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The individualized education program (IEP) is an important component in the education of students with learning disabilities. However, despite consistent efforts to integrate IEPs in a school curriculum, schools across the U.S. were unable to meet the requirements provided by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB). According to the data presented in the academic literature, the difficulty of facilitating collaboration among the stakeholders, miscommunication between teachers and parents, and a range of organizational differences can be considered chief barriers in the IEP process and are to be addressed in order for school systems to comply with the NCLB law.
An individualized education program (IEP) is a cornerstone of the modern school system. Since the introduction of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHCA), IEPs have remained the primary tool used by schools to facilitate support for students with numerous learning disabilities. Thus, the IEP has been used by teachers, parents, administrators, and education activists to support and promote the idea of accessible education for as wide an audience as possible (Blackwell & Rossetti, 2014).
The IEP process has been refined over the years and currently consists of several distinct phases. During the first phase, an assessment is performed that determines the necessity of using special education services. The assessment process includes important aspects of a child’s activities, such as academic performance, social interactions, and relationships with peers, and often requires the participation of a multidisciplinary team of stakeholders (Blackwell & Rossetti, 2014). It should be understood that the initial phase occurs only after a pre-referral assessment that established the existence of a learning disability and rules out the possibility of flawed instruction as a cause of underperformance. After the necessary evidence is gathered and processed, it is possible to confirm and document the eligibility of a child for an IEP.
The decision is carried out by the IEP committee. During the second phase, an IEP team is formed that includes the child’s parents, teachers, administrators, psychologists, and other relevant specialists. The meetings of an IEP team are expected to result in the formulation of goals, outlining a suitable learning approach, and identification of required resources. Once the IEP is developed, the implementation phase commences, during which the child receives the designed education as well as a range of services expected to address the existing issues. After a designated period of time, an assessment is performed that identifies progress by matching the progress made by the individual with the goals set during the second phase. The failure to meet the goals usually results in a review of the program, whereas the favorable results may lead to the establishment of new goals or a return to a traditional classroom setting.
Connection to NCLB
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is a federal education law intended to improve academic outcomes of students with disabilities through the introduction of requirements for certain aspects of learning, such as assessment, educational standards, accountability, and parental involvement. According to the requirements posed by NCLB, students with learning disabilities should be able to participate in the learning and assessment activities. However, schools are expected to disaggregate the assessment outcomes by separating the results of certain disadvantaged groups of students, including those eligible for the IEPs.
Current Issues in NCLB
However, it is important to understand that despite the seemingly beneficial effect of NCLB on the education of students with learning disabilities, it also contains several controversial points that prevent school systems from complying with the law. The first major issue is the mechanism of quantifying the result. Specifically, the size of the subgroup of IEP-eligible students is regulated by state authorities in an attempt to achieve statistically significant results, as well as a protective measure against a privacy breach of the participants. Since the size of the group varies significantly across states, it is possible for individual schools and school districts to opt out from the assessment of the achievement gap by keeping the size of the group below the designated minimum (Reback, Rockoff, & Schwartz, 2014). In addition, the size of the identified group may be larger than that of other subgroups identified by the law, such as economically disadvantaged individuals and those with limited English proficiency. Finally, the assessment requires the results to be obtained from at least 95% of students, which opens up the possibility of data manipulation for subgroups of sufficiently small size.
A growing body of evidence also suggests that NCLB has a negative effect on various aspects of the academic process. For instance, a study by Elpus (2014) analyzed the effect of NCLB on the nationwide enrollment in high school music courses. The results have indicated no significant difference within the period between 1982 and 2009, with a steady proportion of students enrolling in t least one course. However, the study analysis also revealed that certain disadvantaged groups, including the students eligible for IEPs, became less represented in the identified period (Elpus, 2014). While the study did not provide a compelling explanation for the effect, it did point to the existence of shortcomings in NCLB.
It should also be mentioned that some elements of the law do not lead to the intended improvement. For instance, schools that fail to comply with adequate yearly progress (AYP) criteria are expected to permit student transfers to a school with better results after two years of underperformance and offer free tutoring after three years, respectively. However, neither of the practices was used in accordance with the instructions, and some schools reported difficulties controlling the quality of tutoring services (Davidson, Reback, Rockoff, & Schwartz, 2015). Finally, it was pointed out that compliance with the law was disrupted by inadequate funding. It has been estimated that the annual budget for NCLB reached only half of the intended amount, thus severely limiting the feasibility of the process.
IEP Development and Implementation Process Issues
Despite a relatively straightforward procedure, standards-based IEPs are still lacking in the educational domain. According to Caruana (2015), the standards-based IEPs remain in the initial stage of implementation in the majority of states, with some failing to demonstrate significant progress in the area altogether. One of the barriers to successful IEP implementation is the inability of special educators to develop IEP goals compliant with Common Core State Standards (Caruana, 2015). In other words, the scarcity of relevant competencies and experience prevents educators from providing the impacted students with access to the general curriculum.
