Inside: I hear from many parents who “don’t even want to bother” with an IEP. It’s a sentiment I understand, but you may want to rethink it. Why Are IEPs Important?

As someone who has been a special education advocate for almost 15 years, I can attest to the importance of Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). IEPs are an essential tool for ensuring that students with disabilities receive the support they need to succeed in school.

Why Are IEPs Important? IEPs are (ideally) tailored to the individual needs of each student, and they can make a significant difference in their academic and personal lives.

But, so often I hear questions along the line of “Why bother?” or “Why do we even need an IEP? It’s not worth it.”

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IEPs are a lot of paperwork, for sure.

I get it. IEPs have become a real litigious source of dispute and stress. And yes, if I’m being honest, I feel like it’s getting worse out there.

I feel like as parents get more educated in the IEP process, the schools up their game. So parents get better…and schools ramp it up again.

I know of many schools who even require their staff to go to legal training on how to “write legally sound IEPs.” Legally sound? That doesn’t sound very child focused, does it?

So let’s get into it. If you’re feeling a bit despondent lately and “why should I bother?” here are a few reasons why IEPs are important for disabled children.

One of the main reasons why IEPs are so important is that they provide a roadmap for the student’s education. The IEP outlines the student’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as their goals and objectives.

It also includes a plan for how the student will be supported in the classroom, such as through accommodations or modifications to the curriculum. By having a clear plan in place, students with disabilities are more likely to succeed in school and achieve their full potential.

Another reason why IEPs are essential is that they provide a framework for collaboration between parents, teachers, and other professionals. The IEP is developed through a team approach, with input from everyone who works with the student.

This collaboration ensures that everyone is on the same page when it comes to the student’s needs and goals. It also allows for ongoing communication and adjustments to the plan as needed.

Why Are IEPs Important
IEPs should address a student’s individual needs.

1. Legal Requirements of IDEA

One of the reasons IEPs are so important is because they are required by law under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

This federal law mandates that schools provide students with disabilities a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE) possible.

legal requirements of IEP
IDEA is a federal statute and there are legal ramifications for not following it.

1a. FAPE

To meet the requirements of IDEA, schools must provide students with disabilities a FAPE. This means that schools must provide students with the support they need to access the general curriculum and make progress towards their educational goals.

FAPE is free and appropriate education.

The support provided must be tailored to the unique needs of each student and should be based on a comprehensive evaluation of their strengths and areas of need.

FAPE is something that families before us fought very hard for. Prior to IDEA, it completely legal and acceptable to tell a parent “We don’t have anything for him here.” Disabled students regularly just stayed home with their parents all day, receiving no education.

This isn’t ancient history. You can find disabled adults in your community who never went to school.

1b. LRE

Another important legal requirement is that students with disabilities are educated in the LRE possible. This means that students should be educated with their non-disabled peers to the greatest extent appropriate.

Schools must make every effort to ensure that students with disabilities are not unnecessarily segregated from their peers and are provided with the support they need to participate in general education settings.

Prior to LRE, children like mine were routinely institutionalized. Even if a parent felt in their heart that this was not right, society and the medical community encouraged moms to do this.

Many children born with visible disabilities or Down Syndrome never went home from the hospital with their Mom.

1c. Parental Involvement

Parents play a critical role in the IEP process. IDEA requires that parents be involved in the development of their child’s IEP and be given the opportunity to participate in all meetings related to their child’s education.

Schools must ensure that parents are provided with the information they need to make informed decisions about their child’s education and are given the opportunity to provide input into the development of their child’s IEP.

IEP teams are mandated to include the parents in the decision making.

Parents play a critical role in the IEP process and must be involved in the development of their child’s IEP. I know that it doesn’t feel that way. But I have zero recourse if I am unhappy with my other son’s education.

I am not guaranteed a participatory role in my non-disabled child’s education.

iep parents
Parents are legally-mandated IEP team members. That’s important!

1d. Individualized Education

As a writer, I believe that Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) are essential for students with disabilities. An IEP is a legal document that outlines the educational plan for a student with a disability.

While this is a huge source of contention for parents, it can be viewed as a mixed blessing. Prior to IDEA, parents had no right to demand individualization.

On the off chance that your disabled child was even allowed to enroll in the public school (most weren’t), a parent couldn’t ask for more or different resources for their child.

1e. Assessment

Assessment is a critical component of the IEP process. Before developing an IEP, the student’s strengths and weaknesses must be identified through various assessments.

These assessments may include academic tests, behavioral observations, and medical evaluations. The results of these assessments are used to create goals and objectives for the student.

