(1,000 IEPs) x (4 copies each) = “X” number of reams of paper
How I Destroyed the Rainforest
A Short History of Nearly Everything (aka Writing IEPs)
I am a special education teacher who is constantly looking for ways to improve my craft both in the classroom with students and at my desk with the daunting myriad of forms. There is no doubt that educators everywhere are overwhelmed with the ever growing need to manage and evaluate data. However, in addition to content area data, special educators are also responsible for the development and implementation of individualized student growth plans originally mandated by Congress in 1975 (Public Law 94-142). This broad reaching law guaranteed a free and appropriate public education for students with disabilities. Schools were required to collaborate with parents and create an education plan (Individual Education Plan or IEP) that would closely match that in general education and help students achieve. Before that time, there were a hodgepodge of laws at both the state and federal level that cobbled together often unfair, unequal, or improper educational opportunities.
When I graduated from college in 1978, I remember writing a student’s IEP that was only three pages long. These important plans for student success described whom we were talking about; what they could do; and how we, as educators, would help the student work toward skills that their peers were learning. As special education teachers, we would meticulously handwrite IEPs in ink, using carbon paper to make multiple copies, and being so careful to not make mistakes. We would squeeze as much information as possible into every nook and cranny of each of the three pages.
Twenty years later, there came the next evolution in writing IEPs. Now an IEP was five to eight pages long. IEPs were written on NCR paper, four layers of thick paper glued together on one end. You had to use heavy pressure and force when you wrote an IEP for anyone to be able to read the bottom layer of paper. In some education circles, this was known as “SpEd Carpal Tunnel Syndrome” for the number of special education teachers who thought they were going to be seriously injured by writing a few hundred pages of text about students on NCR forms.
Today’s IEPs are 50 pages long thanks to bureaucratic mandates and tort law decisions. It comes with another 50 pages of reports, assessments, and supporting documents. IEP is considered a federal binding contract between a school district and a parent. We are still writing the same content—telling whom we are talking about; what they can do; and how we, as educators, will help the student learn the next year.
I thought years ago that technology was going to make my life easier when it came to writing IEPs. I begged for early software products that would make IEP writing more seamless and practical. But it hasn’t worked out that way. Some of you may be fortunate enough to work in a school district where your student information system (Skyward or PowerSchool, for example) talks with your IEP system, but dwindling state and local finances are impeding many less affluent districts from updating to the most robust and powerful systems that share data across platforms. So instead, I spend more time than ever looking up data on one system, cross-referencing on another system, and finally writing an IEP on a third system.
Where to Find Help
This is the modern reality of a special education teacher. And this is why I reach out through social media, the internet, and professional organizations to find support. I highly encourage you to join an educational technology group. The International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE) is my go-to place to see what resources and supports are out there. Not only are there state affiliates, such as Illinois Computing Educators, but there are also localized regional groups providing “just in time” professional development. Through ISTE and its affiliates, you find conferences, publications, professional learning networks, and webinars. ISTE hosts an annual conference (this summer in Chicago at McCormick Place.) It is an amazing opportunity to connect with more than 16,000 educators from around the world and to visit a vendor hall with 500 companies showcasing softwares and hardwares. ISTE also has personal learning networks for every need, including special education, inclusive learning network, and digital equity network. You can connect via Twitter or discussion boards to leaders in special education and assistive technology.
In addition, there are many resources on the internet for every special need. Do a search for special educators to follow on Twitter, leaders in special education, assistive technology, or special education professional associations/organizations and you will find multiple references to meet your specific needs. There are simply too many to list here, but please comment below and add your favorites. Start though with the National Association of Special Education Teachers, the Council for Exceptional Children, or Wrightslaw Special Education Law and Advocacy. Use Big Deal Media and GetEdFunding to see what is the newest and latest in trends and grants to help you and your district. You are not alone—there are many educators out there ready to share resources and exchange ideas.
Ginger Long has been a special education teacher and former president of ICE. She currently, she serves as the Pupil Personnel Services Secondary Liaison at Rock Island High School in Rock Island, Illinois and has worked as a Special Education Case Manager for more than 12 years. . She is also part of the GetEdFunding.com team and contributes to the Big Deal Media K-12 Technology and Everyone Can newsletters.
Melissa Charette (Regional Teacher of the Year for the Olympia area) has created an environment unlike any other I’ve seen in a middle school. I walked in early in the morning, after students were already settled into their first period classes. The hallways were quiet and I could hear the sounds of learning and engagement all around me. Washington Middle School is already a pleasant place to be, with bright hallways and student artwork on the walls, but Melissa’s class makes it a truly amazing community.
Each month we publish blogs and several newsletters full of digital learning, funding, professional growth, social media, and STEM resources. Below are items from our blogs and newsletters that educators turned to the most in August.