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Writing Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)
Barbara D. Bateman, Ph.D., J.D.
Secondary Education and Beyond
Learning Disabilities Association 1995
II. Developing the IEP
III. Transition Planning
The post-school success rates of students
who have learning disabilities, as a group, have not been what we would
all hope even though many individuals have been highly successful. A recent
focus on greater school responsibility for the post-school life of students
who have disabilities has resulted in new transition requirements. The
purpose of this discussion is to present a different approach to writing
IEPs, with special attention to the transition component This approach
results in IEPs which, unlike most IEPs, are both educationally useful
and legally correct.
After nearly seventeen years of life the
Individual Education Program (IEP)-- the heart and soul of the Individuals
with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) -- is still in it's infancy, it's
great potential unrealized and unappreciated. The IEP process and product
frequently have been distorted beyond recognition. The purpose of this
discussion is to show how the IEP process can work to produce IEPs that
are both educationally useful and legally correct. The essence of legal
correctness is that the IEP is tailored precisely to all the unique needs
of the individual student. The core of educational utility is that the
IEP spells out precisely how the school district will address each and
every unique need and how it will determine whether and when a change
in strategy or service is required. The IEP process must determine:
(a) which needs or characteristics of
the student require special education, i.e., individualization of services;
(b) Precisely how the district will address each need, i.e., "what
special education, related services or modifications it will provide;
(c) how and when the efficacy of those services will be evaluated.
The IEP process must include the parent
(or parent/student) as a full and equal partner, and a student whose IEP
addresses "transition" must be invited to participate in the
IEP process and must have her or his preferences and interests considered.
These transition concerns and processes are a special focus of this discussion.
Most IEPs are useless or slightly worse,
and too many teachers experience the IEP process as always time consuming,
sometimes threatening, and, too often, a pointless bureaucratic requirement.
The result is a quasi-legal document to be filed away with the expectation
it won't be seen again except, heaven forbid, by a monitor or compliance
officer. The point of the IEP exercise seems to be to complete the given
form in a way that commit the district to as little as possible, and which
precludes, as much as possible, any meaningful discussion or evaluation
of the student's real progress.
Parents too often experience the IEP process
as an overgrown parent-teacher conference in which the school personnel
present some previously prepared papers and request a signature. They
may be told a few things about some "rights." Parents who attempt
to participate as equals are often intimidated into acquiescence. They
are frequently given false and outrageous distortions such as, "We
(the district) don't provide individual tutoring"; or "Speech
therapy is always done by the regular classroom teacher and the speech
therapist provides consultation services to her"; or "We are
a full inclusion school and have no special classes or resource rooms
because we don't believe in pull-out programs." When such limiting
and blatantly illegal practices are presented as if they are simple fact
few parents are adequately prepared to challenge the district.
A Better Way
The IEP process and product can be both
educationally useful and legally correct. The first step toward that end
is for the district to provide an appropriate time and place for the IEP
meeting, The place should be physically comfortable and the meeting time
and length appropriate. The law requires the meeting be at a mutually
agreed on time and place. Too often parents are not aware they have any
say in either. Districts must also be careful to avoid unrealistically
short meetings, especially for initial, complex or disputed IEPs.
The only legitimate focus of an IEP meeting
is on the special needs of the student and how those are to be addressed.
There may be a temptation for district personnel to sidestep into policy
explanations or justifications or into what the parents have done or not
done. If the student is not present at the IEP meeting a strategically
placed photo of the youngster can serve to help all participants stay
focused on the needs of that student. Many IEP meetings lose this essential
focus and wander, becoming inefficient and frustrating for all.
The single most important principle of
the IEP process is that the school must appropriately address all the
student's unique needs without regard to the availability of needed services.
Prior to the passage of IDEA (then P.L. 94-142) in 1975, schools were
legally free to offer only the programs or services, if any, they had
available. Parents were supposed to be grateful for anything at all that
was provided. The primary purpose of the law was to turn that squarely
around and entitle the student who has a disability to a free appropriate
education individually designed to meet her or his unique needs. Educators
who have entered the field in the last twenty years lack this historical
perspective and too easily revert to the pre-IDEA mentality of trying
to stretch existing programs and services to fit the students. Instead
they must start with the student and design services to fit the student's
needs, however unique they may be.
