be reviewed at least annually, and goals and objectives
are modified as the student continues to demonstrate mastery. The attainment
of the stated objectives is measured by daily performance as determined
by the teacher and frequent objective measures of the student's ability
to perform the skills needed to attain the goal. The criterion for mastery
should be of a type and level appropriate to the behavior being learned.
If the objectives subordinate to a goal are sequenced by a task analysis,
the standard for mastery should be the level of the skill needed to address
the next objective.
PARTICIPANTS IN DEVELOPING IEPS
The IEP can be a dynamic process wherein professionals, parents, and
sometimes students, can plan for an instructional future that is truly
responsive to the student's unique individual needs. When professionals
understand the necessity for the IEP and the opportunity it provides for
collaboration, dynamic planning, and successful implementation, the lawful
intent of specially designed instruction will be fulfilled. The IEP can
be viewed as the product of the referral process and it can be viewed as
an educational outline delineating the major part of the service and delivery
process. When professionals do not understand the IEP process, problems
with developing and implementing IEPs may stem from their differing roles
* Content teachers may feel untrained to handle the academic and behavioral
needs for special education students. They may feel that the input from
specialists is too unrealistic for implementation in the regular classroom,
or they may feel that IEP goals and objectives are only for the special
education teacher and not relevant in their day-to-day instruction. Because
of these attitudes, special educators may feel that they lack cooperation
from regular education teachers, particularly in facilitating the mainstreaming
of students with special needs.
* Parents may be concerned about including their children in regular
classes and whether they will be provided with the support services required
* The IEP may be perceived as a document that is prepared by individuals
who are not involved in the daily learning activities of the child. Similarly,
the IEP may be viewed as unnecessary paperwork that must be completed,
with the special education teacher mostly responsible for its development.
Another problem is that developing an IEP is often seen as cumbersome and
time consuming. Finally, the IEP may be perceived as involving persons
whose specific job is the evaluation of children, rather than seeing the
gathering of information from a more ecological viewpoint (i.e., from many
In an effort to address some of these problems, the IDEA requires that
the following participants be involved in the IEP meeting:
* The student, if appropriate
* A parent (and, if desired, the family)
* At least one of the student's special education teachers or, if appropriate,
related services providers
* At least one of the student's regular education teachers
* A local educational agency representative
* Other agency personnel who have knowledge or expertise required to
best serve the student's needs.
The goal of the IEP is to deliver a comprehensive, free and appropriate
education, with the involvement of many participants. With these participants
present, the IEP meeting can focus on developing an accurate and relevant
description of the child's strengths and weaknesses in many different settings,
including the current educational setting. This more open perspective allows
for the shared responsibility of educating children with disabilities among
all involved professionals. With this shared responsibility, it is more
likely that both the regular and special education daily programming will
concentrate on the identified goals of the IEP.
Involving a variety of participants in developing the IEP also increases
the number of professionals available to deliver the needed support and
guidance. Their participation as a decision-making team will provide essential
and relevant information, allow for evaluating data provided by other professionals,
and enhance cooperation as team members. It is hoped that the expanded
knowledge and awareness of the involved professionals and a more complete
view of their services and expertise will result. When professionals understand
the necessity for the IEP and the opportunity it provides for collaboration,
dynamic planning, and successful implementation, the lawful intent of specially
designed instruction will be fulfilled.
Batemen, B.D., & Linden, M.A. (1998). Better IEPs: How to develop
legally correct and educationally useful programs. Longmont, CO: Sopris
Council for Exceptional Children. (1998). IDEA 97: Let's make it work.
Reston, VA: Author, 888-232-7733.
Smith, S.W., & Brownell, M.T. (1995). Individualized education programs:
Considering the broad context for reform. Focus on Exceptional Children,
Smith, S.W. (1990). Individualized education programs: From intent to
acquiescence. Exceptional Children, 57(1), 6-14.
U.S. Department of Education (2000). Guide to the individualized education
program. Washington, DC: Author. ERIC Document Reproduction Services, 800-443-3742.