Special Education Group Suggests Three-Year IEP Interval

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The nation's largest special education advocacy group may ask Congress to test a streamlined process for creating individualized education plans for students with disabilities.

The Council for Exceptional Children wants to create a pilot project to evaluate having educators draw up IEPs—educational blueprints for students with disabilities—every three years rather than annually.

Lynda Van Kuren

"It will relieve teachers of a great amount of time they now spend preparing for meetings and doing paperwork," said Lynda Van Kuren, a spokeswoman for the group. "It would allow teachers more time to spend actually teaching students."

Under current law, a team of educators, parents, and specialists must meet each year to design an IEP for a student with disabilities, under requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The plans set educational goals, spell out a student's special needs, and specify how the school plans to meet them.

The proposal for a more simplified planning process was presented last week to about 5,000 special education professionals and others at the group's annual conference, held in New York City. The CEC will consider reactions to the idea before making it part of its lobbying agenda for the pending reauthorization of the IDEA, said Deborah A. Ziegler, the CEC's assistant executive director for public policy.

The most likely recommendation, CEC officials said, would be for Congress to establish a pilot program when it passes a new version of the IDEA. Congress has begun work on the reauthorization and could pass a bill as early as next fall. Officials with the CEC don't have a specific size in mind as yet, but said they would want enough schools involved to permit meaningful analysis.

"We don't feel like we know enough about how this would work, so we want a pilot project," Ms. Ziegler said. "If it works out, then we would want to try and make it part of the IDEA."

The concept elicited praise from some educators and parents. But others were critical, fearing that having such consultations less often would limit the involvement of parents in their children's special education plans.

"We want more parent involvement, not less," said Shirley Igo, the president of the National PTA, based in Chicago. "We understand special education teachers have a lot of paperwork. Our major concern is that parents be continually brought into the process."

David Egnor, a lobbyist for the CEC, said the No. 1 reason teachers leave special education is paperwork.

"We set out thinking, 'Can we make paperwork more meaningful?' " Mr. Egnor said. "Can we improve the IEP process?"

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, was unenthusiastic about the proposal.

"We have serious concerns with regard to the frequency of IEP revisions in this plan," he said.

Meanwhile, David Schnittger, a spokesman for Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said the committee was not yet prepared to react to the plan.

"We are in the listening phase," Mr. Schnittger said. "That's about as much as I can say at this point."

Ms. Van Kuren said criticism of the idea stems from a lack of understanding of the details.

The pilot plan would allow for an IEP meeting to be called at any time if a student is having trouble, not just at the three-year mark, she said.

In any case, parents and the IEP team would still be involved in a yearly meeting, an abbreviated annual review of their plan. If the students were progressing well, then their plans wouldn't be revised until the three-year mark, Ms. Van Kuren said.

Transition Points

The IEP teams would reevaluate whether students still needed to be placed in special education, along with their special needs for testing, at "natural transition points in their education." That means such a review would be done as a student moved from elementary school to middle school, and then again at the beginning of high school, Ms. Ziegler said.

In the IEPs, as proposed by the CEC, annual and three-year goals would be set for students. Short-term objectives, specific goals, and timelines for achieving them, part of IEPs currently, would be eliminated, Mr. Egnor said. "Short-term objectives are artificial objectives," he said.

He said the short-term objectives are an unnecessary part of IEPs because parents are updated frequently about their children's progress through report cards and other methods. Mr. Egnor said annual goals were more meaningful.

"There is a lot of planning and process and dotting your I's and crossing your T's," Ms. Ziegler said. "This would help put the focus on issues."

Mary McInerney, a principal at the Hungerford School, a New York City public school for special education students between the ages of 5 and 21 on Staten Island, said the revisions would help her teachers spend more time on teaching.

"The proposal seems to save in paperwork," said Ms. McInerney in an interview at the CEC conference. "The way things are now it seems like the paperwork will never stop."

Aurora Gugone, a physical therapist for elementary and high schools on Staten Island who also attended the conference, said she had mixed feelings about the plan. She said the three-year review would be good for older students whose needs are well- established. But she said younger students' needs change quickly; they might be better off with annual IEPs.

"It depends on the population," Ms. Gugone said. "For some kids, every year is a bit much, especially for a teacher who has a full caseload."

Vol. 21, Issue 30, Page 6

Published in Print: April 10, 2002, as Special Education Group Suggests Three-Year IEP Interval
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