Individualized education programs and special education programming for students with disabilities in urban schools.

Author:Yell, Mitchell L.


This Article examines the individualized education program (IEP) requirement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and presents a method for improving the education of students with disabilities in urban settings by appropriately developing IEPs. Part I considers the unique problems facing special education in urban school districts. Part II presents an overview of the IDEA and its requirement that school districts provide students with a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Part III examines the components of an IEP and the process for developing students' IEPs--the key vehicle for providing a FAPE. Part IV outlines a process for developing educationally meaningful and legally sound IEPs for students with disabilities. Finally, Part V discusses the important issues in professional development for ensuring that urban school district personnel understand their responsibilities in crafting IEPs.

TABLE OF CONTENTS Introduction I. Special Education in Urban Settings II. The IDEA and FAPE III. Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) A. IEP Requirements 1. Parental Involvement 2. Participants in IEP Development 3. IEP Content a. Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance b. Measurable Annual Goals c. Special Education Services, Related Services, and Supplementary Aids and Services d. Extent to Which a Student Will Not Participate in General Education e. State- and District-Wide Assessments f. Behavior Interventions g. Transition Plans B. Implementing and Revising IEPs IV. Placement and Students with Disabilities V. Developing Educational, Meaningful, and Legally Sound IEPs A. Question One: What Are the Student's Unique Educational Needs that Must Be Considered in Developing the Student's Instructional Program? B. Question Two: What Measurable Goals Will Enable the Student to Achieve Meaningful Educational Benefit? C. Question Three: What Services Will Be Provided to the Student to Address Each of His or Her Needs? D. Question Four: How Will the Team Monitor the Student's Progress to Determine if the Instructional Program is Effective? E. Professional Development Activities 1. Provide Professional Development Activities Based on Evidence-Based Procedures 2. Ensure that Principals and Assistant Principals Understand Their Roles and Responsibilities Under the IDEA 3. Ensure that Administrators, Teachers, and Parents Understand the Importance of Parental Involvement in the Special Education Process and Use Methods to Ensure that Meaningful School- Home Collaboration Occurs in the IEP Process 4. Ensure that General Education and Special Education Teachers Understand Their Responsibilities Under the IDEA Conclusion INTRODUCTION

Individualized education programs (IEPs) are at the heart of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the purpose of which is to make a free appropriate public education (FAPE) available to every student in special education. (1) An IEP is: (a) the written document that records the essential components of an eligible student's special education program, and (b) a collaborative process between a child's parents and school personnel to design this program. (2) During the IEP planning process, the student's needs, annual goals, special education and related services, evaluation and measurement criteria, and his or her educational placement are determined and implemented. (3)

The purpose of this Article is to examine the IEP requirement of the IDEA and to present a method for improving the education of students with disabilities in urban settings by developing IEPs that are educationally appropriate and legally sound. Part I considers some of the unique problems faced by special educators in urban settings. Part II presents an overview of the legal requirements of the IDEA and the mandate that schools provide a FAPE for eligible students with disabilities. Part III examines the different components of an IEP and the process for developing students' IEPs--the key vehicle for providing a FAPE. Part IV outlines a process for developing educationally meaningful and legally sound IEPs for students with disabilities. Part V discusses the important issues in professional development for ensuring that urban school district personnel understand their responsibilities in crafting IEPs.


    It has been asserted that the dismal outcomes among students who attend urban schools are among the most serious social problems facing education leaders today. (4) These poor student outcomes include high rates of poverty, absenteeism, and dropouts. (5) In addition, teachers in urban schools often: (a) feel overwhelmed by the substantial problems their students face, (b) have fewer resources available to them, and (c) face a greater number of students with discipline problems in their classrooms. (6) Moreover, teacher turnover rates are disproportionally high in urban schools, and the teachers are often uncertified and inexperienced. (7) These statistics indicate that teachers and students in urban schools face problems and challenges greater than those faced by their counterparts in suburban schools, or face them on a much more serious level. (8)

    Students with disabilities in urban schools and their teachers face similar challenges as well as additional problems that may be aggravated in the special education context. Four such problems are: (a) inadequate preparation of special education teachers, (b) lack of early identification and intervention for students with disabilities, (c) fewer methods to monitor and measure student progress, and (d) insufficient parent involvement. (9)

    For example, too often general education teachers in urban schools are not qualified in the subjects they teach, (10) and teachers of students with disabilities are often not certified in the area of disability in which they teach, or are teaching on a provisional or emergency certification. (11) A provisional or emergency certification usually means that teachers do not currently possess the educational credentials that a state requires of general or special education teachers before the state will grant them a license or certification to teach in their area. (12) The practice of waiving certification requirements for both general and special education teachers because of teacher shortages has long been a concern in education. (13) This problem may be due to the acute shortages of special education teachers in urban school districts and the difficulties urban schools have in attracting and keeping highly qualified special education teachers. (14) Whatever the reason, these special education teachers urgently need professional development training in effective educational practices and procedures for students with disabilities. When special education teachers do not have adequate preparation to teach students with learning challenges, they are unlikely to use educational practices and procedures that research has shown to be effective in teaching students with disabilities. (15)

    A second problem in urban school districts is that many children with potential disabilities and learning problems are not identified and provided with appropriate interventions early enough in their school careers for such intervention to make a meaningful difference in their lives. (16) Early intervention services are especially important for students who (a) have identified behavioral and developmental difficulties, (b) live in poverty and are high risk of school failure, and (c) are English Language Learners (ELL), the students who tend to be overrepresented in urban schools. (17) Scholars have asserted that the earlier identification and intervention occurs in the life of a student with disabilities, the greater the likelihood of diverting the student from a trajectory leading to a host of long-term negative outcomes. (18)

    Third, the development of methods and procedures to monitor students' educational progress within and across their years in schools has increased teachers' abilities to measure the effectiveness of their instruction and to make changes when instruction is not effective. (19) Monitoring student performance and making instructional changes when necessary has been shown to lead to greater academic growth. (20) Unfortunately, the use of progress monitoring of this sort has not been widespread in special education settings in urban, suburban, or rural schools. (21)

    Finally, too often the parents of children with disabilities in urban schools are not meaningfully involved in their children's special education programs; thus, a student's parents have little or no voice in the development of the child's IEP. (22) There are clearly barriers to parent participation that may be more prevalent in urban environments (e.g., transportation, single-parent homes, parents working multiple jobs, loss of pay when time is taken off from work, language issues); nonetheless, parental participation in the special education process is a critical requirement in the IDEA. (23) The IDEA relies on parental participation and collaboration to ensure the success of the students within the educational programming. (24) Moreover, a student's IEP is the central vehicle for this collaboration. (25)

    Many of the answers to these difficult problems lie in precise and faithful implementation of the principles of the IDEA, and in the collaborative development of a student's IEP. Next, this Article discusses the IDEA'S mandate that school districts deliver a FAPE to all eligible students with disabilities.


    The Education of All Handicapped Children Act was enacted in 1975 to address the educational needs of students with disabilities by providing federal financial assistance to states in order to ensure a FAPE to qualified students with disabilities. (26) Congressional findings indicated that prior to the Act's enactment, the educational needs of...

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