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Trending Issues in Special Education, Part 5: Helping Students Take Ownership in the IEP Process

Trending Issues in Special Education, Part 5: Helping Students Take Ownership in the IEP Process

We’ve come to the close of our series dedicated to special education! Over the past four days, we have examined special education classifications, edtech, co-teaching strategies, and crowdfunding. Now, we’re going to close out the week with a final installment focusing on student-led IEPs.

Special education teachers need to have an intimate knowledge of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) document and process. An IEP is the legal document that clearly lays out the individual goals and objectives set for a child identified as having a disability and charts how those goals will be achieved. It is mandated by legislation within the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA). The main purpose of a student’s IEP is to ensure that:

  1. Reasonable learning goals have been set for the student
  2. Required services have been determined and will be provided for the student

There are many people involved in creating a student’s IEP, including the teacher(s), parents, support staff, and other specialists they may work with. At a minimum, this team is required to meet annually to monitor the student’s academic growth and measure progress toward goals. It is during this meeting that the team can make adjustments or address concerns. Beyond this required annual meeting, any team member can call for an additional IEP meeting whenever an evaluation is felt necessary. 

When students who are working under an IEP reach high school, it’s becoming increasingly common that they are called upon to offer input throughout their own IEP process. The goal is to prepare these students for a greater degree of independence in life after high school. It also gives teachers more insight into the learning methods these students favor and the challenges they encounter.

This trend toward inclusion seems to be a turning point in education. Instead of school officials and other adults dictating what and how students with special needs should learn, more emphasis is being placed on giving students the chance to lead their own meetings and help chart their own course toward mastering academic and life skills.

Creating opportunities for students to drive the IEP process could include asking the student to:

  • Set the IEP meeting date and location.
  • Send an email invitation for the meeting to all members of the IEP team.
  • Help plan the meeting agenda and communicate it to the invitees.
  • Review the current IEP with instructors and parents. Have the student decide what parts of the IEP are most important, where he or she has made progress (and why), and what specific accommodations are helpful (or not).
  • Identify areas of success, offer data to support his or her assertion, and present his or her opinion on what contributed to that success.
  • Set postsecondary goals for the transition to post-school life. Once a student has reached high school, his or her long-term goals (such as college and career) should be incorporated in a section of the IEP called the Individualized Transition Program (ITP). In a student-led IEP meeting, the team can encourage the student to ask questions about transitioning out of high school and express what he or she would like to see in the ITP.

When students lead their own IEP meetings, it makes sense to display this new ownership. One way to encourage students is letting them select the technology that they are most comfortable with to use in the IEP meeting planning process and presentation. Students may also want to map out the meeting presentation or even deliver the presentation themselves. 

The National Center for Learning Disabilities has some great resources offering possible activities and recommendations for students working in the IEP process. Check out this article on “Self-Advocacy: 5 Tips from a Student” as a starting point. Another suggestion is to focus on incorporating technology in student-led IEP meetings, which may motivate tech-savvy teens to assume greater responsibility throughout the process. The use of mainstream technology and assistive technology can add substance, structure, and creativity to IEP planning and to the IEP meeting itself.

IEPs create the broad structure from which educators can develop a more detailed and practical day-to-day instructional plan for students with all kinds of disabilities. Technology can enhance the teacher’s ability to capture these students’ successes and, in addition, provide opportunities for inclusion, which, in turn, foster social interactions and social skills mastery. Giving students some control and input throughout the process of creating their IEP drives ownership and engagement with learning. It offers an opportunity to shift the purpose and power of an IEP from stating what a child needs to do to demonstrating what that child can do.

Interested in learning more about Individualized Education Programs? Edmentum’s Guide to Education Acronyms includes an in-depth definition of the IEP document and process. Want to learn more about how Edmentum’s online programs can support your students working under an IEP? Check out our Special Education Solutions for Educators!

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Winnie O'Leary

Winnie O’Leary has spent over 25 years in education, as a classroom teacher, school board member, a family advocate, special education teacher, curriculum writer and currently the Educator Initiatives Manager. Her experiences have allowed her to work with districts all over the country where she learns something new and exciting every day.