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5.5: Self-Directed IEPs

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    Complementing self-determination, self-directed IEP’s (Martin, Marshall, Maxson, & Jerman, 1996) are a powerful way to fully embody the ideal of making the student a causal agent in their life, specifically regarding their education and post-school trajectory. The IDEA specifically lists the participation of the student in IEP meetings “whenever appropriate” (§614(d)(1)(B)(vii)). It is generally accepted that the field of special-education would take the phrase whenever appropriate to be an inconclusive statement, meaning the student should only be excluded in limited circumstances. Further, the regulations of the IDEA state that, “The LEA must invite a child with a disability to attend the child’s IEP Team meeting if a purpose of the meeting will be the consideration of the postsecondary goals for the child and the transition services needed to assist the child in reaching those goals” (34 CFR 300.321(b)). Therefore, according to federal mandates, the child must be asked to be included in the IEP meeting no later than at the first meeting of the IEP that will be in effect when the student turns 16 years of age (14 in Kansas). Unfortunately, the meaningful inclusion of students in the IEP process has been consistently poor (Arndt, Konrad, & Test, 2006; Powers, Turner, Matuszewski, Wilson, & Phillips, 2001; Van Reusen & Bos, 1994). While the student may be present during the meeting, their involvement often only involves asking what they want to be when they grow up and other transition related items. However, research has begun to examine the impact of teaching students to direct their IEP meetings in order to more fully include them in the process (Arndt, Konrad, & Test, 2006). It doesn’t take a great deal of research to come to the conclusion that a student who is involved in the crafting of their IEP will likely buy into the program that is being developed for them, and also understand the services that are to be provided for them and why.

    The Self-directed IEP (Martin, Marshall, Maxson, & Jerman, 1996) is a program developed to help facilitate student involvement in the IEP meeting. The program consists of 11, 45-minute to one-hour lessons, that sequentially guide students through the IEP process with a focus on students leading the meeting. The program includes a teacher manual, student workbook, and two videos that show the process utilizing a fictitious student (Zeke) as an example. Once again this section of the chapter is not intended to be an exhaustive guide as the full materials can be accessed through the following site: education/centers-and-partnerships/zarrow/choicemaker-curriculum/choicemaker-selfdetermination-materials.html.

    The Self-directed IEP model follows a model-lead-test method of teaching where the teacher, or other person (in this case video example), models the behavior, students are lead through practice of the behavior, and finally students are assessed on their ability to perform the behavior. Each lesson follows a set pattern including: (a) review of previously studied material, (b) preview of the current lesson and necessary vocabulary, (c) video that models the current method, (d) mock situation for practice, (e) workbook activity, (f) teacher demonstration, (g) and finally, a chance for the student to demonstrate the learned material (Martin et al., 1996).

    Lesson 1: Begin Meeting

    In the first part of this curriculum, students will learn how to begin the meeting by introducing themselves and stating the purpose of the meeting. This first lesson provides an overview of the purpose of the meeting and what an IEP is. It is also important at this point to discuss an appropriate tone of voice for the meeting and the importance of eye contact.

    Lesson 2: Introduce Everyone

    Next up is teaching students to introduce the members of the IEP meeting. It’s important at this point to describe both who is in attendance, and also the necessary team members and their job duties when conducting an IEP meeting. Necessary team members and their respective roles are outlined in the Figure 9. It is important that the student describe who completes each role in his meeting, and is able to describe their job to others.

    Required Members of the IEP Team

    Individualized education program team.--The term `individualized education program team’ or `IEP Team’ means a group of individuals composed of--

    1. the parents of a child with a disability;
    2. not less than 1 regular education teacher of such child (if the child is, or may be, participating in the regular education environment);
    3. not less than 1 special education teacher, or where appropriate, not less than 1 special education provider of such child;
    4. a representative of the local educational agency who--
      • is qualified to provide, or supervise the provision of, specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities;
      • is knowledgeable about the general education curriculum; and
      • is knowledgeable about the availability of resources of the local educational agency;
    5. an individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results, who may be a member of the team described in clauses (2) through (6);
    6. at the discretion of the parent or the agency, other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, including related services personnel as appropriate; and
    7. whenever appropriate, the child with a disability.

    Lesson 3: Review PLAAFP

    For this step, students will need a copy of their current IEP. Teaching students about goals requires discussing the concept that goals need to be measurable and measured. For example, a goal stating, “I want to be a rapper when I grow up” is not really measurable considering the ambiguity of what constitutes a rapper and the term grown. It could be said that if the kid tries to rap, then he’s a rapper. We have no way of knowing. Martin et al., (1996) suggest having the students write down one or two of their current goals and discussing the actions they would take in order to meet their goals. Additionally, students should take note of whether or not they believe they have completed these goals and how to amend the goal if necessary.

