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Arkansas State University

IEPs Are Important Because Special Education Students Are Important

If you are considering earning a Master of Science Degree in Education for Special Education, you have a unique opportunity to positively affect the lives of special needs children. In your work with special needs children, you will play a role in developing Individualized Education Programs (IEP) for special needs students.

The importance of an IEP cannot be understated. IEPs are education plans developed specifically for a special needs child by a team of professionals and family members. IEPs are unique in that they focus on a child’s strengths, include measurable goals— including non-academic goals— and specify the modifications necessary for a child’s learning environment in order to ensure progress in priority areas.

IEP development is a collaborative process

An IEP is developed by a team consisting of special education teachers, general education teachers, school district representatives and a child’s parents. When a child reaches the age of 16, he or she can also participate in the development of the IEP. This opportunity to participate in his or her own IEP development allows a special needs child to take some ownership of his or her education as well as gain experience in goal setting, identifying areas for growth and expressing opinions about learning techniques. IEPs are important in that they bring many different parties to the table. The goals and modifications are clearly detailed, which makes them understandable for everyone involved.

An IEP focuses on measurable goals

The importance of an IEP includes measurable and specific goals. Goals that are vague or too broad are difficult to track. Breaking down goals into smaller components allows more opportunities for a child to reach those goals, which allows the child a sense of accomplishment confidence. When the IEP team sets goals for working with the special needs child, they will focus on SMART goals:


SMART goals explain in detail what a child will do, provide details about how modification or technologies will support the child and agree on a realistic time frame for the child to reach the goals.

An IEP is holistic and strength-based

In part, IEPs are important because of their holistic nature. IEPs are concerned with achieving a clearer understanding of the entire child, including areas of strength. There is sufficient space within an IEP to describe the child in detail, including likes, dislikes, academic interests, family structure and extracurricular activities. Additionally, IEPs are unique in that they do not only focus on academic growth. Social-emotional goals— such as recognizing or regulating emotions, building empathy skills and building positive relationships with peers— are equally as important and often accompany academic goals.

An IEP is a working document

An IEP is not set in stone. Rather, it is a working document that responds to the challenges a child experiences as well as the progress that he or she makes in the learning environment. The IEP team reviews the document on a regular basis and makes changes accommodate progress, or as goals and learning priorities shift. Because an IEP is not a finalized document, it is necessary for teachers, family members and the student to maintain a fluid conversation.

While working with special education children, you have a unique opportunity to affect a child’s quality of life. One of the ways in which you can ensure academic and personal growth in your students is by creating quality IEPs. It is important to create an IEP that is clear, measurable, and strength-based in nature. Such IEPs can provide a roadmap for the most effective learning environment for each child.

Learn about the A-State online MSE Special Education program.


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