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IDEA and the Current State of IEPs

Published: 2018-06-19 - Updated: 2023-09-14
Author: Elizabeth Barker-Voss - Contact: University of Phoenix
Peer-Reviewed: N/A - Publication Type: Instructive / Helpful
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Synopsis: Examines challenges of K-12 teachers in inclusion classrooms and identify areas of opportunity which would improve classroom experience for students. While inclusion classrooms benefit the community at large, executing an IEP in an inclusion classroom is not without its challenges, as each student's needs and the corresponding IEPs are unique. On the surface, inclusion classrooms appear to be set up for successfully meeting the unique needs of each student, as student needs are clearly outlined in the IEP, along with a roadmap to reaching the overall goals of the IEP. Research suggests otherwise.

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The special education laws in existence today have been in practice since 1977.  Aimed to provide students with special needs an education in an inclusion setting however, the practical application of the current laws has become increasingly problematic for general education teachers.


The purpose of this article is to examine the challenges of K-12 teachers, in inclusion classrooms and identify areas of opportunity, which would improve the classroom experience for the student.

In 1975, the United States Congress enacted the Education for all Handicapped Children Act, which required all children to have access to free and appropriate public education (U.S. Office of Education, 2004). This educational milestone enabled children with disabilities, to be integrated into public schools, within close proximity to their homes. While the original intent of the law was to serve children with cognitive disabilities, it has been instrumental in serving a broad range of disabilities. In 1990, the law was renamed to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (U.S. Office of Education, 2004).

To address the unique learning skills and disabilities of each child, Individualized Education Programs (IEP) are prepared by the corresponding school district. The IEP aims to address cognitive, socio-emotional, behavioral, and emotional needs of the student, within the least restrictive environment. Whenever possible, children with special needs are placed in classrooms with their peers. Formally referred to as mainstreaming, an inclusion philosophy looks beyond the physical placement of children, focusing on integrating students into the larger social, community, and societal systems (Odom, Buysse, & Soukakou, 2011). For purposes of this article, an inclusion classroom is defined as the student receiving the majority of the education services in the general education classroom and being pulled out to receive services that cannot be met in the regular classroom environment. Inclusion classrooms create a community, where children of all needs and abilities learn to grow and work together.

While inclusion classrooms benefit the community at large, executing an IEP in an inclusion classroom is not without its challenges, as each student's needs and the corresponding IEPs are unique. On the surface, inclusion classrooms appear to be set up for successfully meeting the unique needs of each student, as student needs are clearly outlined in the IEP, along with a roadmap to reaching the overall goals of the IEP. Research suggests otherwise.

Two studies by Morgan and Rhode (1983), concluded that Teachers stated that IEP's are "too demanding of their time and that special education teachers receive insufficient support from other school personnel" (Morgan & Rhode, 1983, p. 64). At the time of Morgan and Rhode's research studies (1978 and 1980), IEPs were a new approach to educating students with special needs. One would expect that 50 years after the first IEP was implemented, inclusion classrooms would be highly efficient, well-oiled machines. Sadly, this is not the case, as general education teachers are faced with high student to teacher ratios, increasing numbers of ESL students, and simply not enough time to adequately prepare, teach, and evaluate each special needs student, within the general education classroom. The question here is why, after 50 years of IEPs, are teachers still struggling in this area? The answer lies within the IEP team itself.

The IEP team consists of the general education teacher, special education resource specialist, the school administration and the parent. While the IEP is very specific, with regard to annual goals, measuring these goals is many times difficult, as the number of students placed into inclusion classrooms rises each year. McLeskey, Landers, Williamson, and Hoppey (2010) stated that in1990, 34% of students receiving special education services were in inclusion classrooms. In 2007-2008 however, 95% of students receiving special education services were in inclusion classrooms (National Center for Education Statistics, 2010). In 2014-2015, 34% of students, who received special education services in an inclusion classroom, had learning disabilities (National Center for Education Statistics, 2010). Based on the statistics, it appears that special education students are being warehoused in the general education classroom, leaving the general education teacher to formulate a strategy to address all student learning concerns, in addition to those students who do not fall under IDEA.

