An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a document designed to provide a clear focus for instruction that is specific to the unique learning needs of a student who has a disability. This important tool serves as a foundation for special education services. Yet, it has become a source of frustration and conflict for parents and professionals alike.
Paperwork is a common complaint of special educators. I’ve heard over and over again, “If only it weren’t for all this paperwork, then I’d have time to really teach.” In the midst of the day to day challenges of teaching special education, rushing to meet deadlines and writing compliant IEPs come with the territory. In most cases, teachers are doing the best they can with the resources they have. Unfortunately, even the best of teachers struggle to write that perfect IEP.
When I was a special education administrator, a large part of my job was working with district representatives to ensure that teachers wrote compliant IEPs. For districts, missing one small detail could mean the loss of funding. For me a loss of funding could mean an unhappy district and ultimately a loss current or future student placements. Dotting every “I” and crossing every “t,” using just the right word, including that special phrase, writing those goals in that perfect format… these all became, seemingly, more important than how to serve the student’s needs. Even if each detail was present, there was no real assurance that the funding would follow. It was all a game in which we all waited with anticipation to discover which numbers or words won the lottery that year.
I HATED having to call another meeting with the IEP team and trying to explain that there were no changes to the overall content of the IEP, but rather we’d made slight corrections to ensure that the IEP was compliant. “We added the phrase ‘adverse impact’ on page 3 or we changed the order of the goals so that they matched the order in the present levels….. Blah, blah, blah…..” What a terrible use of time and how confusing that must have been for so many parents.
In spite of all of this, I believe that we all want the same thing: to meet the unique needs of each student while creating opportunities that foster growth. The IEP should serve as a tool that brings parents, teachers, and administrators together in order to create alignment and focus for each student’s program. Funding and compliance will always be part of the equation. I just wish it didn’t have to be so complicated.