Individualized Education Programs: A Guide for Families

The issue


Every student in the United States is afforded the right to a free, appropriate, public education (FAPE). However, students with hearing loss do not have full accessibility to the typical general education classroom environment. Hearing loss and its impact on students in the academic environment is quite diverse.  Federal criteria for serving students with hearing loss are vague and each state and/or school district is left to interpret criteria for direct, indirect, or consultative services.

What we know

The Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a plan that is designed to meet the needs of a student with a disability. There must be a documented disability meeting specific criteria. The first step is for either the school or parent(s) to request a meeting to discuss concerns. A meeting is arranged and notice is given to team members in writing, known as prior written notice (PWN). At the initial intake, a student profile is completed and assessments determined. The school has 60 calendar days to complete all assessments. An IEP team consisting of at minimum, parent(s), general education teacher, special education teacher, and administrator/administrative designee will review criteria and determine eligibility based on the assessments administered. If eligible, an IEP is developed. Components of the IEP include:

Demographics:  personal information regarding the student which includes identification of primary and possibly secondary disabilities.

Identified Team Members: lists all team members and their roles.

Present Level of Performance:  including Cognitive, Academic, Physical, Communicative, Social/Emotional, Adaptive, and Ecological factors.

Special Considerations/Factors: mandate IEP teams to determine that the disability is not due to lack of English instruction, emotional disturbances, hearing, and vision.

Annual Goals: what will be accomplished in one year’s time?

Classroom accommodations and modifications: what is required for the student to access education in the least restrictive environment?

State, local, national testing determinations/accommodations: how will the student participate in these assessments? Is an alternate assessment necessary?

Service providers and minutes: who is providing services and for how many minutes?

Least Restrictive Environment: what is the percentage of time spent in a typical class environment?

Extended School Year: does the student demonstrate regression, therefore requiring summer school to maintain skills?

The IEP must be reviewed and revised on an annual basis. Additionally, the team must reconfirm the disability and determine eligibility every three years. Teams may determine that there is already preexisting data that can be reviewed to reconfirm the disability, therefore, determining that further assessment is unnecessary to qualify for continued services. Upon a student’s 16th birthday, a transition plan must be in place that includes post-secondary, employment, and independent living goals.

What we don’t know

We do not know how many students with hearing loss are mislabeled or categorized under another disability area because a teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing was not a part of the evaluation process and/or assessments were conducted by individuals who were not sufficiently versed in understanding hearing loss. Federal criteria for hearing loss is very limited; many states have adopted their own criteria, while others have not. Additionally, IEP teams are not necessarily mandated to include a Teacher of the Deaf or Hard of Hearing on the IEP team, even if hearing loss is a known concern.
Furthermore, we also do not know how many students attend or participate in their own meetings. As the student transitions through school, the more involved they should be with their IEP. IEP teams are required to document attendance at an IEP meeting. IDEA requires students 16 years and older be invited to their IEP but does not mandate their active participation. It is felt that students who are involved with the IEP process and assume the role of facilitating their IEP’s are personally vested and hold accountability in the implementation of their IEP goals and accommodations, therefore, improving independent living, postsecondary and employment outcomes.


It is important to consider the student as a whole and consider all needs. Experts in each confirmed and suspected disability area bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the table and should be a part of the discussion and determination of a plan that is individualized to meet the needs of the student. Parents and the student are an invaluable component to the development and implementation of the plan. The team should include expertise to develop and implement a plan that maximizes the student’s ability to participate and learn in the least restrictive environment, using the modality of communication determined by the student and their family.

Posted on Jan 11, 2016 by
Bambi Lambert
Teacher of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing
Fargo Public Schools
Lamberb {at}

Further reading