There is a movement afoot – a change in focus, a change in the way many school districts around the country are attempting to prepare all youth for adulthood. Individualized Learning Plans (ILPs) are taking the nation by storm. If you haven’t heard about ILPs yet, you will no doubt hear more about them in the future. To help you get acquainted with this important new trend, here are a few basics about what ILPs are and how they work.
As of this writing, 37 states and the District of Columbia either require or use some form of an Individualized Learning Plan for students, although some states use different names for the ILP. For example, Connecticut has a “Student Success Plan,” Oregon has an “Education Plan and Profile,” and Missouri uses a “Personal Plan of Study.” Some states begin student planning as early as 6th grade, with most starting the process around 8th grade.
So what is an ILP? It’s actually two things. First, it’s a document that tracks the courses a student in middle or high school is taking, and compares that with the student’s expressed goals for employment or postsecondary education. This helps students, families, and teachers make sure that students are on track. It also helps them assess and re-evaluate their career goals as needed. The document can also illustrate the range of skills the student has developed that can help him or her reach post-high school goals.
Second, an ILP is a process that allows a student to identify post-high school goals and better understand how school, and other opportunities such as internships, job shadowing, or volunteering, can help make it possible to reach those goals.
In simpler terms, ILPs are a way for all students (including students with disabilities) to identify career or college goals, match secondary school courses with those courses required to meet post-high school goals, and engage in a process of exploring interests and employment or postsecondary education opportunities that match those interests.
Are ILPs appropriate for youth with disabilities? The answer is “yes.” ILPs are designed to help link a student’s career or education goals to education and enrichment opportunities in high school. They can provide a level of planning, assessment, and coordination that is beyond the intent of an Individualized Education Program (IEP).
Will ILPs and IEPs sometimes overlap? Yes, some of the goals and activities may be similar. However, an ILP should never replace the IEP, which is a required document under federal law (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) that outlines needed services and post-high school goals for qualifying youth with disabilities.
Where did ILPs come from? The recent push for ILPs comes from a desire for all students to leave high school “college and career ready.” It is logical to want students to graduate with the skills and education necessary to make it in the real world. Until the creation of ILPs, however, there was no accepted process to ensure that all students acquired the necessary career readiness skills. Now schools are adopting tools and strategies to help students focus their courses and enrichment opportunities so they can become ready for employment or education beyond high school.
Do families play a role in their student’s ILPs? Absolutely! The problem is that many families have not yet been informed about what an ILP is, if their youth’s school district is using ILPs, and what they can do as parents to assist in the process. Families are encouraged to ask the school guidance counselor or principal if ILPs are used in their district and what the process is called. It is helpful to find out how the plan is structured, where it is housed (as a paper document or online), and when during the day the student is working on it. Ask your youth about his or her ILP and discuss how the goals stated in the ILP were identified. You may be surprised to find that the ILP allows the youth to better understand the link between what they are doing in school now and how that is preparing them for life as an adult later. Working on the ILP together also creates an opportunity for the youth and the family member(s) to have conversations about the youth’s growth into adulthood.
ILPs are not used in every state. In many states where ILPs are in use the kinks may not be worked out yet. Some schools may have ILPs but don’t emphasize their use, while others may be very early in the implementation process. If your state does not currently use ILPs and you would like to see the option explored, contact your state’s Department of Education or your student’s school.
This blog entry is meant to introduce the idea of ILPs to families who may not be familiar with them. Families play a pivotal role in helping youth make a successful transition to adulthood. Individualized Learning Plans appear to be the wave of the future – the way many students will engage in a meaningful and individually tailored process for planning for the next steps after high school. It is important that families know what an ILP is and how they can support the planning process.
For more information, please visit the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth’s ILP resources at http://ncwd-youth.info/ilp and check out these other related resources:
- Using Individualized Learning Plans to Produce College and Career Ready High School Graduates (Policy Brief)
- Promoting Quality Individualized Learning Plans: A “How to Guide” Focused on the High School Years (ILP How-to Guide)
- The Guideposts for Success: A Framework for Families Preparing Youth for Adulthood (InfoBrief)
By Sean Roy, Projects Director for Transition and Workforce Partnerships at PACER in Minneapolis, MN. PACER is a partner in the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth.