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The Individualized Education Plan (IEP): Strategies for Teachers of Students With Mild Disabilities

While special education teachers are most familiar with disability accommodations, all public school educators will at some point work with students who require an individualized education plan, or IEP. Regardless of the severity of a student’s disability, the IEP can help assess the child’s unique needs and identify what free support services could help ensure their success in school.

As part of Norfolk State University’s online Master of Arts (M.A.) in Special Education with a concentration in General Curriculum K-12 program, educators gain a greater understanding of how to develop, implement and evaluate IEPs so the plans accomplish their intended purpose: helping students stay on track in the classroom, regardless of their background or abilities.

Understanding Individualized Education Plans (IEPs)

For more than three decades, teachers have supported children with disabilities at no cost to families by meeting the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. In addition to mandating training for special education teachers, the 1990 federal law requires schools to provide special education students with a “free appropriate public education,” according to Education Week.

A key tenet of the law is the IEP, which assesses a student for disabilities and then works with a team of educators to recommend accommodations for the student. A child is eligible for an IEP if they fall under one of 12 categories of qualifying disabilities that negatively impact their academic performance.

According to Verywell Health, those categories include intellectual disability, hearing impairment, speech or language impairment, visual impairment, emotional disturbance, orthopedic impairment, autism spectrum disorder, traumatic brain injury, specific learning disability like dyslexia, deaf-blindness, multiple disabilities or any other health impairment affecting strength, energy or alertness. The last category includes asthma, diabetes, sickle cell anemia and attention deficit disorders. In some cases, and depending on their state, students identified as gifted and talented may qualify for an IEP if they need accommodations to meet their learning needs.

IEPs are unique to the public education system for students ages three and up. Students in private schools are not eligible for an IEP, but they may be able to access special education services through a service plan, according to

Tailoring Instructional Strategies for Distinct Needs

All IEPs share a few traits in common. Their creation starts with a referral from a parent, teacher or other school staff who shares a concern about a student’s academic performance or potential disability, IEP attorney Henry J. Young writes. A team of school staff and educators, often including special education teachers, psychologists or speech-language pathologists, will conduct an initial evaluation by gathering more information about the student’s behavior and areas of need.

From there, school staff may review previous academic records, conduct interviews with parents, make classroom observations or ask students to complete standardized tests. Once the IEP team determines a student’s eligibility, they meet with parents to identify specific goals, accommodations and services the student needs to avoid falling behind.

Those accommodations could include sitting closer to the teacher in the classroom, having extra time on assignments, or regularly attending speech therapy sessions. Some students may require small-group instruction in math or language with a special education teacher in another classroom.

Integrating Student Needs Into the Classroom

The IEP team can also find ways to integrate a student’s needs into the teacher’s instructional strategies. According to KidsHealth, if the student works with an occupational therapist on fine motor skills to improve handwriting, the therapist can suggest ways for the teacher to incorporate those skills into handwriting lessons for the entire class as well.

Other potential services include counseling for parents, sessions with a mental health professional, after-school and community recreation programs or school health services to provide students with medication or special feedings.

While the layout and legal requirements of IEPs are similar, the specific recommendations in each plan are different because every student is unique. Parents must consent to every facet of the IEP, which is reviewable at least once a year to assess the student’s progress and adjust services to meet the student’s changing needs.

Learn How to Implement Individualized Education Plans With Norfolk University

Norfolk State’s online M.A. Special Education – General Curriculum K-12 program helps educators understand the crucial role of personalized learning through its core course focused on IEPs, Individualized Education Program Implementation: Alternative Strategies for Teaching Students with Mild Disabilities course.

Upon completing the course, students can use various strategies to teach course material and modify the curriculum to help students with IEPs stay on track with differentiated instruction, multisensory approaches and modified learning strategies.

Learn more about Norfolk State University’s online Master of Arts in Special Education with a concentration in General Curriculum K-12 program.

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