How We Use the IEP To Plan Differentiation

By  Char Shryock, Dir. of Curriculum Bay Village Schools and Marty Patton, Asst. Supt. for Special Services, Bay Village Schools

Wouldn’t it be great if you could start off your school year with a set of documents that helped you understand the strengths and areas of focus for each of your students? If you are a content specialist (general education teacher), the Individual Education Plans for some of the students in your classroom are those documents, and a starting point for planning how to best differentiate instruction for all of your students.  The IEP starts with present levels of performance.  The parents and special education providers use this section of the IEP to capture areas of strength, and describe how the student’s disability impacts learning in a general education classroom.  As the general education teacher, this section can be the starting point for identifying what the student can do rather than focusing on what they can’t do.  This is an important mindset for beginning to plan for differentiation, by beginning where students are.  

Once you know where students are starting from, you can begin to map a learning path forward.  There are two tools that we have found helpful in differentiating content.  The first is the Ohio’s Learning Standards Extended.  You can find them here.   Organized by grade bands, the extended standards are a good place to look at a student’s current level of mastery, along a continuum of learning.  The second tool that is a good guide for differentiating by level of content mastery are the Performance Level Descriptors developed to support Ohio’s State Tests.  This rubric like tool helps to describe what a student looks like/sounds like when they are mastering standards based content.  Available for grades 3-11 in ELA, math, science and social studies, the PLDs, used along with the Extended Standards and the present levels of performance on the IEP, can give you a good idea of entry points and next steps for learning.  

Another document that can provide a general education teacher with a clear data picture of a student with a disability is the Education Team Report or ETR.  Many specialists contribute data to the ETR including speech therapists, occupational therapists, the school psychologists, external providers, teachers and parents.  The ETR is the basis for the IEP and clearly identifies areas of strengths and areas for support in the student’s learning.  The goals section of the IEP captures these areas of support and sets specific learning targets.  As the general education teacher, reviewing these goals can help you to plan extra scoops of content, opportunities for front loading or pre-teaching concepts or strategies for providing accommodations to enable the students to access your curriculum.   There are four broad categories of differentiating instruction. The IEP goals can help with instructional planning around content, process of learning, student products to demonstrate learning, or the learning environment.  The goals are also the starting point for discussions with special education providers who may be co-teaching with you or supporting students who are in your classroom.  View these educators as partners in your instructional planning, using their expertise in differentiation and planning accommodations to compliment your content knowledge!  There are a number of resources to help with instructional planning in a differentiated classroom.  Here are some of our favorites:

  • Reading Rockets – nice article on the 4 categories of differentiation.  This site also has a lot of resources for at-risk readers.
  • Universal Design For Learning – CAST.org website.  Find a variety of free tools on this sit to help with differentiating content, process and product. One of my favorite tools on this site is the book builder.
  • Coherence Map – achievethecore.org  For k-8 math teachers, this interactive tool lets you map standards within and across grade levels and links to lessons and math tasks.
  • Readworks.org  A wide range of lexiled text passages, comprehension materials, novel units and more.  Remember, that all students should be working with high quality, complex texts in any classroom.