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Steps in the IEP Process

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Apr 30, 2014

The IEP process is meant to be deliberate and equitable, and the individualized program plans that it generates are the means by which the educational concepts outlined in the law are guaranteed to each student and that student's family (Office of Special Education Programs [OSEP], 2000). The formation of an individualized program involves seven steps, beginning with pre-referral and ending with evaluation of a youngster's program. These steps are

  1. Pre-referral
  2. Referral
  3. Identification
  4. Eligibility
  5. Development of the IEP
  6. Implementation of the IEP
  7. Evaluation and reviews

Let's look at these seven steps in more detail to get a better understanding of what each means and how they form the IEP process.

Step 1: Pre-Referral

The IEP process is initiated through a series of pre-referral interventions. The interventions implemented vary depending on the kind of problem the student is exhibiting. The major purposes of this stage of the IEP process are to

  • Document and explain students' difficulties and challenges
  • Test the effectiveness of classroom accommodations and modifications
  • Assess the power of various instructional interventions
  • Monitor students' progress (NASBSE & ILIAD Project, 2002).

Pre-referral activities are employed to screen students before more formal identification procedures are implemented. In general, before any formal referral to special education is made, teachers and family members work together to see whether educational or behavioral difficulties can be resolved in the general education classroom. The assessments used during this step of the IEP process are intervention-based and are made in the student's general education class using direct measures of performance (McNamara & Hollinger, 2003). The point here is to avoid unnecessary assessments and placements in special education, which are costly in time; money, and resources. During this pre-referral period, teachers try different validated teaching approaches to determine whether faulty instruction is the source of the problem (Barnett et al., 2004). They also make basic accommodations to the instructional program and systematically differentiate instruction more intensively. General education teachers receive both assistance and consultation from specialists. Students whose learning remains challenged are referred to special education and the next step of the IEP process. Because IDEA '04 stresses the importance of this step, you will find a section about pre-referral ;n each of the chapters that follow.

Step 2: Referral

If pre-referral interventions are unsuccessful, an individual is referred for special education services. Referrals can come from many different sources. For infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, IDEA '04 stresses the importance of an activity it calls "child find," where those with disabilities are actively sought. In these cases, referrals can come from parents, a social service agency, public health nurses, day care professionals, or a doctor. Young children who are at risk of having disabilities because of improper prenatal care, low birth weight, accident or trauma during infancy, or child abuse are referred for special services. Also, those with visible indications of a disability (e.g., a missing arm or leg, facial differences resulting from Down syndrome) or other signals of significant developmental delay (e.g., an 18-month-old not walking independently or a three-year-old not talking) are usually identified early and receive early intervention services during infancy or their preschool years. Typically, the referral process begins sooner for children with severe disabilities, because their disabilities are obvious at birth or during infancy. As children grow older, other signs often trigger referrals. For example, a toddler who is not walking by age two and a preschooler not talking by age three are both candidates for early referrals. As children get older, reasons for referrals change as well. Students whose academic performance is significantly behind that of their classmates or who continually misbehave and disrupt the learning environment often draw the attention of their teachers.

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