Individualized Education Program
The Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a legal document under United States law that is developed for each public school child in the U.S. who needs special education. It is created through a team of the child's parent(s) and district personnel who are knowledgeable about the child's needs. IEPs must be reviewed every year to keep track of the child's educational progress.
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An IEP outlines the special education experience for all eligible students with a disability. An eligible student is any child in the U.S between the ages of 3-21 attending a public school and has been evaluated as having a need in the form of a specific learning disability, autism, emotional disturbance, other health impairments, intellectual disability, orthopedic impairment, multiple disabilities, hearing impairments, deafness, visual impairment, deaf-blindness, developmental delay, speech/language impairment, or traumatic brain injury. The IEP describes present levels of performance, strengths, and needs, and creates measurable goals based on this data. It provides accommodations, modifications, related services, and specialized academic instruction to ensure that every eligible child receives a "Free Appropriate Public Education" (FAPE) in the "Least Restrictive Environment" (LRE). The IEP is intended to help children reach educational goals more easily than they otherwise would. The four component goals are: conditions, learner, behavior, and criteria. In all cases, the IEP must be tailored to the individual student's needs as identified by the IEP evaluation process, and must help teachers and related service providers (such as paraprofessional educators) understand the student's disability and how the disability affects the learning process.
The IEP describes how the student learns, how the student best demonstrates that learning, and what teachers and service providers will do to help the student learn more effectively. Developing an IEP requires the team to evaluate the student in all areas of suspected disability, consider the student's ability to access the general education curriculum, consider how the disability affects the student's learning, and choose a federal placement for the student.
As long as a student qualifies for special education, the IEP is mandated to be regularly maintained and updated up to the point of high school graduation or prior to the 21st or 22nd birthday. If a student in special education attends university upon graduation, they are no longer "children with disabilities" under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 and are instead protected under Section 504. They can apply for and receive Section 504 accommodations, but the process is very different. Placements in public schools often occur in "general education" classrooms. Other types of placements include RSP (within a resource room), Special Day Class, Self Contained Class, Co-Teacher and specialized classes, or sub-specialties taught by a special education teacher. Students can also be removed from an IEP if it is determined the student is no longer eligible upon reevaluation.
An IEP is meant to ensure that students receive an appropriate placement not only in special education classrooms or special schools. It is designed to give the student a chance to participate in regular school culture and academics as much as is possible for that individual student. In this way, the student is able to have specialized assistance only when such assistance is absolutely necessary, and otherwise maintains the freedom to interact with and participate in activities to the same extent of their non-disabled/general education peers.