Sometimes parents report that only a teacher
was at the IEP meeting; other times a seeming army of district personnel
confront them. The law specifies that in addition to the parent and student
(if the parent so wishes) a teacher of the student and a district representative
must be present. The IDEA regulations allow the district substantial discretion
in determining which teacher will be at the IEP meeting. Since, in theory,
the IEP team is addressing the student's needs above all, it would seem
reasonable to select a teacher who knows the student well. In addition,
at least one team member must be qualified (by state standards) in the
area of the student's disability. If this is not the teacher, it must
be the district representative (Mcintire, 16 EHLR 163, (OSEP, 1990)).
Students at middle school or high school most often have several teachers.
The law does not require that they all attend, but good special education
practice suggests their input should be sought and they most certainly
should be informed of the IEP's provisions.
The district representative must provide
or be qualified to supervise special education, have the authority to
allocate district resources, and be able to guarantee no administrative
veto of the IEP team's decisions (34 CFR Part 300 Appendix C, 13). These
qualifications are the law's way of insuring that the IEP team, and it
alone, has the power to determine what services the student needs and,
therefore, will receive. The evaluation team, often called the multi-disciplinary
team, determines eligibility, but only recommends services.
All members of the IEP team should remember
the enormous power and responsibility that is theirs. When the IEP specifies
a service is needed, the district must provide it. Too often parents are
given a very different impression, i.e., that only what is already available
can be provided and often in smaller than needed amounts. This critical
difference between the law and practice is typified by the common situation,
e.g., where the parent believes the student who has a learning disability
needs intensive, individual, daily language therapy and is told by the
speech therapist that since the therapist is only in that building on
Mondays and Wednesdays the student will be included in an ongoing 20 minute
speech therapy group on those two days.
In addition to the parent (and perhaps
student), teacher, and the district representative, the first IEP meeting
for a given student must be attended by a member of the evaluation team
or someone familiar with the evaluation. In addition, either the district
or the parent may invite anyone else. The district must, however, inform
the parent ahead of time of all district invited persons who will be at
the IEP meeting. There is no similar requirement for parents to inform
the district of anyone they may invite.
The fact the law does not require related
services personnel to be present may be highly significant. The IDEA regulations
(34 CFR Part 300 Appendix A) advise that related service personnel provide
written recommendations to the IEP team about the nature, frequency and
amount of service to be provided. Arguably, there is no requirement that
goals and objectives are necessary for related services. If related service
goals and objectives are required they may be of the sort a teacher and
parent could write. Since related services include only those necessary
to enable the student to benefit from special education it stands to reason
that the goals and objectives to be accomplished by the related services
would appear as goals for the special education services. The focus on
the related services components of the IEP is on specifying the amount
of service and the outcome is reflected in the goals and objectives for
special education. The related services are not ends in themselves, but
Contents of the
The federal requirements for the contents
of the IEP are straightforward. The individualized education program for
each child must include:
(a) A statement of the student's present
levels of education performance;
(b) A statement of annual goals, including short term instructional
(c) A statement of the specific special education and related services
to be provided to the student, and the extent to which the student will
be able to participate in regular educational programs;
(d) A statement of the needed transition services for students beginning
no later than age 16 and annually thereafter (and if determined appropriate
for an individual student, beginning at age 14, or younger), including,
if appropriate, a statement of each public agency's and each participating
agency's responsibilities or linkages, or both, before the student leaves
the school setting;
(e) The projected dates for initiation of services and the anticipated
duration of the services; and (f) Appropriate objective criteria and
evaluation procedures and schedules for determining, on at least an
annual basis, whether the short term instructional objectives are being
achieved. (34-CFR 300.346).
These five general principles, among others,
emerge clearly from a review of the hundreds of past IEP rulings from
agencies and courts:
(1) All of a student's unique needs
must be addressed, not just her or his academic needs, e.g., Russell
v. Jefferson Sch. Dist., 609 F. Supp. 605, (N.D. CA 1985); Abrahamson
v. Hershman, 701 F.2nd 223, (1st Cir. 1983). Arguably, no "non-unique"
needs have to be addressed.
(2) The availability of services may not be considered in writing the
IEP. If a service is needed it must be written on the IEP and if the
district does not have it available, it must be provided by another
agency. One of the earliest of all the agency rulings mandated that
availability of services be disregarded in writing the IEP (Leconte,
EHLR 211:146, OSEP, 1979). This principle has been reiterated repeatedly
by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS)
and the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and virtually ignored
by the field.
(3) The IEP is a firm, legally binding "commitment of resources."
The district must provide the services listed or the IEP must be amended
(Beck, EHLR 211:145 (OSEP 1979)).
