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Special Education

The IEP Improvement Project: Frequently Asked Questions

1. IEP Improvement: Why now?

Since the introduction of the current Massachusetts IEP form in 2000, the Department has received numerous requests from stakeholders to improve both the IEP development process and the form. Additionally, administrators, teachers, families and others have asked MA to support a unified IEP system. The current project responds to these requests.

Today, the advanced state of technology offers a strategic opportunity to support IEP Teams in making individualized service decisions and in implementing IEPs effectively through powerful online tools. In addition, a recent series of studies focusing on special education data and practice by Dr. Thomas Hehir and Associates has led to greater understanding of statewide practices that can promote effective, high-quality services and instruction to support the Commonwealth's goal of closing achievement gaps for students with disabilities. The IEP Improvement Project is intended to support the use of best practices in IEP development and ensure that students with disabilities are able to access and participate in the general curriculum and in all aspects of the life of the school.

2. What are the core components of the IEP Improvement Project?

The primary focus of the project is improving outcomes for students with disabilities, which is aligned with state priorities. Three core strands of this comprehensive project are:

  • improving the IEP development Team process;
  • improving the IEP form; and
  • creating a unified, user-friendly and cost-free online system and tools.

3. What is the role of stakeholder feedback?

Stakeholder feedback is absolutely essential to a successful process and outcome for the IEP Improvement Project.

Input from stakeholders prompted the Department to undertake this project. Initial input from over 550 stakeholders was used to create the first representative models now posted online. Currently the Department continues to solicit additional feedback in order to refine existing ideas and create new ones. To date, we have received approximately 500 additional survey responses and emails regarding the models posted on the website. Feedback is incorporated into the project planning and development when it is received. This extensive outreach will continue throughout the development process.

4. What are some key features of the proposed new IEP system?

  • An optional "one-stop" online IEP system, at no cost to districts
  • Confidentiality ensured through role-based security
  • IEP development streamlined through individualized menus and customized pathways
  • Case management flow facilitated through intuitive, comprehensive displays
  • Continuous improvement supported through analytics for classroom teachers and administrators
  • Duplicative data entry reduced or eliminated
  • All educators provided with tools for daily and long-term planning
  • Option to print IEPs and related forms
  • Parent engagement supported
  • Pre-population with student, teacher and course information to reduce, and in some cases eliminate, duplicative data entry
  • Three versions:
    • Early Childhood - ages 3-5
    • Elementary/Middle - ages 5-14
    • Secondary/Transition - ages 14-22

5. What are the role-specific anticipated benefits of the new IEP system?

For General/Special Education Administrators

  • Supply Massachusetts with a no-cost online IEP system
  • Protect student information through role-based security
  • Aid in district/school-wide planning and management through role-based dashboards, analytics and reports
  • Reduce, and in some cases eliminate, duplicative data entry using available student, teacher and course data
  • Reduce paperwork burden and increase teaching/planning time for teachers and case managers
  • Provide all educators with automated tools for daily and long term planning
  • Support parent engagement
  • Soft-release the system rather than pilot - multiple options for voluntary participation

For General Educators, Career/Vocational Technical Educators & Counselors

  • Support an active role for general educators in IEP Team meetings
  • Better leverage the expertise of general educators
  • Clearly identify each educator's IEP-related responsibilities
  • By using available student, teacher and course data, provide each teacher with a matrix of enrolled students' accommodations and modifications by class/period
  • Automate tools to aid in universally designing curricula and effective IEP implementation
  • Provide simple tools for progress monitoring within general education environments
  • Provide a user-friendly tool for progress reporting on IEP goals to families

For Special Educators & Related Service Providers

  • Tailor the IEP development process to age-related needs, using available student data
  • Early childhood - ages 3-5
  • Elementary/Middle - ages 5-14
  • Secondary/Transition - ages 14-22
  • Display and facilitate case management flow
  • Streamline IEP development through individualized menus and customized pathways
  • Print and save IEPs and related forms
  • Automate tools to aid in universally designing curricula and effective IEP implementation
  • Provide simple tools for progress monitoring in multiple environments
  • Provide a user-friendly tool for reporting progress on IEP goals to families
  • Assist continuous improvement through analytics for educators

Students and Families

  • Protect student information through role-based security
  • Support parent engagement
  • Tailor the IEP development process to the student's age-related needs, using student available data
  • Facilitate a whole-student approach to IEP development - developmental, functional, academic and non-academic
  • Include integral sections of the IEP development process that require family and student expertise
  • Customize the IEP development discussion to the specific needs of the student
  • Prioritize student participation and leadership in the IEP development process, especially for students aged 14-22

6. Our district already has an online IEP, created by a third-party vendor. Do we have to adopt the Department's online system instead?

