Resource : Special Education in US

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(Age 3~21)

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.

Procedure of Individualized Education Program

1. Pre-referral

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.

2. Referral
If the student does not show adequate progress from the pre-referral interventions, he/she will be referred to special education. Children who are at risk of having disability are low birth weight babies, those who had health problems before birth, and those who had experienced an accident, trauma, or child abuse in childhood. These at-risk children are more likely to be referred to special education than others. In general, the more severe the disability is, the sooner it is identified.
3. Identification

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.

4. Eligibility
Based on the gathered information and assessment results, a multidisciplinary team will decide what kind of special education and other related service are needed for the student. If the student does not have a disability, a general education teacher will be primarily responsible with the student's educational support.
5. Development of IEP
After pre-referral, referral, assessment, identification, and eligibility stages, a multidisciplinary team finally starts to develop the details of IEP. For children whose ages between 0 and 3, Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) will developed in stead of IEP. Moreover, students who are older than 16 years old will need a transition plan for college or work. In this stage, the student's placement (whether in a general education classroom, special education classroom, nonpublic school, or other), appropriate education, and the services needed are discussed by parents and a multidisciplinary team. The assessment results are also used for these decisions. When it is appropriate, the student may also participate in the development of IEP.
6. Implementation of IEP

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.

7. Evaluation and reviews
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) makes all IEPs accountable. In many states, the student's IEP will be reviewed annually. However, since the review of IEP requires many documentations, which burden teachers and school staff, 15 of all states review IEP only once per three years. At the annual IEP meeting, a multidisciplinary team discusses whether the student meets the goals set and whether the student shows academic progress. The student's academic progress will be measured systematically and periodically, and recorded by teachers.