The following is a transcription of the podcast, “Standards-Based Individualized Education Program (Audio).”
In this podcast on standards-based IEPs Laura Kaloi, NCLD’s public policy advisor, interviews Dr. Margaret McLaughlin, professor in the Department of Special Education and Associate Director of the Institute for the Study of Youth at the University of Maryland. Dr. McLaughlin’s research includes investigating the impact of education reform on students with disabilities and on special education programs. In this podcast, she explains the basics of standards-based IEPs and how they differ from traditional IEPs.
Laura Kaloi: Welcome, Dr. McLaughlin. Please give our audience a brief description of what a traditional IEP is designed to do.
Dr. McLaughlin: First of all, I have to say that I’m not sure exactly that there is such a thing as a “traditional” IEP. There are many different versions of the IEP, although certain components of the IEP have been there since the original federal legislation was passed in 1975.
The IEP is an extremely important document. It basically represents the contract between the local school district and the parents regarding the services, specialized education and support that will be provided to an individual student with disabilities to help him benefit from his education.
It’s very important to have the individualized part of the IEP. Traditional IEPs have focused, of course, on assessing the student and what his educational needs are as well as the need for related services and other sorts of support that help him benefit from that education. The IEP also designs individualized education goals that define what the student will be taught, what the student is expected to learn (or be able to do) at the end of one year.
So traditionally we have focused on assessments that are often not linked to the general scope and sequence of the curriculum. For example, we might look at specific skills such as “doing basic computations” or “math problem solving,” and we might have skills that speak to the student’s organization skills or the ability to do phonics. Some of these are basic literacy skills or learning skills that all students need.
But in that process, we have traditionally neglected the larger scope and sequence of the general education curriculum, meaning what is it that we want all first graders, third graders, or fifth graders to know and be able to do in areas such as English, Language Arts, Math, Science, and so forth.
The traditional approach to the IEP was to take that very discrete assessment or assessment data and turn them into goals that often were also very discrete and almost “splinter skills.” Not that they were unimportant, but they [only] addressed pieces of the overall curriculum. The assumption was that the student would learn these specific skills to address these goals through specialized education.
So the larger curriculum was often ignored. Standards-based IEPs turn that [way of] thinking on its head in many ways. First, the standards-based IEPs are clearly referenced to grade-level content curriculum and to the grade-level expectations that we have for all students. That alone is an extremely important concept because, instead of starting from a deficit that says, “Let’s see everything this child can’t do,” it sets forth the goal that this is what every student should be able to learn and be able to perform. Based on that, we can determine that an individual student with a disability may need supports in certain areas, or he may need additional remedial, compensatory, and/or very different instruction in certain other areas.
So I think we start with a different perspective in standards-based IEPs. And because we’re dealing with these broader chunks of the curriculum, pieces of knowledge, we have to look at very different assessment techniques and write very different goals. We also have very different assumptions about what a student will be able to do following [a period of] instruction (e.g., one year, or several weeks].