(4) IEPs must be individualized. The same goals, same content areas,
same discipline or the same amounts of therapy on many IEPs (e.g., every
student who receives speech therapy in a particular building receives
30 minutes daily) reveals a violation of this individualization requirement
(Tucson, AZ Unified Sch. Dist. #1, EHLR 352.547 (OCR 1987)).
(5) All of the components of the IEP required by law (e.g., goals and
objectives, specific special education and related services) must be
Back to top
The proper team has assembled, the student's
photo is prominently placed, the calming herbal tea has been served, the
tape recorder is on and the newsprint is on the easel. It is time to begin
developing the IEP. A three-step IEP development process is strongly recommended:
(a) List the student's unique characteristics or needs that require individualization
(and which entitle the student to individualized services);
(b) Determine and specify the district-provided services and modifications
that will appropriately address each need; and
(c) Write the goals and objectives that will be accomplished by the student
if the services and modifications are appropriate and effective.
An IEP "Non-Form" consisting
solely of a blank piece of paper oriented horizontally can accommodate
this process far better than existing forms. Divide the paper into thirds
and label the three columns something like:
(1) Student's Needs;
(2) Services; and
(3) Evaluation of Services.
Other headings that work well are (a) Individualize because.....; (b)
What the district will do; (c) How we'll know it is working.
Unique Characteristics or Needs
First, the IEP team must determine the student's unique characteristics
or needs to which the special services will be directed. One helpful way
to learn to think in terms of these essential characteristics is to imagine
that you are describing the student to a volunteer who has never met the
student and is going to take him or her camping for a week. The IEP is
required to address only the portions or aspects of the student's education
that need to be individualized. The student should be visible in the IEP.
Too many IEPs reveal only the academic program available in the resource
room and show nothing whatsoever about the student. The primary focus
of the IEP is going to be the specification of services. This initial
step is to determine what is necessitating the services.
If we complete the statement, "We
are individualizing Johnny's program because "_______" those
"because" are his unique needs. The "because" may
be such things as: (a) he is reading several years behind where he should
be; (b) he is unable to organize his assignments, homework; or (c) his
attention is too easily distracted away from work, etc. These are the
exact needs to be addressed in the next column.
When a legal dispute arises about a student's
program, a common concern is whether the services provided addressed all
the student's special needs. Those special needs are what must be specified
in this first stage of IEP development. It is difficult to imagine how
one could either attack or defend the services offered to meet unique
needs unless those needs had been specified. In addition to the real world
knowledge the IEP team members have about the student's characteristics/needs,
it may be helpful to consult any current evaluations. This is particularly
important for the first IEP which immediately follows the evaluation which
found the student to be IDEA eligible. Some evaluations fail to address
a student's special needs; others can be very helpful.
Characteristics or needs will often "cluster."
The team may well decide in the next stage that one service will address
more than one characteristic or need. However, at this point it is important
to just "brainstorm" and list all the unique characteristics
that require individualized attention. Sometimes the natural flow seems
to be to work "across" the IEP Non-Form, i.e., when a characteristic
has been identified, to then decide what service or accommodation will
address it and finally determine the goals and objectives for that service
that will indicate its appropriateness. Other times it may be better to
list all the characteristics first, then move to services and then to
goals. Either way, or a combination, is perfectly OK.
Examples of characteristics (not all from
the same student) in both academic and social-emotional-behavioral areas
follow. Remember that for each, the next inquiry will be, "What will
the district do about this?" Some examples of unique characteristics
or needs in academic areas are:
(a) Handwriting that is slow, labored,
"drawn," nearly illegible due to improper size and spacing
of letters and words;
(b) Lacks understanding of place value
and regrouping in both addition and subtraction;
(c) Attributes literal, concrete meaning
to everything he hears and reads; doesn't get jokes or slang;
(d) Understands spoken language, decodes
words accurately, but does not comprehend material read independently;
oral reading reveals severe lack of expression and no attention to punctuation;
(e) Works very slowly, becomes upset
if he makes a mistake, quits and refuses to continue if paper is "messy",
(f) Answers before thinking, both in
oral and written work; work is impulsive; many "careless"
(g) Gets arithmetic problems `"messed
up" and copies them incorrectly off board and out of book. Lines
up problems incorrectly and also lines up answers wrong in multiplication
The law requires that the Present Level
of Performance (PLOP) in these areas of need be indicated in a way that
is readily understandable and is precise enough to allow us to measure
progress. The PLOP can appear either as an elaboration of the characteristic
or need or as the chronological beginning point in a succession of PLOP,
behavioral objectives, and annual goal. The PLOP is now, the objectives
are short-term goals, and the goal is where the student is headed by the
end of a year.
