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IEPs: Making the Assessment—Instruction Connection

Nancy Baldree

The Education Act requires individual education plans (IEPs) for students identified as exceptional through an identification, placement, and review committee (IPRC). Boards may also choose to put an IEP in place for students receiving special education programs and/or services but who have not been identified as exceptional through an IPRC.

IEPs are more than an exercise in paperwork. An IEP is a working document that helps define and reflect the fluid program provided to a special needs student. Ensuring that the program and services outlined in the IEP are based on assessment information is a critical step in developing a sound program for our most vulnerable students.

The Ministry of Education document Individual Education Plan (IEP): Resource Guide 2004 (page 6) defines an IEP as:

  • a written plan describing the special education program and/or services required by a particular student, based on a thorough assessment of the student’s strengths and needs – that is, the strengths and needs that affect the student’s ability to learn and to demonstrate learning
  • a record of the particular accommodations needed to help the student achieve his or her learning expectations
  • a working document that identifies learning expectations that are modified from the expectations for the age-appropriate grade level in a particular subject or course
  • a working document that identifies alternative expectations
  • a record of the specific knowledge and skills to be assessed and evaluated
  • an accountability tool for the student, the student’s parents, and everyone who has responsibilities under the plan for helping the student meet the stated goals and learning expectations.


(The full text of the ministry document is available at

Assessment  information  should  be  driving student IEPs. Assessments may be provided by outside professionals, such as psychologists or speech language  pathologists. Special education teachers  and  classroom  teachers  also  provide valuable  assessment  information.  All  of  these should be used to inform programming for the student with special needs.

The reports of outside professionals will identify, if possible, the underlying cause of the student’s difficulty. It is helpful for teachers to know and understand this information in developing the student’s program and to put in place strategies that address it. If an IEP refers only to the student’s academic needs – for example, if each year it says “reading, writing, and math” – we run the risk of each year’s teacher making a best guess at addressing the student’s needs.

The  teacher  must  determine  how  best  to work with the information the assessment provides. For example, a teacher will not be able to  improve  the  memory  of  a  student  with  a memory deficit, but  she will be  able  to  teach the student strategies to help accommodate the memory deficit.

It is also important to consider the student’s strengths in developing a program. When working with a strong visual learner, for example, the teacher should ensure that learning opportunities include information that is provided visually and not just orally.

As a final note, teachers must take care about how they communicate assessment information. It is appropriate for a teacher to note, document, and inform parents/guardians that a student is having difficulty memorizing multiplication facts. It is not appropriate to inform the parents/guardians that the student has a memory deficit; that should be done by a qualified professional.

The ETFO Special Education Handbook: A Practical Guide for All Teachers assists teachers in developing programs for individual students with special needs. This book includes useful information tables with a plain- language definitions of learning problems and their causes, descriptions of behaviours and other indicators that students with specific needs may demonstrate, and suggested instructional, environmental, and assessment strategies to address and accommodate the identified need.


These pages are excerpts from ETFOs  SpecialEducation Handbook A Practica Guide for AllTeachers. They provide information  and advice on working with students with attention and organizational difficulties.

Area of Need: Organizational Skills

A student with organizational skills needs has difficulty in keeping storage areas, work, and play orderly.


Students with organizational skills needs may:

  • be unable to find their materials, and so may come to class without the materials they need
  • have a desk and personal space area that is messy
  • produce written work that is not organized by topic, or by major points and supporting evidence
  • have difficulty following timelines
  • have difficulty breaking assignments into an orderly sequence of work units
  • miss deadlines for handing in work
  • have notebooks and notes that are disorganized
  • have difficulty bringing order to information to appreciate the main idea or key concepts when learning or communicating information
  • get caught up in details and miss the big picture

Instructional Strategies

  • provide and teach organizational schemes to work with, and provide supervision on their use
  • teach the student to use an agenda book to record assignments
  • provide colour coded notebooks, one for each subject
  • provide written outlines of assignments to organize their work
  • break down projects into a sequence of clearly-defined work units
  • provide graphic organizers and checklists, according to the student’s learning style
  • cue the student to use the organizers and schemes that have been provided
  • reinforce the student for using the organizers and schemes that have been provided
  • fade out the prompting and reinforcement as the student internalizes the schemes and uses them
  • provide a list of all needed equipment for each of the student’s activities
  • attach daily schedules to notebooks
  • utilize technology (e.g., graphic organizer software)

Environmental Strategies

  • provide an organizational scheme for each environment, e.g., backpack, desk at school, desk at home, locker
  • provide an individual work space
  • seat the student close to the teacher to facilitate teacher prompting
  • locate the student’s locker close to the teacher or a classmate who can prompt the student
  • post visual reminders in the classroom
  • supervise weekly “clean-up and organizing” sessions with outcome expectations clearly specified

Assessment Strategies

  • provide individual work space for writing tests and exams
  • highlight key words and phrases on the test
  • provide review outlines in point form
  • provide testing materials and equipment (e.g., pencil, pen, eraser, ruler, paper)
  • prompt the student about time remaining and progress expected when writing tests, e.g., “There are 30 minutes remaining now. You should be starting question 10 now..”


Area of Need: Attention Skills

A student with attention skills needs has difficulty sustaining concentration and focusing on an activity while ignoring distractions. The student can concentrate on tasks that are exciting or interesting,  but may have particular  difficulty concentrating  on uninteresting  activities.


Students with attention skills needs may:

  • have trouble connecting cause/effect
  • wander around the classroom
  • appear to be daydreaming
  • have difficulty taking turns
  • talk off topic
  • often have writing problems
  • become quite frustrated and overly stressed when asked to complete tasks that are difficult for them
  • have attentional processes that vary from day-to-day

Environmental Strategies

  • reduce stimulus (e.g., sit student at front of class)
  • preferential seating and use of a single desk
  • keep student’s space free of unnecessary materials
  • use a study carrel
  • provide more than one acceptable work area

Instructional Strategies

  • chunk or shorten assignments
  • have student repeat instructions
  • give only one or two instructions at a time
  • present directions both orally and in writing, particularly if they involve a sequence
  • map information
  • provide a posted, written, and structured program to student
  • provide direct instruction of organizational skills
  • provide positive reinforcement program
  • vary presentation format and test materials
  • provide access to writing or speech to text software
  • use colour coding or highlight critical information
  • use overhead projector
  • use novelty to help elicit attention
  • use a multimedia approach to learning
  • allow the restless student opportunities to change focus or tasks
  • provide the student with appropriate opportunities to move around the room (e.g., passing out papers, delivering attendance or forms to the office)
  • identify critical bits of information and print these or highlight in bright colours or use coloured paper
  • provide opportunity for rehearsal/repetition/practice
  • present in different sense modalities
  • use cueing strategies to help the student identify when off task
  • engage the student in helping to deliver the lesson
  • utilize a home-school communication book
  • provide opportunity for physical exercise
  • post visible and clear rules and instructions

Assessment Strategies

  • provide opportunities for the student to demonstrate understanding in a variety of ways, such as oral presentation, audio-video taped assignments, bulletin board displays, dramatizations, and demonstrations
  • oral tests
  • fill in the blanks
  • short answer questions
  • make assessment expectations explicit
  • provide periodic breaks
  • provide a quiet location, free from distractions
  • allow additional time when required
  • allow student to write down the main points and to expand on them verbally
  • divide the test into parts and give it to the student one section at a time or over a period of days
  • provide prompts for the purpose of drawing the student’s attention back to the test