No, school districts will not be required to adopt the Department's online IEP system. Districts may continue to contract with third-party vendors or use in house systems they may have.

All third-party vendors will have the opportunity to align with the Department's new IEP development process and forms. In order to support this alignment, the Department will provide the revised forms, process and relevant guidelines. School districts will continue to be expected to use standard Department forms.

The Department's new online system is being created in response to a clear request from numerous stakeholders in diverse roles - including district administrators - that Massachusetts provide a unified IEP system. It is hoped that this no-cost Commonwealth alternative will be helpful to districts during times of financial austerity.

7. How would the new online system save time for users?

Much student, teacher, and course information will automatically be available in the new system, reducing, and in some cases eliminating the need for duplicative data entry. Tools and reports will be available with the click of a button. Dashboards, intuitive design, and individualized menus will allow fluid movement between overviews and targeted information. At-a-moment's-notice, supports for best practice will be easily accessible. Individualized menus tailored to the needs of each unique student will ensure a focused conversation.

Although the decision-making process at the IEP table is the same, the new online system is intended to free the Team from cumbersome paperwork and duplicative processes, so that they can focus on what is most important - each student.

8. What is the cost of the new online IEP system to districts?

The new online IEP system will be offered at no cost to districts.

9. Will the new IEP development process be familiar to Teams?

Yes. Special Education requirements consistent with state and federal laws have not changed. The new system will be compliant, as are the current forms. The IEP Improvement Project system is building on the current IEP Process Guide, existing Department trainings and guidance, and best practices for implementing state and federal regulations.

Although the content of the IEP development process is the same, some sections will move or will now have new names. For example, stakeholders overwhelmingly requested a rethinking of PLEP A and PLEP B; our current plan proposes combining these two parts of the IEP into a new Access and Participation section. The student's Vision would be addressed at the start of the IEP, as stakeholders have suggested. When finalized, the Department will publish a new IEP Process Guide that aligns with this process. The Guide can and should be used by Teams to facilitate IEP development, regardless of whether the district is using the Commonwealth's online system.

10. Will the new IEP system utilize the new IEP process and form?

Yes. For clarity, and in response to stakeholder feedback, the new IEP system will now guide and memorialize current parts of the IEP Team's discussion. The new IEP system will reflect the new IEP development process and new IEP forms.

11. What is the "life of the school?"

"Life of the school" is every other part of the school experience that lies outside of the MA Curriculum Frameworks but applies to all students - students without and with disabilities. It includes, but is not limited to: social interactions in school and school sponsored events or activities; guidance; after-school sports, activities, and clubs; post-secondary planning; dances; and student government.

12. How would data from the new system be used?

The new IEP system is being designed as a tool for local implementation and local oversight, not for statewide oversight or control. While the new system will maintain a significant amount of data, it is not being designed to be a data collection or compliance tool. It is possible that data from the system might better support districts by - for example - identifying statewide professional development needs or targeting grant funding opportunities. Any possible future statewide use of data from the new IEP system will be extensively discussed with stakeholders prior to any decision-making or implementation.

13. How would the new system securely protect confidential student data?

The new IEP system will meet all Massachusetts security and accessibility compliance requirements. This will ensure that only authorized users have the ability to access relevant student records.

User access will be based upon the role that is designated by each district. For example, a user that is designated as a teacher by their district will be granted access to their students' relevant information based on this role, and building or district-level special education administrators will have access that spans their school or district (respectively). It is anticipated that districts will continue to employ role assignment procedures that ensure staff will be able to access only the information they need in order to fulfill their role responsibilities.

14. Will the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (or any other state department) be able to enter the system to switch IEP case managers, or alter district staff assignments in any way?

No. The new IEP system is being designed as a tool for local implementation and oversight. All staffing decisions will continue to be made by districts.

15. How would the new system prevent the unintentional deletion of IEP information when preparing for, or following up after, an IEP Team meeting?

We have heard significant concern from stakeholders that a new IEP system needs to ensure that IEP Team members cannot unintentionally overwrite or delete IEP information throughout the development process. In response, the new online system will include a "check out" and "check in" function which will prevent multiple users from over-writing each other's work.

It is intended that the new system will allow for more than one authorized user to access a student's IEP related information at one time, but only one person would be able to edit each portion of a particular student's IEP development process at a time.