If the PLOP is treated as a quantification
of the characteristic or need, then a PLOP for the slow, barely legible
handwriting in example (a) above might be "copies 5 words per minute
with 1 or 2 of the words illegible."
Some characteristics or needs are sufficiently
descriptive as they are and need no quantification, e.g., lacks understanding
of place value and regrouping. To say that the student performs zero regrouping
problems correctly adds little to the description.
Sometimes a present level of performance
can be best described by a work sample. A picture can speak very loudly,
as in a timed handwriting sample which could be attached to the IEP as
a PLOP. Such a sample can reveal both quality (content) of written expression
as well as mechanics of handwriting.
Some examples of unique characteristics
or needs in social-emotional- behavioral areas would be:
(a) Shy; no friends; never volunteers
in class; never initiates social contact with other children;
(b) Bully; doesn't know how to play
with other children; physically aggressive with smaller children;
(c) Over-reacts and has temper
outbursts; is noncompliant; pouts and whines; is sullen and negative
when suggestions are made; and
(d) Short attention span; easily distracted
These characteristics would be treated
just the same as academic needs. A PLOP would be added if necessary and
then the team would ask what the district will do about the bullying or
the shyness or short attention span.
The Special Education,
Related Services and Modifications - the District's "Will Do's"
The second inquiry the team should make is, "How will the district
respond to each of the student's needs? What will we do about Joe's need
for help in making friends? What will we do about Toni's tendency to work
rapidly and carelessly? What will we do about Manuel's anger problem?"
The special education, related services or modifications the district
will provide can be conveniently thought of as the "district do's."
The "do's" are listed in the middle column of the Non-Form.
They may be as creative, flexible, innovative, and often inexpensive as
the team's brainstorming and combined wisdom allow. This listing of services
becomes the "Special Education and Related Services" which the
law requires be on the IEP and which is too often omitted or simply perverted
into a mere check mark or a percentage of time in special education. The
amount of related services such as speech therapy or physical therapy
that is needed must be shown, along with the date the service is to begin
and the anticipated duration of the service.
One of the interesting issues about services
is the question of whether methodology need be specified. If, for example,
the service is remedial reading, must the method be spelled out? In general
the answer is "no". In 1977, when the IDEA rules were first
proposed, they would have mandated that methodology and instructional
materials were to be included in IEPs. However, when the rules became
final that requirement had been dropped. In the meantime, some states
and districts had moved quickly and already had forms that included methods
and materials. It is not unusual to find those forms still in use. One
disadvantage of including method is that so doing means an IEP meeting
would have to be called to change the method. If method isn't on the IEP
it can be changed unilaterally as the teacher sees fit.
Methodology becomes a source of conflict
when parents are convinced their child will receive benefit from a particular
method and will not benefit from the method the district wants to use.
The most frequently sought methods are a particular method of communication
for students who are deaf and direct instruction and/or phonics based
reading programs for students who are learning disabled. Almost all courts
agree that schools may usually select the method. However, in rare cases
parents have been able to show that a particular method is necessary to
allow the IEP to be "reasonably calculated" to allow benefit,
e.g., Hawaii Dept. of Education v. Tara H., Civ. No. 86-1161, (D.HI
1987). It is extremely important to note, as no court has yet done, that
when the U.S. Supreme Court said methodology should be left to the state
(school) it said so in the context of presuming the school had expertise
in all relevant, effective methods (Board
of Ed. v. Rowley, 102 S.Ct. 3034, (1982)). This is not usually
A common and interesting question related
to these "District To Do" services relates to in-service training
for teachers. Rob, e.g., has Tourette's Syndrome and needs a teacher who
is knowledgeable about how his involuntary vocalizations are affected
by stress. The agreed upon service to be provided by the district is inservice
training by the local physician for all the school staff. Does that "district
do" belong on Rob's IEP? Yes, it does. It is a service to meet his
unique need. One concern is that such a service doesn't lend itself directly
to a goal formulated in terms of Rob's behavior. This concern is easily
addressed by looking to what we hope to see in Rob's behavior as a result
of having an informed, sympathetic teacher who assists him in avoiding
unnecessary stress. One obvious answer is improved academic performance.
Other outcomes could be a direct decrease in frequency and severity of
his symptoms and an increase in socialization.
