IEP Changes

by Carolyn Ito

The passage of P.L. 105-17 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997 mandates a number of significant changes in the IEP process. These changes are effective July 1, 1998. However, any IEP written prior to July and in effect for a year will fall into the time period by which these changes must be implemented. What are the important changes?

First, the composition of the IEP Team has been expanded. In addition to the special education teacher, parent, student when appropriate, and administrator, the team must now include at least one general education teacher if the student is participating in the general education environment. A representative of Local Education Agency (LEA) who is knowledgeable about the general curriculum needs to be present.

An individual who can interpret instructional implications of evaluation results is to be a part of the team. This person could be the student's special education teacher, the administrator, a diagnostician, a department chair, or school psychologist who may already be a member of the team. Others who have knowledge or special expertise, including related service providers, may be present at the discretion of the parent or LEA.

Second, in developing the IEP, the team shall consider the child's strengths; parent concerns; evaluation results; strategies and supports to address behavior, including positive behavioral intervention when the child's behavior impedes learning; the language needs of children with Limited English Proficiency; Braille instruction for children who are blind or visually impaired; communication needs of children who are deaf or hard of hearing; and assistive technology needs.

Third, there are IEP content additions. There must be a statement of how the student's disability affects involvement in the general education curriculum. An explanation to the extent, if any, the student will NOT participate with nondisabled students in the general education must be included. The annual goals must now be stated in measurable terms. Simply stating that a student will increase, decrease, or maintain a particular skill will be insufficient. For the annual goal to be measurable, a reference to some standard must be included along with the skill to be mastered. Along with the annual goals and benchmarks, IEPs must now explain how the student's parents will be informed of progress toward these goals. Reporting of progress must occur at least as often as reporting is done to parents of nondisabled students.

Additional IEP content is needed when the special education student is to receive related services or participate in the general education curriculum. The IEP must state what supports will be given to assist the student in advancing toward the annual goals, and when involved in the general curriculum or extra-curricular activities.

Assessment/testing modifications must be specified. Transition services statements must now be included for students age 14 and older. For students ages 14-16, the statements focus on the course of study. At age 16, the transition services focus on interagency responsibilities and linkages. At age 18, the age of majority, students receive the right to make their own education decisions and sign their IEP. When a student is considered incapable of making such decisions, states will develop procedures to appoint a parent or another individual who is capable of making these decisions.

All these IEP changes involve new procedures and may seem overwhelming. How shall we meet the spirit and the letter of the law? As the year progresses various interpretations of the legislation will assist us in putting the law into practice.Watch for communications from the Office of Special Education Programs, the Virginia Department of Education, and your own Director of Special Education. See the "Check-It-Out" column of this newsletter for IEP materials available from our lending library. You may wish to attend one of the T/TAC IEP workshops. Future issues of Link Lines will address the implementation of these changes and contain resources to which you can turn for assistance.