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Special education

When an IEP Leaves Out the Individual

My first exposure to an Individualized Education Program (IEP for short) occurred my first year teaching when I had a student on an IEP.

Except, it wasn’t.

The IEP dictated that the student, who needed help with reading, was pulled from my Language Arts class, and put into a resource class. That student then was plugged into the district’s reading program, which was much touted because it was research-based.

When I inquired how his goals were determined, I learned that they were taken from a drop-down menu that the district supplied to ensure that all goals were “in compliance” based on an audit that was done the previous year.

I asked the special education teacher why they were using the reading program and not adjusting the grade-level instruction to meet the student’s needs, and he explained that the district program made it really easy to report progress and performance for that student.

I asked more about the program, wondering if maybe I should use it for my whole class, because there were a lot of students who were low but didn’t qualify for an IEP. He said that wouldn’t really be a good idea, because the program is very scripted, and it is pretty boring. Most of the kids didn’t like it that much, and he spent a lot of time keeping them on task with the scripted program.

In what is supposed to be the most individualized education program in our system, a student with specially-designed instruction “tailored” for his special needs, I quickly learned that Special Education is really about enrolling kids in programs and doing work that makes it easier for adults.

I thought, “That’s weird. I wonder why our school does it this way.” How naive I was.

I have since learned that nearly everyone does special education this way. I will freely admit, there are a few people I have met along my way that really did individualize things for students. But, sadly, they are saddled with expectations and programs that the district has invested in and is unwilling to give up.

Here’s a scenario, when a student came into the middle school I taught at, and needed special ed support in reading, they were given two options:

  1. Regular reading class
  2. Resource reading class (using a mandated, usually scripted, program)
  3. Study skills

Every student who needed help in reading got those three choices.

Now, how is that individualized?

Spoiler alert: it’s not!

People often argue that the goals are what make it individualized. But those aren’t individualized when they are chosen from a drop-down menu and aligned (for easy reporting for the adults) to the scripted curriculum.

Now, lest you think that I have all the answers, I don’t, my own daughter has at least 13 goals on her IEP. Thankfully, many of those are specific to her. But, how in the world is she going to keep track of and accomplish 13 different goals! Another spoiler, she’s not!

Our kids deserve better than what we are giving them.

We need to really make our IEPs individualized education programs.