Another issue is that the service is not
being provided directly to Rob. Legally, an important question is whether
Rob is receiving some special education, i.e., some specially designed
instruction to meet his unique needs, which is delivered by qualified
special education personnel. If he is not receiving any special education,
as defined in the law, he is either not eligible under IDEA or he is not
receiving the free appropriate education to which he is entitled. If he
is receiving special education then it does not matter how the in-service
training for his teachers is conceptualized. Logically, in-service staff
training is perfectly analogous to parent training and is, therefore,
a related service. If so, it is important to specify, as for all related
services, how much in-service is to be provided and when.
For many years some districts resisted
including on IEPs the modifications needed in the regular classroom. However,
it is well settled law that they must be included. A checklist of types
of modifications (e.g., in grading, discipline, assignments, texts, tests,
etc.) can be helpful to insure all necessary modifications are addressed.
The Present Levels
of Performance, Goals and Objectives - Evaluating the District "Do's"
The third step, after the needs have been delineated and the services
specified, is to write the required annual goal and behavioral objectives
for each special education service or cluster of services. The clustering
of services can be very efficient as well as conceptually illuminating.
For example, think of a secondary student who has a severe learning disability
affecting his written expression. He might need several services including
keyboarding instruction, tutoring in writing, modifications in test-taking
and length of written assignments, substitution of oral presentations
for some term papers, and modified grading. The entire service cluster
could be reasonably evaluated in terms of his improved rates of successful
course completion and attendance. Other goals could also be very appropriate.
The point is that just as characteristics or needs can be clustered to
provide one service, so services can be clustered to be assessed by a
common, single goal.
Writing goals and objectives begins with
asking, "If the service we are providing is effective, what will
we see in Todd's behavior that tells us so?" The purpose of the mandated
goals and objectives is to evaluate the service. We need to know when
or if to change what we're doing, to change the service we are providing.
As long as we're on track and the child is making reasonable progress
we just keep going. That's why objectives are to be statements of how
far the student will progress toward the annual goal (12 month objective)
One of the common and major problems with
goals and objectives is that they are not taken seriously by their writers
who have no intention of actually checking whether the student has reached
them or not. It is as if we never understood the most basic tenet of the
IEP, i.e., that we are going to try the listed services and see if they
work for that student. The goals and objectives are to be real. They are
to be used to evaluate program effectiveness. They are not just legal
requirements to be completed and filed. The contrast can be seen easily.
of Annual Goals
|Joe will have no more
than 5 unexcused absences/tardies this year.
||Joe will have a better attitude toward
school 80% of the time.
|Sara will participate
regularly in a supervised extra-curricular activity that meets weekly.
||Sara will make wise choices in her
use of leisure time.
|Max will maintain a C+
average in his regular classes.
||Max will be 75% successful in the
|Beth will pass upper body
strength items on the fitness test.
||Beth will show an appropriate level
of upper body strength.
One easy and effective way to include
the mandated present levels of performance (PLOP) in the areas of concern
is to use them as the beginning point in a sequence going from the PLOP
to the objectives to the annual goal. This kind of sequence is illustrated
in Joe's Non-Form IEP. Joe is an identified student with learning disabilities
who was in the 9th grade in a very small, rural district.
Additional examples of sequences that
are intended to be used to evaluate the services are shown below:
averages 10 unexcused absences/tardies per month.
1 she will have fewer than 5 unexcused absences/tardies per month.
2 she will have fewer than 2 unexcused absences/tardies per month.
April through June 1 she will average less than 1 unexcused absence/tardy
submits fewer than half his homework assignments.
he will have submitted 75% of all homework assignments.
15 he will have submitted 85% of all homework assignments.
end of the year he will regularly submit all assigned homework on
| C: PLOP
||Jill silently reads 6
th grade material at a rate of 50-75 words per minute and correctly
answers 30-40% of factual comprehension questions asked orally.
| Objective 1
||By Dec. 1 Jill will read 6th grade
material orally at 75-100 words per minute with 0-2 errors.
| Objective 2
||By Mar. 1 Jill will read 6th grade
material orally at 100-125 words per minute with 0-2 errors and correctly
answer more than 70% of factual questions asked over the material.
||By June 15 Jill will orally read 7th
grade material at 75-100 words per minute with 0-2 errors and correctly
answer 90% to 100% of factual questions asked over the material.
IEP NON-FORM A
Education, Related Services, Modifications
levels, Objectives, Annual Goals (Objectives to include procedure,
More time to complete written assignments.
Adjust amount of work required (e.g., selected questions, page limits)
and/or extend time for completion (e.g., for essays and content area
Present Level: Out of school for three years, completed virtually
no assignments during the 9th grade
1. Within one month,
Because of his attention deficits and disorders, he needs frequent
access to a low-distraction environment
Provide in-classroom seating away from high distractions
an alternative work place for independent work (e.g., study hall,
library, resource room) available to Joe on request
inservice to all teachers on Attention Deficit Disorders
complete 50% or more of his assignments with grade of "C"
2. Within three months, Joe will complete 80% or more of his assignments
with grades of "C" or better.