    Lesson 4: Ask for Feedback

    The next lesson has the student respond to feedback from others regarding their goals. The word feedback in this sense more accurately describes the concept of progress monitoring. For example, students should discuss and describe how progress towards their goal is going to be measured and by whom. Finally, students should describe how this information is presented both to the students and their parents.

    Lesson 5: School and Transition Goals

    In addition to annual educational goals, students will also be tasked with developing their transition goals. According to Martin et al., (1996), transition has four main areas: (1) Education, (2) Employment, (3) Personal, and (4) Daily living. Educational transition outcomes include high school classes, trade school, community college, and university. Employment goals would be discussed for both short-term and long-term career aspirations. Personal transition would include things like hobbies, relationships, and overall health. Finally, daily living includes daily living skills, transportation, and living arrangements. When developing goals in these areas, it’s important to choose goals with interests, and limitations in mind. Students would then write down examples of their interests along each of the four categories, and their skills and limitations related to those interests.

    Lesson 6: Ask Questions

    A fundamental component of being a self-determined person is the ability to ask questions to increase understanding. Thus, a key component to the Self-directed IEP program is ensuring that the student is able and empowered to ask questions to help guide the process. Once again, we will want to engage the student in practice sessions that allow the student to practice using a polite and respectful tone of voice. To frame this in a class session, the teacher may give sample statements that may be heard in an IEP meeting such as, “Rick needs to improve his ability to advocate for himself.” In the event the student doesn’t know the meaning of the word advocate they’ll likely become lost in the conversation and their interest may spiral downward until they are sitting passively at the meeting while others discuss their goals.

    Lesson 7: Deal with Differences of Opinion

    This is likely going to be one of the more difficult tasks in the IEP process, and may be one of the key reasons students are not often included in the IEP process. Indeed, it may also be one of the reasons why parents are not truly included to the extent appropriate in the IEP process. Unless the student is empowered, the opinions and directives of the LEA side of the team may go unchallenged. To help with dealing with differences of opinion, the authors suggest using the mnemonic “LUCK.”

    Listen to and restate the other person’s opinion.

    Use a respectful tone of voice.

    Compromise or change your opinion if necessary.

    Know and state the reasons for your opinion (Martin et al., 1996, pp.80).

    The strategy helps students to negotiate and advocate for themselves. Role-playing this strategy in a wide variety of situations can you help the student, not only in the IEP meeting, but also in daily interactions.

    Lesson 8: State the Support You’ll Need

    This section has the student review the goals they have been constructing and determine what they feel are the necessary supports to achieve those goals. As practice, students should look at two of their existing goals and make suggestions for what would help them accomplish them. Students should start with a perfect world scenario, where they have all conceivable resources at their disposal. That shouldn’t be misconstrued to mean that students drift off into La-La-Land and say that someone else should do everything for them. These services should be grounded in reality and with the aim of encouraging student accountability and efficacy.

    Lesson 9: Summarize Goals

    Towards the end of the meeting, students will summarize the goals that have been agreed upon by the team. To aid in this, students should practice summarizing the main points in each of the four transition areas: Education, employment, personal, and independent living. Students will work in pairs to summarize existing goals in preparation for doing so in the meeting. By summarizing the goals, students are able to reiterate and check for of what the team has agreed upon.

    Lesson 10: Close Meeting

    You may have noticed that there are other parts of the meeting that have not been covered here. The emphasis of the student-directed IEP is to help the student take initiative in their education by helping develop the goals and services needed to meet those goals. However, some things that are not discussed within this curriculum include the necessity for extended school year, transportation issues (though this could be discussed within related services), and other issues that arise in IEP meetings. The Self-directed IEP curriculum next has the student practice closing the meeting by reiterating their goals and thanking members for their attendance and input.

    Lesson 11: Work on IEP Goals Throughout the Year

    Finally, students develop a plan for attending to, and working toward their goals throughout the year. Suggestions for this include creating a folder that has their goals listed on it, and also having students selfmonitor progress towards their goal. There really is no point in doing the first 10 steps of the curriculum without a concerted effort to work this final stage throughout the duration of the IEP.


    Meeting the transition needs of students with disabilities, particularly with regard to affecting the post school outcomes, requires that students become self-advocates, and as Wehmeyer et al (2000) states, become the “causal agent” (pp. 440) in their lives. Improving student self-determination has been shown to be a key factor in school and later outcomes for students with disabilities. One component or strategy of helping students become that causal agent is to meaningfully include them in the IEP process. Of course, this implies that schools and school districts are amenable to changing the format of their IEP meetings to allow the stakeholder to be the leader, rather than the district. However, the best interest of the child is in them being as empowered as possible in their education!

    This page titled 5.5: Self-Directed IEPs is shared under a CC BY-ND license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Mickey Losinski (New Prairie Press/Kansas State University Libraries) .

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