In the United States, students with disabilities have a right to receive special education service. Special education is the education to address the individual differences and support the needs of students with disabilities, which help make curriculum accessible to all students. Students whose ages between 0 to 3 need Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) to receive special education whereas students whose ages between 3 to 18 need Individualized Education Program (IEP).
Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a plan for students with disabilities to receive special education service. IEP includes the child's present levels of academic performance, academic goals, and the types and frequency of special education services and other related services needed. IEP will be periodically reviewed, and the student's progress is measured on a regular basis to decide whether he/she meets the academic goals. Changes can be made to IEP as necessary.
Individualized Education Program (IEP) process begins with pre-referral interventions. The types of interventions which a student receives vary by their needs. This stage focuses on the following points:
(1) Document and explain student's difficulties and challenges
(2) Measure the effectiveness of classroom accommodations and modifications
(3) Measure the effectiveness of various instructional interventions
(4) Monitor student's progress
The purpose of pre-referral is to conduct screening before the formal identification procedures of disabilities. In principle, before formal referral to special education, parents and teachers work together to discuss the ideas to support the student in the general education classroom. Teachers try different intervention strategies and measure how the student responds. Pre-referral stage determines the students who do not need special education service and avoids unnecessary assessments.
Overall assessment of the student's skills is conducted after the referral. At this stage, the student may take formal/informal academic assessment and intelligence test. Reviewing the assessment results, a multidisciplinary team, a group of professionals in the areas of concern, will decide whether the student has a disability and he/she needs special education or other related services. Each professional in the multidisciplinary team uses their specialized knowledge and skills to understand the student's areas of strength and needs. In addition, vocational skills assessment may be administered for students older than 16 years old to plan their transition to a college or work.
In order to understand the student's skills correctly, a multidisciplinary team examines the student's behavior patterns at school and home, the student's social, language, communication skills, and the student's learning environment. After careful exmination, they may conclude that the student does not have a disability. If such is the case, the IEP process is discontinued at that point and the student will receive support in the general education classroom. On the other hand, if the student's disability is identified, the assessment results will be used as a baseline to be compared with future changes.
After the development of IEP, the student will receive the appropriate services listed on IEP. The IEP describes an appropriate education for the student, the extent to which the student participates in the general education curriculum, accommodations and modifications, and other services needed from specialists. If the student is not placed in the general education classroom, alternative assessment methods may be also described in IEP.
Occasionally, there are some changes to the IEP; however, the IEP does not have to be renewed unless the changes are significant. If the changes are minor, the IEP will be continued without additional meetings. Nonetheless, if there is any change to the student's placement, academic goals (only if they are major), or receiving services, a written notice must be sent to parents. For example, if the student needs to move from the general education classroom to the special education classroom against what is written in the IEP, another IEP meeting must be held to discuss changes.