It has also been suggested that the meeting of stakeholders required for the development of an appropriate IEP constitutes a major barrier for realizing its full potential. According to Cheatham, Hart, Malian, and McDonald (2012), both educators and parents are prone to a variety of faulty decisions that undermine the integrity and validity of the final product. Several flawed practices have been identified by the researchers, including the disregard towards individualization, insufficient time allocation, and inappropriate responsibility distribution among the stakeholders.
The net issue that complicates the IEP implementation is the complexity of some of its components, such as an extended school year (ESY). While ESY does provide feasible benefits for teachers who work with children with learning disabilities, it presents a major challenge in terms of practical and legal considerations. Burke and Decker (2017) provide an exhaustive checklist for educators dealing with ESY eligibility of their students. Nevertheless, it should be acknowledged that the criteria for ESY eligibility vary across states and districts, and federal authorities do not offer accessible guidance on the issue.
Another issue that complicates the development of a consistent IEP is the mismatch between certain development goals and the existing school schedule. Such a mismatch may occur among children with an autism spectrum disorder, especially those in high school. According to Szidon, Ruppar, and Smith (2015), such students may exhibit high academic performance while at the same time experience significant difficulties in independent living, self-management, and social interactions. The goals that can address the identified issues do not align seamlessly with high school activities and require significant efforts for implementation.
Some scholars also suggest that the low effectiveness of the IEPs can be associated with the lack of appropriate collaboration between stakeholders. According to a mixed-method study by Cavendish and Connor (2017), the most significant challenges to participation in the process include the lack of parent and student involvement. The legal documents detailing the IEP development procedure emphasize the inclusion of students and their parents throughout the course of the program’s implementation. However, the use of specialized terminology and schedule mismatch severely limits the possibility of meaningful partnerships and, by extension, the creation of a consistent, individualized plan.
Similarly to the development process, the delivery of an IEP requires significant resources, with educators being the greatest area of concern. Specifically, the implementation of a typical IEP requires the involvement of a qualified teacher and at least one representative of a support personnel specializing in the area identified as beneficial for the student (Charles & Dickens, 2012). In many cases, such a requirement in itself is a sufficient barrier due to the scarcity of human resources. In addition, difficulties may occur during a collaboration between teaching and assisting staff due to lack of clear understanding of goals. According to Charles and Dickens (2012), the issue can be successfully addressed by using a range of co-teaching models coupled with assistive technology to reduce the time necessary for IEP planning and improve the efficiency of the program. Nevertheless, it is necessary to acknowledge that the proposed approach creates a number of issues that reduce the likelihood of its consistent implementation in schools at a national scale.
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As can be seen from the information above, the development and implementation of IEPs are associated with numerous issues of varying scope and complexity. As a result, an unidentified segment of the educators does not achieve the desired result. While the reasons identified in the paper are diverse, they can be boiled down to a number of key points. First, the IEPs are multifaceted entities that require an equally complex solution that turn out to be challenging for at least some of the responsible parties. Second, poor collaboration and communication between stakeholders create a situation where both children and their parents are unable to contribute to the cause, undermining the program’s feasibility. Finally, IEPs are overwhelming in terms of legal and financial complexity, discouraging the educators’ efforts. Thus, it is necessary to address the aspects of IEPs that are within the stakeholders’ competencies in order to ensure compliance with the federal laws.
Blackwell, W. H., & Rossetti, Z. S. (2014). The development of individualized education programs: Where have we been and where should we go now? Sage Open, 4(2), 1-15.
Burke, M. M., & Decker, J. R. (2017). Extended school year: Legal and practical considerations for educators. Teaching Exceptional Children, 49(5), 339-346.
Caruana, V. (2015). Accessing the common core standards for students with learning disabilities: Strategies for writing standards-based IEP goals. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth, 59(4), 237-243.
Cavendish, W., & Connor, D. (2017). Toward authentic IEPs and transition plans: Student, parent, and teacher perspectives. Learning Disability Quarterly, 41(1), 32-43.
Charles, K. J., & Dickens, V. (2012). Closing the communication gap: Web 2.0 tools for enhanced planning and collaboration. Teaching Exceptional Children, 45(2), 24-32.
Cheatham, G. A., Hart, J. E., Malian, I., & McDonald, J. (2012). Six things to never say or hear during an IEP meeting: Educators as advocates for families. Teaching Exceptional Children, 44(3), 50-57.
Davidson, E., Reback, R., Rockoff, J., & Schwartz, H. L. (2015). Fifty ways to leave a child behind: Idiosyncrasies and discrepancies in states’ implementation of NCLB. Educational Researcher, 44(6), 347-358.
Elpus, K. (2014). Evaluating the effect of No Child Left Behind on US music course enrollments. Journal of Research in Music Education, 62(3), 215-233.
Reback, R., Rockoff, J., & Schwartz, H. L. (2014). Under pressure: Job security, resource allocation, and productivity in schools under No Child Left Behind. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, 6(3), 207-41.
Szidon, K., Ruppar, A., & Smith, L. (2015). Five steps for developing effective transition plans for high school students with autism spectrum disorder. Teaching Exceptional Children, 47(3), 147-152.