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What Makes an IEP Effective?

5 min read

Clarke team members and a student’s parent meet to discuss academic and social-emotional goals.

Writing Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) can be a complicated time for everyone involved: they’re vital for students who are deaf or hard of hearing, but there’s never a one-size-fits-all solution. Carrie Brollier, MS, Clarke teacher of the deaf, shares recommendations on writing the most effective and thorough IEPs for students with hearing loss.

Creating effective goals and benchmarks

An important part of creating an effective IEP is ensuring it includes appropriate goals and benchmarks. That means collecting data — and not just a handful of test scores and an audiology report. “You don’t want to give general data,” says Carrie. “Besides [quantitative data], you want to include informal observations, checklists and formal assessments. You need to have a baseline for making any recommendations .”

Accommodation and IEP process checklist

Every child’s needs are different, but certain accommodations are important for virtually all students with hearing loss. Carrie offered some tips and strategies for ensuring students get the accommodations they need and deserve.

Most IEPs already include accommodations such as preferential seating, comprehension checks and visual access to the speaker. Carrie says other accommodations that are often overlooked include:

  • Annual teacher training — even if they’ve taught other students with hearing loss. Each child has different needs.

  • Assurance that the child’s preferred communication mode is honored.

  • Use of closed captions with recorded media, even for children who aren’t yet proficient readers. If captioning isn’t available (for example, a song or podcast), a printed transcript should be available instead.

  • Testing accommodations. Students should be tested in a quiet room. For any auditory component, the school must make accommodations such as having a mic or an option for live voice, such as a teacher repeating directions.

  • The microphone should always travel with the child (e.g., field trips, recess, etc).

  • TODs should have an appropriate space to work with the student. It doesn’t have to be acoustically treated but must be a quiet area for pull-out sessions and not shared with other people.

  • An educational audiologist should be on the team. Their different scope of practice helps with tasks like selecting and managing microphones.

  • Documented protocols in the event of an emergency or drill including who is in charge if the child is out of the classroom. Students with hearing loss are more vulnerable in a real emergency. It won’t be quiet and orderly like a drill and the teacher may not have or remember the microphone.

Teachers of the deaf (TODs) play a critical role in this goal-setting process. They help to keep the student’s strengths and areas of improvement at the forefront of the IEP, as recommendations are made based on assessments and academic performance.

Carrie emphasizes that TODs should carefully review formal assessments by other professionals on the support team. “Other professionals are coming from a different perspective and may not understand how hearing loss impacts some of the child’s behaviors.” A common example: a student’s difficulty paying attention may be an issue that overlaps with hearing loss, or it may be a result of the hearing loss.

In addition, because so many students with hearing loss do well in mainstream classrooms and often lack the stereotypical signifiers of hearing loss, teachers may forget these children have a diagnosed disability. If a child is achieving appropriate milestones and making progress, school staff may assume that nothing needs to be addressed or that certain accommodations or services can be dropped. “But just because they look like they’re doing fine academically doesn’t mean they can’t do better,” Carrie notes.

And when students perform above expectations, it can make non-TOD assessments even trickier to evaluate within the IEP process. “It’s so easy for people to overlook the needs students with hearing loss have,” says Carrie. “Other professionals on the team may not look at them as a child who is deaf or who has a disability and may not think about how hard those students are working.”

Her advice is to always refer to the state standards and curriculum frameworks to see where your student falls and get them to achieve more. “You have to know where their same-age peers are expected to be and then scaffold them to get there,” she adds. “Our students have so much academic potential, but they may not reach it without the support of an IEP.”

It’s Not Just Academics!

Significant social-emotional learning takes place in school settings. Students learn about themselves and how to function in society in part through their social interactions at school. For students with hearing loss, this process is even more vital and must be supported within the IEP—just as academic goals are.

“If you’re just pushing academics, you can get a student with straight As, but if they can’t relate to their peers and connect socially, it can affect their academics, their mental health and eventual employability,” says Carrie. “Their functional, advocacy, social skills and more all play into their whole person.”

For students who are deaf or hard of hearing, self-advocacy is especially important. Schools must make accommodations for a child’s hearing loss, but the world at large is an imperfect listening environment. Fostering their ability to handle challenges themselves is important since there won’t always be someone who can do it for them. “It’s never too early to start self-advocacy,” says Carrie. “For a toddler, it can mean handing you a hearing aid or CI when the battery has died. As the child matures, you keep adding goals to the IEP.”

Children with hearing loss are also more likely to miss out on incidental learning, social nuances and jokes. Goals related to those skills can and should be included in IEPs. “You have to include social skills to make sure they’re not isolated and not getting anxious,” says Carrie. “Social skills include advocacy — it’s not just about handling equipment or asking the teacher to repeat themselves. Students have to be able to self-advocate in social settings, too.”

She notes that ensuring social-emotional goals are included in the IEP can also help keep a student on an IEP if the school is noting that based on academics, fewer supports are needed.

The Student’s Role in the IEP Process

All students should be involved in their IEP. What that looks like varies depending on the child’s age and personality.

For students from preschool up through mid-elementary grade levels, involving them may simply be asking them in age-appropriate ways what is challenging or less challenging in different school settings or activities.

Teachers should also let the child know they’ll be talking with their caregivers and other teachers about what is and isn’t working. “The older they are, the more they’re involved—and in more complex ways. We can ask, ‘What do you want to work on? Which goals are most important to you?’” advises Carrie.

Students can and should attend the meetings; again, how and when varies greatly. Carrie says she isn’t opposed to young children attending—assuming they can do so without interrupting the proceedings. But she generally doesn’t encourage attendance until students are 14—and many don’t stay for the entire meeting until they’re about 16.

“I want them to be a direct participant,” she explains. “Some choose not to attend, but we still have the conversation, and they can help draft what they or I will say.” Some children feel uncomfortable attending, often because they’re intimidated about speaking in front of their teachers. “I try to reassure them we’re all there to help them,” Carrie adds, noting that she practices and scripts ahead of time with her students to make them feel more comfortable and prepared.

Carrie’s final tip for the most effective IEP is to double-check that everything has been written into it before the caregiver signs. “Things can get overlooked, so I always ask to see it before it goes to the family. And I ask the caregiver to show it to me before they sign in case that doesn’t happen,” says Carrie. She notes that once the IEP is signed, it’s a binding document and making any changes after the fact is harder than revising it earlier.

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