Thursday, June 12, 2008

The all-important Individual Education Plan (IEP)

The IEP is a critical document resulting from the Individualized Education Program in use at schools worldwide. In short, it results from an IEP meeting and is a unique "plan of attack" for your child's education utilizing your child's strengths and targeting their weaknesses.

Over the last few weeks, we've been struggling with my child's second IEP. The process is long and I've learnt a lot. This topic is going to take several posts. To start with, I'm simply going to try and establish the importance of the IEP and the reasons why schools struggle against it. In later posts, I'll cover good and bad things to have in an IEP and how it could be tailored for Aspergers children.

A warning: Parents, do not approach the IEP meeting as if it were simply a normal school meeting. It's a critical and legal part of your child's education. You need to get it right.

So, How important is this IEP thing Anyway?
Schools tend to underplay the importance of the IEP because realization of that importance by parents can lead to increasing demand on teaching staff.

In truth, the IEP is a legal document and must be treated with caution.

In the US and the UK, the IEP is law and there are obligations for parents and school. Unfortunately, in Australia, the Education Act 2004 seems to mostly gloss over the points.

In particular, it says that

Everyone involved in the administration of this Act, or in the school education of children in the ACT, is to apply the principle that school education

(a) recognises the individual needs of children with disabilities;
(b) should make appropriate provision for those needs, unless it would impose unjustifiable hardship on the provider of the school education.

In other words, it suggests that the IEP is a great thing but that it is (almost) at the discretion of the school - who else defines "unjustifiable hardship"?

Why do Schools Try to Resist or Circumvent the IEP?
An individualized educational plan means one that is designed to meet the unique educational needs of one child. The biggest problem with schools is that they have limited resources and many more children than teachers. For this reason, it's often difficult for teachers to adapt their teaching practice to suit particular individuals on a daily basis.

Imagine the quite common scenario where a primary school teacher has 30 students, including four on IEPs. Such adaptation is difficult for teachers. The situation becomes even more complicated in secondary years when teachers and classes start to move around.

Schools and teachers will try, as much as possible to remain in control of IEPs and make them less individual and more generalized. This cuts down on work and makes the "IEP" more achievable - unfortunately, at the expense of the individuals who require special needs attention.

One common IEP resistance tactic is to create a special needs class with a very small number of children. These children are then taught as a group, not individuals. There's no doubt that a smaller class can help a child to learn but it's a mistake to regard this as "following" an IEP.

The Remedial Effect
Even worse, there's a problem I like to call "the remedial effect" whereby the special needs class is reduced to the pace of the slowest child. The problem here is that some children with special needs may be academically advanced. They may be on IEP's for social reasons. Aspergers children often fit into this category.

Remedial groups prevent these children from following normal academic studies - effectively hampering their learning. There's also a good chance that they won't gain a lot of social skills from these classes because they have been created on an academic basis.

The remedial effect is the inevitable result of attempting to generalize several IEPs.

In my next post, I'll try to look at the IEP itself.

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