16. What is the timeline for the roll-out of the new IEP system?

It is anticipated that there will be a soft-release of the new IEP system for a limited number of volunteer districts during the 2015-2016 school year. This early release will be flexible and will target the IEP strand for students aged 5-14. The Department will work with districts that volunteer to participate in the early release to outline the parameters of the soft-adoption and to identify the best local approaches. Full statewide implementation of the IEP development process and optional district adoption of a new online IEP system is anticipated to occur during the 2016-2017 school year for those districts that are ready for this full system.

17. Is the Department considering parent access to the new IEP system?

Yes. The Department is currently researching the feasibility of parent access. Significant security concerns must be addressed in order to protect confidential student information.

18. Will the new online IEP system look like the representative models that are currently posted on the Department's website?

Not necessarily. These models are not final; they were created to give stakeholders a sense of the possible features and functionality that a new online IEP system might offer. The models are intended as tools to spark conversation and feedback about the possible content, logic, and functions of the new online IEP system.

Nothing is set in stone. Everything is undergoing a process of continuous review. The final online versions that will be made available for district use will likely look different.

19. Why does the Department's website only show representative models for IEPs for students aged 5-14?

The Department is currently working with stakeholders on the creation and refinement of the IEP development process for all age groups, (i.e., 3-5; 5-14; 14-22). However, in order to build the new IEP system in a thoughtful, stepwise manner the Department has begun by focusing on this core age group.

The elements of the ages 5-14 IEP development process form the basis of the IEP for students of all ages. Ongoing and future input will help the Department to ensure that the special considerations inherent in the Early Childhood and Secondary Transition processes for the other age groups can be overlaid on the structure of the IEP development processes for ages 5-14, to create an aligned and consistent IEP system for all ages.

20. Why doesn't the Department's website show representative models for things like Measurable Annual Goals, Schedule Modifications, or State/District-Wide Assessment?

Models of these sections of the new IEP system are currently under development and will be posted to Special Education: IEP Form Improvement Project — Updates for your review as soon as they are available.

21. What are a few examples of how the new IEP system supports an improved process?

  • The current IEP form requires users to detail student strengths and disability impacts in narrative form. The new IEP development process would allow the user to select clear, discrete options with a series of clicks from a menu, while still providing the ability to include narrative when desired. With each IEP Team's click, the system will automatically customize subsequent menus in order to employ best practices to guide the Team discussion, including individualizing the IEP development process and ensuring that all state and federally required special considerations are discussed, as appropriate for each student.
  • This process and system would produce an easy-to-access, easy-to-use synthesis of student strengths and needs for educators and families, rather than text scattered throughout the IEP.
  • Stakeholders have overwhelmingly requested that the new IEP system clarify which person is responsible for which service, in what environment. To support the provision of goal-related services by multiple educators and related service providers, it is anticipated the new IEP process would explicitly align the service delivery discussion with specific annual goals. The new system would also provide an easy-to-access view of all services and providers so that users can see the big picture at a glance. Additionally, once complete, the service delivery tab will automatically provide questions and options to help guide the Team's placement discussion.
  • IEP goals will automatically transfer to the progress report tab in a way that allows user-friendly data collection for IEP goals and objectives/benchmarks. This will allow: simple data collection from any educator teaching or providing services to each student with disabilities; creation of automatic charts/graphs for at a glance progress monitoring and progress reporting to parents; and automatic pre-population of progress information for discussion during the next IEP development process.

22. How might the new IEP system include many types of assessments, such as classroom observation, interest inventories, adaptive living assessments, etc.?

Currently, as shown in the posted representative models, the IEP system will include an "Initial/Re-evaluation" tab that will be dedicated to assessment results and the student's evaluation history.

The Department would like stakeholder input to help design the most sensible and helpful way to provide useful at glance assessment information.

23. What disability categories would be used by the new IEP system?

There is no change in the types of disability categories under federal and state law. Disability categories are defined in Massachusetts regulations 603 CMR 28.02 and in federal regulations 34 CFR § 300.8. Disability categories that IEP Teams currently use will remain the same.

24. Why would the new IEP system include the option of both a primary and secondary disability category for each student?

While not every student has more than one disability, stakeholders have told us that for those who do, it is important to record both a primary and a secondary disability.

While a secondary disability is often discussed at the IEP table, feedback shows that the current form can sometimes act as a barrier to capturing student needs; important considerations are sometimes lost. For example, a student with intellectual disabilities who needs curriculum modifications may also have blindness and may require services from the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind. The inclusion of a space in the system to record both the primary and secondary disability categories ensures that this information is easily captured.

25. How can I provide input on the IEP Improvement Project?

There are many opportunities for stakeholder input in the project. Please refer to Special Education: IEP Form Improvement Project — Updates for more information.

Thank you for your interest.



Last Updated: March 10, 2015
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