Considerations for IEP Development

March 14th, 2019, The IRIS Center

Jim Shriner provides information about two of the types of services that must be included in a student’s individualized education program: supplementary aids and services, and program modifications or supports for school personnel. He also shares his thoughts on some further considerations for IEP teams to keep in mind, and some of the ways that IEPs should be used by school personnel (time: 9:35).

Jim Shriner

Jim Shriner, PhD
Associate Professor of Special Education
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Questions asked Jim Shriner in this audio:

  1. According to IDEA, an IEP should include a statement describing the services needed by the student. Further, IDEA identifies four types of services: special education services, related services, supplementary aids and services, and program modifications or supports for school personnel. Most people are familiar with the first two: special education and related services. Can you explain the third, supplementary aids and services?
  2. Now let’s talk about the fourth type: program modifications or supports for school personnel. What are they, and why are they necessary?
  3. Once they’ve documented the services and supports in the student’s IEP, what else should the IEP team consider?
  4. The next step for the IEP team is to determine where these services will be provided, how much time should be devoted to the services, and so on. Can you discuss some of the placement considerations for IEP teams?
  5. What are your thoughts regarding how the IEP should be used by school personnel?

Transcript: Jim Shriner, PhD

Narrator: This interview is brought to you by the IRIS Center, a national center funded by the Office of Special Education Programs.

Jim Shriner provides information about two of the types that must be included in a student’s individualized education program: supplementary aids and services, and program modifications or supports for school personnel. He also shares his thoughts on some further considerations for IEP teams to keep in mind, and some of the ways that IEPs should be used by school personnel.

According to IDEA, an IEP should include a statement describing the services needed by the student. Further, IDEA identifies four types of services: special education services, related services, supplementary aids and services, and program modifications or supports for school personnel. Most people are familiar with the first two: special education and related services. Can you explain the third, supplementary aids and services?

Jim: In many instances, when we talk about supplementary aids and services, we’re talking about accommodations and modifications that are used responsibly, that data say are necessary for the student to have access to the general curriculum and to be able to show what he or she knows and can do on state assessments and things like that. These are necessary for the student to do without the disability impeding that ability to show what he or she can do. It does not provide an unfair advantage. Things are changing sort of dramatically because what used to be an accommodation is now sometimes being considered as a general, universally designed strategy or an embedded technology with the use of things that are available in classroom instruction and in assessment. We talk about things that we do all the time for ourselves with technology: making our screens bigger, the font on the screens more clear, changing contrast, or using text-to-speech. And so some things that used to be accommodations are not listed as accommodations and supplementary aids and services anymore but still ought to be documented on the IEP somewhere so that the student’s IEP team and everyone helping implement the IEP knows what’s being used and helping that student do as best as he or she can.

As students leave school and want accommodations at the post-secondary level, without the accessibility features being documented someplace on their IEP, they may be denied services either in testing or instruction outside of the K­–12 setting because there’s no documentation of it. We can’t assume that everything the student had access to during the K–12 experience is going to be available to them in post-secondary experiences. So it’s a shift in how people have to think about what supplementary aids and services and accommodations are.

Narrator: Now let’s talk about the fourth type: program modifications or supports for school personnel. What are they, and why are they necessary?

Jim: As students have specialized needs, the environment may need to be adapted in some way, shape, or form, and that needs to be documented in the IEP as well. Program modifications and supports for school personnel really focus on something that’s very specific to helping the staff or parents who are working with the student implement the IEP with as much fidelity as possible. It’s not that we want the parents to be responsible, but if they need specialized training on how to do something that the IEP recommends, that’s possible. If teachers or other persons working with the student need specialized training, that’s also possible. And it’s important it’s targeted for the needs of that child and found in the IEP. It’s not the case that school personnel are going to a generic workshop that all teachers might go to, but rather it’s maybe learning from another teacher who’s worked with a student or an administrator to support the instructional delivery, or something like that. As an example, I can tell you that here in Illinois we had a very interesting situation where a child moved into a school district in grade two I think it was, and he had very specific medical and behavioral needs. So that all the staff and the parents, including the nursing staff, could be brought up to speed on how to best serve the student according to the needs in the IEP, a pediatrician was brought in to do a couple of trainings so that everybody was on the same page and consistent resources and help. And everyone involved was doing the same thing to support the student do as best as he could. The benefit of that was everybody knew what was going on and then the pediatrician did not need to return. As that student continued to be a member of that school community, other teachers could then train new teachers how to help the student. And the parents also knew that everyone was going to be up to speed on that student’s certain medical and behavioral needs. So that’s an example where modifications and supports for school personnel could be really important in dealing with a child over time.

Narrator: Once they’ve documented the services and supports in the student’s IEP, what else should the IEP team consider?

Jim: Well, once accommodations and other sorts of supports are documented, data on whether they’re being used and whether they’re being helpful are also important. We want to avoid either over-accommodating a student or under-accommodating a student. And, sometimes there’s a tendency that, once it’s put down on the IEP, there isn’t an effort, as best practice would suggest, to follow through to see if those accommodations are in fact being used, where they’re being used, and if they’re having an impact as intended. There’s an important distinction between providing accommodations that will help the student show what they can and can’t do versus providing accommodations that make it easier on the teacher to deal with the student. And we’re really hoping that the data show what are really needed so that the student is properly accommodated and those are documented on the IEP. In the past, there’s been a tendency that once an IEP has an accommodation on it, it’s never removed. It tends to repeat from year after year after year without data-based consideration about whether that accommodation is helpful and doing what it’s intended to do.

Narrator: The next step for the IEP team is to determine where these services will be provided, how much time should be devoted to the services, and so on. Can you discuss some of the placement considerations for IEP teams?

Jim: To consider the best placement and minutes of service and location of those minutes is very complicated. But I do think that a couple of considerations are really important. The first is the information that is available about the student’s priority needs for that year’s IEP. One of the things that has to be considered is that the general education environment is the default preference of Congress and most states. But in fact a free appropriate public education is the more important construct, I would say, than least restrictive environment and general education placement. The Endrew decision of the Supreme Court makes progress on the IEP something that must be demonstrable wherever the student is instructed. So if progress cannot be best supported and the likelihood of the benefit of that progress being realized in general education settings then a more restrictive setting must be considered. I do think that if the Endrew decision has been a game changer, it’s because “progress” is now mentioned explicitly beyond “benefit.” Benefit had been the standard, and now progress. So where students are placed to best show the progress has got to be a consideration, I believe. I’m not interpreting a court case or anything, but that’s what I would think IEP teams need to consider going forward.

Narrator: What are your thoughts regarding how the IEP should be used by school personnel?

Jim: To the extent the IEP is to be used by all the teachers who serve the student—gen ed teachers, any instructional assistants—everyone needs to be on the same page about the related services, the supplementary aids and services, and the supports for the school personnel. It’s not just a special education documentation issue. Everyone needs to be aware of the accommodations, the supports, the assistance, the environmental changes, so that anyone involved in implementing that IEP is giving a consistent service to the student. I do think that’s an important piece of information that all users of the IEP need to really be users of the IEP and not just attending a meeting and putting their name on the line.

Narrator: Thank you for listening to this episode of the IRIS Center podcast. For more information about the IRIS Center and its resources, visit us at www.iriscenter.com [https://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/].

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