Special Education Courses

One of the key components of teaching special-education students is the development of their individualized education programs (IEPs). A child’s IEP focuses on his or her distinctive strengths, outlines individualized annual goals, and recommends any modifications needed in their development. The plans are created by a team of professionals that typically will include regular-education teachers, special-education teachers, the student’s parents, representatives of the school system, a person who can interpret assessment results, and anyone else with detailed knowledge regarding the student. Sometimes the student is involved, where appropriate.

IEPs have federal guidelines that must be followed, in addition to any required by a specific state or school district. Reading, interpreting, and/or contributing to a student’s IEP can be a complicated process. A course such as Advance to IEP Pro (EDNU 9666) can help.

What are the main elements of an IEP for special education?

The U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) makes a public school education free and available to any child in the United States who has a disability. An IEP is required for each student who qualifies. “To create an effective IEP, parents, teachers, other school staff – and often the student – must come together to look closely at the student's unique needs,” the ED writes. “These individuals pool knowledge, experience and commitment to design an educational program that will help the student be involved in, and progress in, the general curriculum. … The IEP process (is) one of the most critical elements to ensure effective teaching, learning, and better results for all children with disabilities.”

The main components of an IEP for special education will include:

  • A clear picture of the student’s current level of achievement: This includes the student’s strengths and challenges as observed by teachers and as measured in assessments, as well as details about how the student’s disability affects his or her educational progress.
  • Realistic and measurable annual goals: These include both academic goals and goals for how the student functions in the educational environment.
  • Short-term objectives and time periods for progress: A description of how and when the student’s progress toward annual goals will be measured over the course of the school year.
  • The suggested programs and modifications: An outline of the special-education and related services that are recommended for the child, as well as any program modifications for the student and for school personnel.
  • Social considerations: A plan for how the child will interact with nondisabled students in regular classrooms and extracurricular activities, and any restrictions on that interaction if appropriate.
  • A projected start date: This date is when services and modifications are expected to start, as well as their duration and frequency.
  • Transition planning: In students 16 and older, the IEP contains plans to help the student be ready for and adjust to life after school.

An example of an IEP for special-education students

The National Association of Special Education Teachers has a sample IEP online for a fictional 14-year-old boy named Julian. Some examples of the assessments and information it contains:

  • Academic/educational achievement and learning characteristics: “Given Julian’s functional level, Julian’s disability affects his involvement and progress in the general education program. Julian models math/goal skills only with teacher support. Julian is able to independently perform Language Arts goals/skills with minimal support.”
  • Social development: “Julian needs to relate appropriately to peers in the classroom. Julian needs to learn how to communicate effectively in social situations. Julian is currently functioning below his chronological age level in regards to feelings about self.”
  • Measurable annual goals and short-term instructional objectives: “Annual goal: Julian will maintain and improve study-skill levels. Short-term objectives: Improve work habits and study skills, organize material including classwork, major assignments, and homework.”
  • Reporting progress to parents: “Textbook tests, quizzes, and standardized tests; review of report-card grades; contact with classroom teachers on an ongoing basis.”

Resources for teachers of special-education students

There are many organizations, associations and web sites that provide information and support to teachers who work with special-education students. Here are a few:

  • Autism Society
  • Council for Exceptional Children
  • Education Week
  • National Association of Special Education Teachers
  • National Center for Learning Disabilities
  • National Center for Special Education Research
  • National Education Association
  • National Organization on Disability
  • Reading Rockets

Continuing education for professionals who contribute to IEPs

EDS offers a course, EDNU 9666: Advance to IEP Pro, meant to help teachers, paraprofessionals, and support personnel understand IEPs from the inside out, including legal issues and instructional strategies. You will learn how to read, understand, and contribute to an IEP, as well as beginning to develop your own personal and professional philosophy about teacher responsibility for all children.