The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the law that governs the education of students with disabilities. Through this law, students with disabilities are entitled to a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) that includes an IEP. The IEP serves as the blueprint for the services and supports necessary to meet the student’s unique needs and guides every facet of her special education program.
IEP teams need to adhere to both procedural and substantive requirements. In 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District required a higher substantive standard for determining whether a student’s IEP is conferring educational benefit: It must be reasonably calculated to enable a student to make progress appropriate in light of her circumstances. The table below summarizes these requirements, taking into consideration both IDEA and the Endrew ruling.
Ensure that the IEP process (the how and when of IEP development) is followed:
Ensure that the IEP contains all of the required information:
Measurable annual goals
Description of special education and related services and supplementary services
Method for measuring and reporting progress
Explanation of the extent the student will not be educated with nondisabled students in the general education setting
Statement of student’s participation in state and district-wide assessments
The date of service initiation, frequency, duration, and location
An IEP that meets procedural requirements could be considered a technically sound IEP. Failure to follow the IEP process or to implement the steps properly results in a procedural error that jeopardizes the student’s FAPE.
Ensure that the quality of the IEP content (the what of IEP development) is sufficient to enable the student to progress:
PLAAFP statements — Based on a thorough evaluation, address each of a student’s needs, and is sufficient to both serve as a baseline and inform the annual goals
Measurable annual goals — Based on the PLAAFP statements, are sufficiently challenging and ambitious to confer meaningful educational benefit
Description of special education and related services and supplementary services — Based on the annual goals and using evidence-based practices as much as possible, are sufficient to help the student make progress toward meeting her academic and/or functional annual goals
Method for measuring and reporting progress — Based on the annual goals, includes a plan for collecting objective data and reporting progress to parents, ensure that changes are made if the student’s progress is not adequate (i.e., data-based decisions)
The quality of these components must meet the Endrew substantive standard. An IEP that does so could be considered an educationally meaningful IEP. Failure to develop a high-quality IEP that meets these standards can jeopardize the student’s FAPE.
In this interview, Mitchell Yell summarizes best practices in IEP development. (time 1:11).
Mitchell Yell, PhD Fred and Francis Lester Palmetto Chair in Teacher Education Professor, Special Education University of South Carolina
In terms of best practice, we have to be doing a relevant assessment of all of a child’s needs, making certain it’s linked to the goals and the services that you provide and then having a method for monitoring progress that’s easy and user-friendly. And especially important is the notion that our present level statements have to serve as a baseline. Because if we are writing measurable goals and monitoring progress, if we don’t know where we started, it’s very difficult to say where we’re going or if we get there. And if you see a child who is not progressing then you can make changes in the child’s instruction and continue to collect data. If we can do that, substantively, we almost have a bulletproof IEP because that’s what the law requires. What the Endrew decision requires is that we always keep our eye on a student’s progress. If we’re actually collecting data on student progress and we can show student progress and make data-based instructional changes, if necessary, that’s what is going to benefit the student.