Individualized Education Plans and 504 Plans

An Individualized Education Plan (IEP), also known as Individualized Education Program, is defined as a written plan that is designed to meet the unique needs of one child.  Much like an IEP, a 504 plan can help students with learning and attention issues learn and participate in the general education curriculum. You can learn more about the differences between the two plans here.

There are five important steps to the IEP process that every parent should understand:

STEP 1: The IEP Referral

If you, your child’s teacher or other school personnel suspect that your child has an educational disability and, after attempting interventions, your child continues to struggle at school or home, your child should be referred for an evaluation.

There is a 90 day timeline from the date of referral to complete the following steps:

  • Schedule an initial meeting, giving ten (10) days notice.
  • Meet and discuss the student’s needs, order testing if warranted, upon parental consent.
  • Complete the testing, and send reports to the family five (5) days before the final meeting.
  • Meet and review results, determine eligibility
  • Draft IEP
  • Upon parent consent, implement IEP

STEP 2: Understanding the Special Education Evaluation

The assessment may measure areas of suspected disability, including, cognition, academics, language skills along with social, emotional, developmental and medical findings. It could include student records, observations, work samples, state and district tests, psychometric tests and interviews. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) states that a variety of tools, tests and strategies must be used when conducting a special education evaluation.  Private evaluations conducted within one year may be considered for use in the public schools as well. Speak to your local home school for more information.

The following are possible outcomes that may occur at an IEP eligibility meeting:

  • The IEP team finds that your child qualifies for special education services and YOU AGREE.
  • The IEP team finds that your child does not qualify for special education services and YOU AGREE.
  • You DISAGREE with the recommendation of the IEP team.

Here are some tips for your IEP Evaluation meetings:

  1. You may bring anyone you would like to an IEP meeting, but let the team know in advance that you are doing so.
  2. If your child’s primary language is not English, the special education evaluation may be administered in his/her native language or through a bilingual specialist or interpreter.

STEP 3: Determining Special Education Eligibility

Criteria states that, to qualify for special education services, a child must have one of the 13 disabilities as defined by IDEA and the impact of the disability must create a need for services. If your child’s performance is not hindered by his/her disability, he/she will not qualify for services, even if he/she has a disability. Consequently, determining if a child is eligible is not cut and dried; it really depends on the child and his/her specific situation.

STEP 4: The IEP Meeting

At the IEP meeting, whoever performed the evaluation will share the following information with the team:

  • Your child’s current level of performance
  • Concerns and assessment results
  • Teacher reports
  • Psychological testing results
  • Speech and language results, if appropriate
  • Counseling input, if appropriate

The team must include the special education teacher, child’s current classroom teacher, school administration, parent and advocate.  If areas in addition to academics will be discussed, representatives of those disciplines should also attend.

Here are some tips to prepare for your IEP meetings:

  • Share concerns
  • Generate a list of questions
  • Bring a file of important documents
  • Acknowledge everyone’s good intentions when negotiating
  • Ask questions if something is unclear
  • Remember that you are speaking for your child
  • Remember that you and the school are there for a common purpose
  • Inform the case manager if you are bringing others to the IEP meeting
  • Consider taking action if you do not agree with the team’s decision

STEP 5: Writing the Individualized Education Program (IEP)

A case manager from your child's school will be assigned. This is usually a special education teacher or specialist that is named as the person responsible for ensuring that your child’s IEP plan is implemented correctly.

The IEP should ensure your child has access to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and should consider your child’s strengths, parent concerns, assessment results and areas of need related to academic and developmental areas. The IEP is a written, legal document that must include:

  • Your child’s present level of functioning
  • Strengths, weaknesses, abilities and educational needs
  • Area of eligibility, based on the 13 categories named in IDEA
  • Annual goals and objectives 
  • Designated special education and related services
  • Supplemental services
  • Program placement
  • Accommodations and level of participation in assessments
  • Next steps

Here are some tips for the IEP process:

  1. A parent can agree or disagree with all or part of the IEP. Signing for partial acceptance allows the team to implement the parts of the plan you’ve agreed upon while other issues are being resolved.
  2. The IEP forms themselves can be confusing, so be prepared to ask questions. They vary from state to state and from district to district.
  3. The IEP must include measurable, annual goals as well as short-term objectives that describe how your child will achieve the goals. Goals and objectives are the nuts and bolts of your child’s IEP – they reflect what the IEP team has determined to be appropriate.
  4. Parents can request a meeting at any time.

Adapted from the Source: