I…E…P…dundundun! These are three often intimidating letters for students, parents, and (new) teachers. IEPs are supposed to help our students make individual gains. However, I am starting to find that many schools’ faculty are creating and implementing these individualized tools for an assortment of inappropriate reasons.
Through my coursework (which included a class called IFSP/IEP Development for Young Children) I have learned that IEPs are to follow some general rules:
- Goals should be developed for Tier III needs (those that require specific systematic intervention).
- Skills that are newly introduced in the general curriculum or skills that same-age peers may struggle with due to age appropriate difficulties should not be targeted unless specific adaptations and modifications will be used in intervention.
- Goals should follow a logical sequence according to the hierarchical manner in which they are to be learned.
- Goals should aim to assist students in their academic, social, and functional skills as appropriately needed.
- Parents should be involved with development and decision making and must be able to understand what is on the IEP.
- Goals should be INDIVIDUALIZED.
However, I have recently seen (and argued against) IEP goals that included:
- Skills that are targeted, and still being learned, in the general curriculum. Example: a three-year-old using scissors in a thumbs-up position to cut out a circle/curved line (all of my kiddos, typical peers and those with autism, are still not mastering this one).
- Goals that aim far beyond the sequential learning process and are not individualized to the student’s needs. Example: expecting a nonverbal child to use words to communicate (gestures/pictures/word approximations/assistive technology tools NOT allowed) and no “plan” to get the child to suddenly, magically speak.
- Goals that are not functional to the child’s needs relevant to his or her diagnosis. Example: a three-year-old with autism is expected to carry a tray, yet there is no goal for interacting with others.
- Parents who have no idea what an IEP is (handing them “Whose IDEA is it Anyway” does not guarantee a clear understanding).
- Parents who are expected to just sit, listen, and comply . . . don’t ask questions, there’s no time.
- IEPs/goals that are blatantly copied and pasted from other students’ IEPs (PLEASE do NOT white out a name and WRITE in the “new” student’s name).
These flaws in the IEP process make me cringe! I know that IEPs are time consuming. I know it’s difficult to write them when you don’t have a clear picture of where the student is in his or her development. I know it can be difficult to think of “what’s the next step.” I know that it’s sometimes difficult to communicate effectively with parents.
I know it’s hard, trust me! BUT I can not know what it’s like to cast aside such an important tool with wonderful intentions. Special education means special services delivered by special people (who are some of the most overloaded, underpaid, stressed-out people, too). If you don’t love what you do, then don’t do it. If you are burnt out or unclear of the “rules,” ask for help. Please don’t take it out on the students you are meant to be helping (even when it’s unintentional).
I’m not the best goal writer, and I’m not always sure what’s next for my student’s targeted skills. But I will definitely try my best to ensure that each student has individualized and meaningful goals and that their parents (because my kiddos themselves aren’t involved yet) are part of the process, understanding every step along the way.
P.S. Regarding my last entry: I definitely felt like a professional last week during an IEP meeting! I advocated for my student, his mother, and my center by speaking up and ensuring that the goals were what WE wanted and needed. Still lots to learn, but I’m making AP (adequate progress)! I’ll have an “M” for mastery by my Professionalism Goal soon enough!