Other than standardized tests (and don’t even get me started!), when is the last time your non-disabled child had an assessment of their abilities? Mine never does.

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While schools often miss the mark on IEP evaluations, even getting them is a right we shouldn’t minimize.

1f. Goals and Objectives

The goals and objectives in an IEP are specific and measurable. They are designed to help the student make progress in areas where they may be struggling.

Goals and objectives may focus on academic skills, social skills, or life skills. They are reviewed and updated regularly to ensure that the student is making progress.

Other than grade reports, what does your non-disabled child have, as far as measuring progress?

1g. Accommodations and Modifications

Accommodations and modifications are changes made to the student’s learning environment to help them succeed. Accommodations are changes that do not alter the content of the curriculum but make it more accessible to the student.

Examples of accommodations include extended time on tests, preferential seating, and assistive technology. Modifications, on the other hand, are changes to the curriculum itself. They are made when the student cannot access the curriculum without changes.

Examples of modifications include simplified assignments, reduced workload, and alternative assessments.

2. Student Success

When I was teaching and even as an advocate, I have seen firsthand how Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) can greatly impact student success. Despite what we see on social media, lots of IEP teams do get it right.

And lots of IEP students get what they need, are happy, and graduate and go on to college an jobs.

IEPs are designed to meet the unique needs of each student, and can provide support in areas such as academics, behavior, and social-emotional development. When done right, it really matters.

2a. Progress Monitoring

One of the most important aspects of an IEP is progress monitoring. By regularly assessing a student’s progress towards their goals, educators can adjust instruction and interventions as needed to ensure that the student is making meaningful progress.

This not only helps the student achieve their goals, but also helps to identify any areas where additional support may be needed.

Again, I’ll ask–other than grade reports, how do you know how well or what your non-disabled child is doing in school?

2b. Collaboration

Collaboration is key when it comes to IEPs. By working together with parents, teachers, and other professionals, we can ensure that the student’s needs are being met in a coordinated and comprehensive manner.

This collaboration can also help to identify any outside resources or supports that may be needed to help the student succeed.

I doubt that my non-disabled child’s team gets together to discuss him specifically.

2c. Transition Planning

Finally, IEPs can also play an important role in transition planning. Whether it’s transitioning from one grade to the next, or from school to post-secondary education or employment, having a well-developed transition plan can help ensure that the student is prepared for the next phase of their life.

This can include identifying post-secondary goals, developing a plan for acquiring necessary skills and supports, and connecting with community resources and services.

Overall, I have found that IEPs are a critical tool for promoting student success. By focusing on progress monitoring, collaboration, and transition planning, we can help ensure that each student receives the support they need to achieve their full potential.

Also, I recognize and acknowledge that that doesn’t always happen. (or this website wouldn’t exist!)

3. Why are IEPs Important? FAQs

Here are a few other questions I hear about IEPs.

What are the benefits of having an IEP?

Having an Individualized Education Program (IEP) can provide numerous benefits for students with special needs. An IEP is a legal document that outlines a student’s educational goals, accommodations, and services.

It ensures that students receive the support they need to succeed academically, socially, and emotionally. With an IEP, students receive individualized attention and support from their teachers, which can help them achieve their full potential.

How do IEPs support students with disabilities?

IEPs support disabled students by providing them with the tools and resources they need to succeed in school. These tools may include accommodations such as extra time on tests, assistive technology, and specialized instruction.

IEPs also provide students with access to support services such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, and counseling.

What components are included in an IEP?

An IEP typically includes several components, including a student’s present level of performance, goals and objectives, accommodations and modifications, and services and supports.

The present level of performance outlines the student’s current academic and functional abilities, while the goals and objectives outline what the student is expected to achieve.

Accommodations and modifications detail how the student’s learning environment will be adapted to meet their needs, while services and supports outline the specific services that the student will receive.

Why it matters: Your school team ideally takes a much more critical look at your child than a non-disabled child. As they should, for a child with additional needs.

What are the legal requirements for developing an IEP?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) outlines the legal requirements for developing an IEP. These requirements include conducting an evaluation to determine eligibility, holding a meeting to develop the IEP, and providing progress reports to parents.

The IEP must be reviewed and updated annually to ensure that it continues to meet the student’s needs.

How do IEP goals impact student success?

IEP goals are critical to student success. They provide a roadmap for the student’s education and ensure that they are making progress towards their academic and functional goals.

When students achieve their IEP goals, they gain confidence and a sense of accomplishment. This can motivate them to continue working towards their goals and achieve even greater success in the future.

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