An individual education plan assures that students with special needs receive the educations they deserve. Sometimes the plans outline accommodations that have to be made so that a child can access the curriculum. Sometimes, there are modifications needed. More often than not, at least in my opinion, the instruction outlined in an IEP is simply best practice. It is what all kids deserve. All kids deserve frequent check-ins, models, tasks chunked from time to time, preferential seating, and untimed assessments. Sometimes, students require specialized instruction that takes them out of the classroom. Providing the least restrictive environment possible is always the mission at the outset. It just doesn't always happen that a child's needs can be met in an inclusive setting. Once it is determined that a child has special needs, the plan is developed with a team of educators including special and regular educators as well as the child's parents. Goals are developed so that we can measure the effectiveness of the plan we've developed.
If I'm being honest, sometimes the goals developed limit a child. Sometimes the goals are so specific and the benchmarks so foreign from what the child's peer group typically experiences in the classroom that the child who is on an iep has an experience that is quite different from his or her peers. Sometimes, an overemphasis on procedures in math and easy to measure skills in language arts has students focusing on low-level skills for a disproportionate number of minutes each days. When educators are collecting data on benchmarks related to these basic goals, they're apt to design instruction that is low level too. What is worse, in order to demonstrate proficiency in meeting these goals, students are sometimes deprived the opportunity to participate in the higher level learning experiences enjoyed by their peers. While I completely understand the need for instruction that fills gaps in student learning and provides for the acquisition of basic skills, our students who have IEPs deserve access to the higher-level instruction that their peers have access to.
I don't think there are easy solutions to the problem of devaluing higher level learning experiences in favor of bridging gaps for our most vulnerable students. I don't have it all figured out. I do know the very IEPs that are designed to provide equity and level the playing field sometimes cause students to fall further behind. This is a problem.
The larger problem is how kids end up feeling about themselves. Kids know. They 100% realize when they are being treated differently. They can tell when we don't believe in them and their abilities. I don't know exactly how to fix this problem but the idea of just-in-time remediation versus instruction on the perimeter of the classroom or in a separate setting seems like a good place to start. I just don't buy that kids on with an IEP aren't capable. Instead, I'm often wonder if they just haven't had the same rick learning experiences their peers have had. And, if they have, I wonder if they were ready for those experiences. I want the kids in my room to have top notch, rich learning experiences. I'm wondering how this can happen given the current limitations due to IEPs. At the very least, our students deserve for us to be thinking long and hard about what we can do to solve this problem.