While the entire IEP team manages the scope of services for these students, the general education teacher is relied upon for the following items:

According to LeDoux, Graves, and Burt (2012), teachers expressed significant gaps in communication, between the special education resource setting and the general education setting. Despite the existence of an IEP team, general education classroom teachers consistently expressed a disconnect, between the child's needs and the application of the IEP in the classroom setting. LeDoux, Graves, and Burt (2012) reported that general education classroom teachers expressed the need for adequate time for planning, in order to differentiate instruction. As K-12 curriculum is created years in advance, it is puzzling why school districts are not developing standard resources, which mirror the curriculum, throughout the school year. As such resources would benefit the total student demographic by providing alternate methods of learning, these resources support the global learning goals of each school district.

After 50 years of IEPs, it appears that the process and execution of each IEP has a long way to go. The study completed by LeDoux, Graves, and Burt (2012) concluded that "once special needs students gain access to the general education classroom, there are many difficult and frustrating issues for general education teachers on the road to successful inclusion education" (p. 28-29). In an age of rising teacher to student ratios and reduced school funding, the problem is compounded. The common theme that seems to be present in the majority of the research is the lack of time general education teachers have to perform the complex administrative and practical duties, associated with implementing IEPs in the classroom. During the early years of implementing IEPs, this issue was dismissed as a byproduct of the new regulations and processes surrounding them. After 50 years of IEP creation and implementation however, the same issue remains.

This typically results in teachers creating lesson plans during their personal time, which leaves less time for professional development. In order to provide effective and individualized services to students, something has to change. As school district funding does not keep pace with the district's needs, educators must be innovative in their approach.

One strategy would be a mandatory education workshop, specifically for parents of special needs students. Parents are a tremendous resource, but they are not professional educators. Combining the passion that special needs parents possess, with specific direction, would enable general education teachers to tap into a valuable resource. An additional suggestion would be to create specialized committees, staffed by special needs parent volunteers.

Due to the current political climate, a less popular approach would be to analyze the ESL student demographic. Based on the percentage of ESL students, a unique and specialized approach may be required at particular school sites. This would allow general education teachers to standardize processes for non ESL students and create new strategies, specifically targeted to the ESL population as a whole. In states such as California, Arizona and New Mexico, this strategy would be quite impactful. It would also be costly to implement effectively.

Unfortunately, the political issues surrounding this issue pose a tremendous obstacle. It is this author's opinion that states offer sanctuary status to immigrants, without considering the impact upon our schools, or other public services. Before state and local legislators make such commitments, funding for the needs of ESL students should be considered. Instead, it is an afterthought. This is creating a condition, where already underfunded school districts are pushed to their limits. It is the students who suffer, as they are provided incomplete resources. It will take years for the full impact to be understood. A further study is warranted, to determine if ESL students are being adequately serviced by the current IEP process and available personnel.


LeDoux, C., Graves, S. L., & Burt, W. (2012). Meeting the Needs of Special Education Students in Inclusion Classrooms. Journal of the American Academy of Special Education Professionals, 20-34.

McLeskey, J., Landers, E., Williamson, P., & Hoppey, D. (2010). Are we moving toward educating students with disabilities in less restrictive settings? The Journal of Special Education, 20(10), 1-10.

Morgan, D. P., & Rhode, G. (1983). Teachers' attitudes toward IEP's: a two-year follow-up. Exceptional Children, 50(1), 64-67.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2010). Digest of Education Statistics (NCES 2009-013). Washington, DC: Author.

Odom, S. L., Buysse, V., & Soukakou, E. (2011). Inclusion for Young Children with Disabilities: A Quarter Century of Research Perspectives. Journal of Early Intervention, 33(4), 344-356.

U.S. Office of Education (2004). Individuals with Disabilities Improvement Act of 2004, H.R. 1350, Sec 614 (d) (1) (A) (i)). (U.S. Office of Education, 2004).

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