Student-Led IEPs

By identifying their own strengths and weaknesses, special education students develop agency in achieving their goals.

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What if special education students could take on leadership roles in their IEPs through creation and implementation?  What if the adults involved in the IEP guided the student instead of dictate the outcomes and accommodations? If we want to develop each student's capacity to learn and to take greater ownership over their learning, special education students should be actively participating in their IEP.

I believe students at every grade level are capable of having a place in the IEP process. Students work with their teacher to write their Present Levels of Performance, and develop annual goals. Similar to personalized learning, this process could exist on a continuum with involvement increasing through each grade. Student's age, needs, and abilities determine the specific role the student would play.

Of course, the greatest challenge in implementing student-led IEPs is time. There needs to be a significant amount of time allotted for students to become comfortable with the language of IEPs, creating goals, and developing strategies for implementation plans.  Similar to student-led conferences, we would need to work with students in advance to make sure they are fully prepared. Collaboration between all parties involved (parents, special education staff, teacher, student) would be critical.

Again, I see this process as a continuum. Parents who are concerned about student involvement need to be reassured that there are a variety of roles (identifying strengths/weaknesses, setting goals, identifying accommodations/strategies) their child can take during the process. 

Share insights you heard during your empathy work.

After interviewing, I learned that some of the accommodations in my special education student's IEPs were not meaningful to them and did not necessarily benefit their experience in the classroom. Also, they expressed needs that were not present in the IEP.


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At VMMS, we have student led conferences and village meetings. It gives students an opportunity to reflect on their strengths along with areas for growth. We find that it really helps them to take ownership of their actions and their role in their own education. I think using student led IEPs is an interesting method for not only helping the student to learn what their needs might be and how they can be assisted, but as a first step towards self-advocacy.

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