Joe will complete classroom assignments satisfactorily.
Needs assistance with oral and written directions
Provide Joe with tape, tape recorder, and headphones and instruct
Joe in using this equipment unobtrusively in any classroom settings
teachers will condense lengthy directions into steps and will write
directions and assignments on chalkboard, wall chart, overhead transparency,
Joe doesn't know how to approach teachers to seek needed instruction
Provide direct instruction in teacher appropriate behaviors
min. daily Sept.5- Nov. 15
Present Level: Never approaches teachers
Within one month, Joe and two of his teachers will agree, Joe is
interacting more and more appropriately
2. Within three months, Joe and four of his teachers will agree,
Joe is "appropriate" in his interactions with teachers
Joe will complete classroom assignments satisfactorily
Joe is very disorganized, does not keep track of due dates, assignments,
Provide appropriate materials and specific instructions in establishment
and maintenance of an organizational system that includes a notebook
and a calendar/checklist system
min. daily Sept.5-10
Present Level: See characteristics
Within one week Joe will physically organize a notebook with dividers
for each class and use a calendar to note assignments, due dates,
etc. (checked daily by contact agent)
2. Within one month, Joe will independently use organized notebook
Joe will successfully use organizing aids such as a notebook and
Joe needs to learn how to deal with peers who tease him.
Provide instructions to using appropriate assertive behaviors when
teased by others
hr. weekly Sept.5-Nov.15
Present Level: Once or twice daily Joe reacts inappropriately
to peer teasing
1. Within two weeks, in role playing situations, Joe will respond
appropriately to staged teasing
2. Within six weeks, Joe will respond successfully in confrontations
with peers 50% of the time (self-monitoring)
3. Within six months, Joe will respond successfully in confrontations
with peers 100% of the time (self-monitoring) and the confrontations
will be much less frequent
Joe will react appropriately to peers
Back to top
Requirements for Transition Components of the IEP
Transition services must be included in all IEPs when the student
reaches age 16 and may be included for younger students if deemed appropriate
by the IEP team (OSEP Letter to Anonymous, 17 EFLR 842). Preventing
school drop-out is to be a major factor in determining when transition
services are needed (OSEP Letter to Bereuter 20 IDELR 536). See
A to IDEA 97
Transition services are a coordinated set of activities that promote movement
from school to such post-school activities as post-secondary education,
vocational training, employment, adult services, independent living and
community participation. They must be based on the individual student's
needs, taking into account his or her preferences and interests. Transition
services must include instruction, community experiences, and development
of employment and other post school adult living objectives. If appropriate,
daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation may also be included.
If the IEP team determines an individual student does not need services
in one or more of these areas the IEP must contain a statement to that
effect and the basis upon which the determination is made (OSEP Letter
to Cernosia 19 IDELR 933).
See Jim's Non-Form IEP transition component for an example of such a statement
regarding employment. Before the student leaves school the IEP must also
contain, if appropriate, a statement of each public agency's and each
participating agency's responsibilities or linkages (including financial)
for the transition activities (34 CFR 300.346(d) and comment).
The IEP meeting must include a representative of the public agency providing
and supervising the transition activities and, if appropriate, representatives
of other participating agencies. In almost all situations the familiar
district representative required for all IEP meetings would qualify as
this representative. If appropriate, the student should also be there
to ensure her or his needs, preferences, and interests are addressed.
It is difficult to imagine circumstances where it would not be appropriate
for a student who has a learning disability to be at the meeting. If the
student cannot attend, other methods of participating must be used (34
The ultimate responsibility for providing transition services rests with
the school district (or state education agency if district fails) and
there is no provision for a waiver of this requirement. Thus it applies
to all public agencies to whom IDEA applies and, if a participating agency
defaults on service provision, it is the school that must find an alternative
way to provide the service. However, nothing in IDEA relieves a participating
agency of any of its responsibility for serving or paying for services
for that student.
Two 1994 due process hearings against an Iowa district resulted in rulings
that the district's failure to provide appropriate transition planning
and services precluded the district from graduating the student and obligated
it to provide further vocational programs (Mason City Comm. Sch. Dist.
