Individual Education Plans 101

I am reading the Ontario Ministry of Education guidelines for developing and implementing individual education plans (IEPs). I read similar legal documents when Ben was much younger, but over time it seemed that what was written in his IEP wasn't necessarily followed, often because of a lack of resources.

Here are the most salient points I've learned, some of which I had no understanding of and which were never explained to me. This information is taken from Individual Education Plans: Standards for Development, Program Planning and Implementation, 2000, and The IEP, A Resource Guide, 2004.

The IEP is supposed to set specific, observable, measurable annual goals and learning expectations against which the student's progress is continually assessed.

The IEP is based on individual student strengths and needs that are specific, consistent with the IPRC and supported by assessments. In the information-gathering stage, students share their perceptions of their strengths and needs, talents and interests. Information about the student's personal characteristics, hobbies or interests and non-academic accomplishments can be included. Students assist in setting goals and understand the IEP so they can actively work to achieve it.

The IEP lists the teaching strategies, accommodations, staff and equipment needed to support the student's learning.

The student's current level of achievement in each subject, course or skill is described to act as a baseline against which progress is regularly measured and recorded in the IEP.

Students may be working on 'modified' or 'alternative' curriculum.

Modified curriculum means that changes are made to typical grade-level expectations. Students may have goals based on a different grade level or the number and complexity of the regular grade level expectations may be altered.

Alternative expectations are not tied to the Ontario curriculum and tend to focus on life skills. Alternative programs include speech remediation, social skills, personal care and transit training. At the high-school level, they are non-credit courses. "For the vast majority of students, these programs would be given in addition to modified or regular grade-level expectations. A very small number of students who are unable to demonstrate even the most basic literacy or numeracy skills may receive only an alternative report."

I had no understanding of the difference between modified and alternative programs and was surprised to learn that all of my son's programs are alternative and that he has no specific IEP goals related to reading, even though he can read!

The IEP must describe how the student's achievement of goals will be assessed and results must be reported to parents on the provincial report card. Teacher comments on student strengths, areas for improvement and new steps in reaching the goals must be identified in the IEP.

Regular evaluation to ensure the student is meeting goals is required, and if the student is not progressing, the IEP needs to be revised.

If the student can't participate in a provincial assessment, it must be noted why on the IEP.

If the student is 14 or older, a transition plan must be included in the IEP. It must include specific goals based on the strengths, needs and interests of the student. They must relate to work, further education or community living and include actions necessary each year to help the student achieve them.

Students in high school must be given the opportunity to provide input into the IEP. "Open communication and cooperation between home and school will...ensure that the two have similar expectations."

I feel silly that I wasn't better educated and up to date on IEPs. At some point I made the mistake of thinking that I could trust educators to do what was best for my son. That is obviously not the case and that is why parents have to take an active role in developing and monitoring their child's IEP.

Tell us your IEP story!