When I started teaching, learning about an Individual Education Plan [IEP] for students was not part of my teacher training and so I had to learn about IEPs on the job, so to speak. Nowadays, this is not the case. Students in teacher training programmes are made aware of what an IEP is and its impact on their teaching.
What is an IEP?
Any student in any publically funded school in Ontario can have an IEP. Whenever a teacher modifies how curriculum is delivered in any way to help a student engage successfully with the course material, then the teacher can create an IEP for that student. If the teacher does this, then what is created is an informal IEP – one that is not supported by psychometric testing and which is supported by classroom observation.
If a student experiences on-going difficulty engaging with curriculum, then that student can be referred for board-administered psycho-educational testing. These tests are administered with parental approval. Once the testing is completed, then a report summarizing the results of all the testing and making recommendations regarding modifications to programme delivery for the student is created. The results of the report are shared with the parents. If the parent agrees, then the student will have a formal IEP created – one supported by various psycho-educational tests. Alternatively, some parents choose to make use of the services of outside psycho-educational testing facilities. They can then choose to share that report with the school with the intention of their son or daughter having a formal IEP created for them.
Whether it is informal or formal, a copy of the IEP will be placed in the student’s Ontario Student Record file [OSR] which will follow the student throughout their educational experiences from elementary to secondary school.
An IEP is an important document. Teachers must know what is in the IEP and must make the appropriate accommodations for individual students based upon this plan. Once an IEP is created for a student, then that document will continue to affect how the student engages with curriculum. Any IEP can be deactivated only if the parents of the student make such a request in writing.
What Does Having an IEP Mean?
When I was a student, IEPs did not exist. If they had, I would have been identified as Gifted-Learning Disabled. It was thanks to my mother’s help that I developed my own strategies to help me deal with my learning issues.
Nowadays, students develop strategies to support their learning with the continued help of their teachers as well as their parents. The teacher can modify how material is taught. As well, the teacher can modify how course material is assessed so that students can demonstrate their understanding of the material taught. Having an IEP should be seen as a support for students. It is intended to be helpful and not a liability or a label. That being acknowledged, students and parents need to know that having an IEP does not excuse students from completing the course work set out by their teachers. When I met with grade nine students at the secondary school at which I was Head of Special Education, I reminded them that their IEP gave them rights. However, they still had the responsibility to complete the work expected and to ask for help if they needed it.
An Individual Education is one way in which student learning can be supported
so that they can successfully engage with the course curricula. The IEP is a flexible document which can be adjusted to reflect the current learning needs of the student.
The IEP Timeline
Individual Education Plans are intended to support student learning. They need to be reviewed and adjusted to meet the learning needs of students as the students mature. It is the responsibility of teachers, resource staff, parents and students to work to ensure that the IEP is up to date and reflects the student’s current learning needs.
Schools are expected to send home updated copies of student IEPs at the beginning of each school year. They must work diligently to meet this expectation as quickly as possible at the beginning of the school year. Parents then have the opportunity to contact the Special Education resource teachers in their child’s school in order to provide their own input into the IEP which can then be adjusted. Parents can also contact the Special Education staff throughout the school year in order to arrange to meet to discuss their child’s IEP and any educational concerns.
Over the course of a school year, the IEP will be reviewed by teaching resource staff in order to ensure that it provides the most up-to-date information for teachers. In the school at which I was Head of Special Education, IEP’s were reviewed and adjusted at each midterm and end of semester reporting period with input from teachers.
In late May and in June, parents are contacted in order to have the opportunity to meet with the Special Education staff to review the IEP. Some parents choose to attend this Annual Review Meeting and some do not.
Transition IPRC Meetings
Perhaps the most important time to meet with Special Education resource staff is when a child who is identified has having exceptional learning needs is transitioning from elementary to secondary school. These meetings generally take place in February or March when grade eight students are completing grade nine course selection sheets.
These meetings are arranged during a school day and so the timing is not always convenient for parents. However, if it is at all possible, one or both parents should come to this meeting. At that time, they will have a chance to hear what the elementary school staff brings to the discussion about their child. They will also have an opportunity to learn more about the secondary school which their child will attend and the supports which can be provided there. Parents can speak about their child to the secondary school staff and provide information which might not appear in the child’s IEP.
How an Educational Consultant Can Help
At all points in this on-going process, parents can bring an educational consultant with them to any meeting. This can be very helpful since parents can feel overwhelmed by the amount of information which is presented to them in a very short period of time. The consultant might ask questions for clarification. As well, the consultant can be an objective listener who can then help parents develop their own plans to ensure that their child will have the best opportunity to be successful in school.
What Happens When a Student Graduates from Secondary School
There was a point in time when post-secondary institutions might or might not provide learning supports for students entering programmes who had an IEP. At one time, this was not an expectation which those institutions had to meet.
Now, they must honour the IEP and instructors and professors are expected to provide suitable accommodations for students. Having an IEP does not have any impact on whether a student who has one and who is applying for any post-secondary programme will be admitted to that programme. What forms the basis for admission is that the student meets all the expected entrance requirements for the programme in which they wish to enroll.
Once a student with an IEP accepts admission to a post-secondary programme, then that student should take the most recent copy of their IEP and copies of any reports to support that IEP to the Student Liaison Office of the institution.
And it should be noted, that finding these offices is not always easy. It depends on the institution.
When I was Head of Special Education, I worked with each graduating student to ensure that the IEP would support their learning experience in post-secondary school. As well, I provided them with copies of any reports which were extant in their OSR file.
There is a caveat regarding board-generated testing reports. Students are often tested by board personnel and then formally identified as having specific learning needs when they are in elementary school. Once a student has been formally identified, they are not re-tested at the board level. School boards do not have sufficient personnel to complete all the testing required for new requests for testing. As well, each school has only a specific number of requests for testing which they can present in a school year.
However, if the testing for a student entering post-secondary school is more than three years old, the post-secondary institution may decide to provide support for a limited time and not over the length of time needed to complete the programme. Post-secondary schools can refer students for updated testing. However, this takes time and, again, the resources for this to be completed are not un-limited. Therefore, some parents will chose to pay to have their child re-tested by an outside psychometric testing facility so that the student will have a current report to bring with them when they look for support at the post-secondary institution.
Then it is the responsibility of the student to seek out the accommodations which they might need. While parents might want to manage this process for their child, once a student is over 18, any information regarding student progress or possible adjustments to programme assessments cannot, by law, be shared with the parent unless the parent provides written permission from the student involved.