21 IDELR 241 and 21 IDELR 248).
Developing the Transition Component of the IEP
The transition component of the IEP is just that, a part of the
student's regular IEP. It is not a parallel document, a separate thing,
or a "transition IEP." All the IEP development requirements
and procedures discussed earlier also apply to the transition component.
The legal significance of transition, being but one aspect of the IEP
process, is substantial. A student is entitled to those transition services
which for that student are either special education or related services
necessary to enable the student to benefit from special education. The
period of "benefit" to be considered has arguably been lengthened
beyond school and into adult life, but the substantive entitlement is
still to special education and related services, not to those plus transition
One logical beginning point for the transition component is with the team
reaching agreement about the individual student's needs with regard to
the three mandated areas of:
(b) community experiences; and
(c) employment and other post-school living objectives.
If the team deems it inappropriate to address an area, presumably because
the student presents no unique needs, the IEP must include the basis for
that determination. The student's needs, taking into account interests
and preferences, can be explored prior to the meeting and substantial
input should also be sought from the parents. Questionnaires are appropriate.
Zigmond (1990) has studied extensively secondary programs for students
with learning disabilities and suggested four major areas of program need.
First, many of these students need, and too few receive, intensive
basic skills instruction. Too many programs slight basic skills altogether,
believing it is too late while others require students to "do"
basic skills activities, but provide next to no real instruction. What
Zigmond calls "Survival Skills" includes explicit instruction
needed by most LD students in behavior control, teacher-pleasing and study
skills including test taking.
The third need is for successful completion of courses required for
graduation. As schools suffer funding cut backs, so-called basic level
courses in math and English often disappear, leaving IEP teams to struggle
with issues of granting graduation credit for resource room courses or
for extensively modified regular courses. One legally correct solution
is for the district to establish what the essential, minimum requirements
are for credit toward graduation. Those may be rigorously adhered to,
as long as reasonable modifications are allowed in how the requirement
is met. The IEP should lay out these understandings clearly and explicitly.
Transition needs are the last area Zigmond addresses. She points
out that about 12 to 30% of graduating LD students go on to college and
they, of course, have transition needs related to selecting and applying
to a school. She also notes that vocational education programs in high
school are not necessarily a better ticket to job success than are more
academic programs. We are left realizing, again, that many secondary programs
still need improvement and that we must truly look, in the IEP process,
at the individual needs and situation of each student.
One of the most important additional skills needed by many students who
have learning disabilities is self-advocacy. The student's presentation
of his or her needs at the IEP meeting may itself provide one opportunity
to assess and discuss self-advocacy skills. Another concern for some students
with learning disabilities is passing the examinations required to obtain
a driver's license. Using the same basic three-step inquiry process used
in the rest of the IEP and with self-advocacy and obtaining a driver's
license as the student's needs we can illustrate the inclusion of transition
services on the IEP. This Non-Form is nearly identical to that used earlier
to show Joe's IEP. The only difference is that the present level of performance
is included in the first rather than last column. That is just another
way of doing it and is unrelated to the fact we are illustrating transition.
It is important to note that the Secretary of Education has acknowledged
that not all the IEP content requirements, especially goals and objectives,
are appropriate for all transition services (FR 44847, discussion of 34
CFR 300.346). No IEP team should use time or energy trying to fit transition
needs and services into a format including annual goals and objectives
unless it truly makes sense to do so.
Confidentiality of IEPs
Many secondary teachers report they have no idea which of their students,
if any, are on IEPs and that they never see the IEP even when they are
informed a student has one. This is sad, perhaps sometimes even tragic.
By its very nature a good IEP is always helpful and sometimes essential
in providing an appropriate program for the student. Rarely is a student's
disability so mild or limited that she or he requires no modifications
or accommodations in regular middle school or high school classes.
When this process of hiding IEPs from teachers is questioned the common
answer suggests a belief that confidentiality would be violated if IEPs
were shared. While it is true IEPs are education records and must be treated
as such, the Family
Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) has an exception which
is pertinent. Under Reg. 99.31(a) of the FERPA regulations, an educational
agency may disclose personally identifiable information from the education
records of a student without the written consent of the parent "if
the disclosure is to other school officials, including teachers, within
the educational institution or local education agency who have been determined
by the agency or institution to have legitimate educational interests"
in that information.
Furthermore, even if there were a confidentiality problem under state
law or district policy it could be readily solved by parental permission
to share the IEP with all teachers. Parents should insist teachers have
copies of the IEP, even if it means they themselves must provide them
to the teachers. Of course, it should go without saying that the IEP should
not contain any information beyond what is required. It would not be appropriate,
e.g., to include the category of disability or an intelligence score,
We are all new at incorporating transition services into the IEP and into
the broader world. Few rulings are yet available to assist us in understanding
new requirements. Already a few areas of confusion are emerging. Several
are in the direction of an unduly expansive reading of the new regulations.
