Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Breaking Down the IEP: Statement of Program Modifications

In addition to special education, services and supplementary aids and supports that are provided directly to the child, as discussed in the previous report, the written IEP document also includes those supports that are provided to school personnel. These modifications and supports may be critical to the child's ability to progress in his/her program and to the determination of the child's least restrictive environment, and this factor should not, therefore, be glossed over by the team or in the document.

The IDEA requires the written IEP document to include:

"a statement of the program modifications or supports for school personnel that will be provided for the child (aa) to advance toward attaining the annual goals; (bb) to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum... and to participate in extracurricular and other nonacademic activities; and (cc) to be educated and participate with other children with disabilities and nondisabled children in the activities described in [the IDEA]."
20 U.S.C. section 1414(d)(1)(A)(IV)

Program Modifications

Modifications generally involve changes to the program in terms of what a child is expected to produce or demonstrate within the curriculum. A change in the child's instructional level (i.e. reducing the grade level of what is presented) or a change in the content (i.e. reducing the amount or changing what is presented) can be program modifications. Likewise, if the format or performance criteria for tests and other curriculum-based achievement measures is substantially changed, so that what is being expected / tested is actually different, that would be considered a program modifications.

Modifications can be distinguished from reasonable accommodations. Accommodations can also be important to a child's individualized plan, but do not involve substantial alteration of what is expected in terms of performance and achievement within the curriculum. Accommodations may involve differences in how material is presented, how homework is given, how a test format looks, the setting, timing, etc. Accommodations in a classroom may involve preferential seating, repeated directions and reminders, etc, to assist the child in having an equal opportunity to learn.

Supports for School Personnel

These supports include "services that are provided to the teachers of a child with a disability to help them to more effectively work with the child." Comments to 1999 regulations, at page 12,593. These services could include collaboration and communication with other providers or supports provided within the classroom. "Supports for school personnel could also include special training for the child's teacher... [such training] would normally be targeted directly at assisting the teacher to meet a unique and specific need of the child, and not simply to participate in an inservice training program that is generally available within a public agency." Comments to 1999 regulations at page 12,593.

There is a difference, therefore, in training that is provided to everyone, versus training that is provided to this particular teacher based on this particular child's needs. However, even if the teacher is attending an inservice that is available to others, there may be an argument for having this documented in the IEP. The team needs to remain focused on the unique needs of this child, and if the teacher requires additional inservice training to meet those needs, training he/she would not require if this particular child were not to be placed in his/her classroom, then this is an appropriate part of the IEP document.

Relationship to Child's Goals and Individual Program

Program modifications and supports for personnel that should be included in the written IEP are those that are necessary for the child to make progress towards annual goals and towards general education curriculum. The IEP team needs to consider the child's individual goals, and how those goals will be met. Does the teacher require training, support or assistance to be able to provide the research-based specialized instruction that the team has determined to be appropraite? If so, that may need to be added to the IEP.

Relationship to General Education Curriculum and Least Restrictive Environment

The relationship between program modifications and supports for personnel to a child's access to the general education curriculum is so important that the IDEA specifies that the general education teacher participating in the development of the IEP must be involved in the determination of such modifications and supports, as well as any supplementary aids and services provided to the child. See 34 C.F.R. section 300.324(a).

Modifications to the program may be required in order for the child to be involved in and progress in the general education curriculum, and the necessity of such modifications should not be considered evidence that general education curriculum isn't appropriate. Rather, the IEP team needs to decide, and document, what modifications are appropriate on an individual basis so that the child can access the general education curriculum in a manner that is appropriate to his / her unique needs and learning difficulties while still allowing for progress.

A school district may state that if a child requires program modifications, rather than merely accommodations in the classroom, then it is not appropriate for that child to be in a general education classroom. This position is not consistent with the IDEA's preference for least restrictive environment, or with the statute's requirement that the written IEP document include a statement of program modifications that allow for the child to be involved in the general education curriculum and to be educated and participate with nondisabled peers.

Likewise, the IEP team needs to fully consider, and clearly document, supports for personnel that are required in order for the child to access general education curriculum and to access the Least Restrictive Environment. Maybe the general education teacher needs some in-service training related to the child's disability or to behavioral strategies or communication strategies so that the child can be in the general education classroom; if the training is required specifically to meet your child's individual needs, this in-service should be documented as a support for the personnel. Perhaps the teacher needs additional assistance in the classroom, even if the child does not individually require a 1:1 aide; if so, this support should be documented in the IEP. Even something like consultative time from the child's related services providers may be considered an important support for the teacher and staff. It is important that the general education teacher be an active participant in these discussions, and that the IEP document clearly indicate what supports will be provided.

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