First, the transition activities which must be addressed, unless the IEP
team finds it unnecessary, are: (a) instruction; (b) community experiences;
and (c) the development of objectives related to employment and other
post-school areas. There is a tendency to confuse these three requirements
with the post-school activities to which the three are to be directed,
i.e., post-secondary education, vocational training, employment, adult
services, independent living, etc. Many "lists" are available
which can be seen as suggesting the IEP must address the latter directly
rather than the former.
A second source of confusion is that by erroneously viewing the transition
component of the IEP as a thing unto itself it is easy to forget that
IDEA entitles the student who has a disability only to special education
and related services. The transition services to which a student is entitled
must fit the definition of one or the other. Therefore, each required
transition service must be either specially designed instruction to meet
the students' unique needs (taking into account his preferences and interests)
or it must be required to enable the student to benefit from that instruction.
The fact that transition services must qualify as either special education
or related services may not pose a significant limitation since one could
argue that almost any transition service is necessary to enable the student
to reap the benefits of all the special education she or he has had to
A third overly broad reading is the failure to recognize that "student's
preferences and interests" refers to determining the student's needs,
not to delineating the services to be provided (34 CFR 300.18(b)(1)(2)).
One way to approach the question of student needs is to envision a typical
weekday and a typical weekend after secondary school. Is the student still
living in his or her parents' home? Has she gotten an apartment? Does
he know how to find apartment ads in the classifieds? How to respond to
an ad? How to locate the address?
The exact process the IEP team goes through in looking into a student's
post-school future and planning for it will differ from student to student,
as it should. The essential elements which will not vary include student
and family participation and the willingness of the IEP team
to address all the areas of need-intensive and effective basic skills
instruction (not just exposure and not just repetitious practice), explicit
survival skills, graduation requirements, and transition.
Properly used, the IEP can be an extraordinarily useful tool in building
the future we desire for our students who have learning disabilities.
IEP NON-FORM (TRANSITION)
(taking into account preferences & interests)
Education & Related Services
to be Provided and Agency Linkages
& Responsibilities (L & R)
1. Self-Advocacy (PLOP): presently
Jim is unaware of his legal rights under Section 504 and ADA, and
unable to express the accommodations he would need in given situations
in such a large class
1. Small group instruction from Special
Ed teacher in relevant rights & procedures under Section 504,
Role-playing as describing needed
accommodations to "employers" and "professors"
(Services to begin Tuesday, Sept.
15, two 30-minute sessions weekly until goals are met.)
(L & R) Protection & Advocacy
will assist teacher and provide materials at no cost. Verified by
phone - M. Adams.
1. Goal: Appropriately explain
to a potential employer, professor, or other representative of the
post-school world what accommodations are needed and, if necessary,
the basis for the request.
1. By Dec. 15, Jim will pass (75%) of a 25-item objective test over
basic rights and procedures under Sec.504 and ADA.
2. By March 1, given 5 hypothetical situations of common denial
of rights under Sec.504 or ADA, correctly explain possible actions
and defend choice of actions to be taken.
2. Driver's License (PLOP): Jim has
been driving for a year on a learner's permit and is concerned he
cannot pass the test required for his license, although he is confident
of all his driving and related skills except map reading.
2. Within two weeks the driver training
instructor will inform Jim about accommodations in the state, if
any, for licensing people with learning disabilities. Then she and
Jim will develop a plan to follow through and that plan will be
added to this IEP no later than Oct. 10.
Instruction in appropriately obtaining
assistance in (a) route highlighting and (b) map drawing will be
incorporated in self-advocacy practice above.
(L & R) DMV will assist
instructor and will provide information on test accommodations.
Verified by phone - J. Hill.
2. Goal: Jim will be a competent,
licensed driver in Jefferson state prior to June 15 and will be
able to obtain and follow highlighted maps and line maps.
1. By Dec. 1, Jim will be able to describe correctly 8 of 10 times
how he would get from A to B following a highlighted map and will
8 of 20 times succeed in getting clerks, gas station attendants
or others to assist him in drawing a line map with approximate distances
and major landmarks.
2. By Dec. 15, Jim will score at least 70% on practice exams, administered
under actual conditions.
Zigmond. N., (1990). Rethinking secondary school programs for students with
learning disabilities. Focus on Exceptional Children, 23,1,1-22.