A publication of the Association of California School Administrators
A publication of the Association of California School Administrators
Leveraging AI in special education
Developing IEPs with ChatGPT and other AI tools
By Ben Churchill | March | April 2024
Artificial Intelligence provides new and powerful tools for educators to drive innovation in schools. One area where AI, including language models like ChatGPT, can make a significant impact is in the development of Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for students with disabilities.
As the number of students with special needs continues to increase in our schools, and as the intensity of those needs also continues to increase (Schaeffer, 2023), it is clear that special education professionals will benefit from tools to save time and increase efficiency.
An essential yet time-consuming responsibility for special education staff is the development of Individualized Education Programs. Writing effective IEPs is a complex task, requiring a deep understanding of the individual student’s educational and social-emotional context, familiarity with legal requirements and the ability to collaborate with a team. Here’s where AI can be a game-changer: Tools like ChatGPT can enhance the process of drafting IEPs, increasing efficiency and saving valuable time.
Benefits of ChatGPT in IEP development
ChatGPT, developed by OpenAI, is a powerful language model that can assist educators in various aspects of IEP development. By tapping into the capabilities of ChatGPT and other AI tools, educators can streamline and enhance the IEP development process, ensuring the creation of well-crafted individualized plans for students.
1. Efficiency and time savings ChatGPT can expedite the IEP drafting process, providing more time for special education staff to understand the individual needs of students and collaborate with other educational partners. The model can also help ensure consistency and completeness in the documentation of IEPs, reducing the likelihood of overlooking important details.
2. Generating meaningful goals and objectives ChatGPT can assist educators in articulating specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (SMART) goals and objectives for students. By inputting relevant information about a student's current academic and functional levels, educators can receive suggestions that align with the individual needs and abilities of the student.
3. Describing present levels of performance Educators can input data about a student’s current academic and functional abilities, and ask ChatGPT to generate clear and concise descriptions for the present levels of performance section of the IEP. This not only saves time but also ensures that the information is presented in a comprehensive manner.
4. Crafting accommodations and modifications ChatGPT can be a valuable tool in creating accommodations and modifications tailored to support students in the general education setting, providing insights for enhanced inclusivity and accessibility. The model’s vast knowledge base can provide educators with relevant strategies, contributing to more informed decision-making during the IEP development process.
5. Drafting transition plans For students approaching transition points in their education (such as moving from elementary to middle school, or moving from middle school to high school), ChatGPT can aid in outlining goals and activities to support a smooth transition. ChatGPT can also help to draft the written plan for transitioning from school to post-school life as documented in the Individual Transition Plan (ITP) portion of the IEP for older students.
6. Improving clarity and coherence ChatGPT can help refine the language used in the IEP, making it more accessible and understandable for parents, students and other team members. Clear communication is key to ensuring that everyone involved in the student’s education understands the goals and strategies outlined in the IEP.
7. Generating meeting agendas and documentation Educators can use ChatGPT to assist in drafting meeting agendas and other documentation for IEP team meetings. This ensures that all relevant information is covered and recorded, fostering efficient and productive collaboration among team members. The tool can be used as a supplement to special education management systems like SEIS (the Special Education Information System, used by over 1,500 LEAs in California) but should not be viewed as a replacement to SEIS and other similar systems.
Empathy and human expertise
While ChatGPT can provide valuable assistance in IEP development, we can’t forget the human touch; educators should view AI as a tool to augment their capabilities rather than replace them. The final IEP should be a collaborative effort involving educators, parents, specialists and the student, when appropriate. Some things cannot (and should not) be replaced — including human expertise, empathy and a deep understanding of the student’s unique needs and strengths.
Limitations and considerations
Educators are wise to approach the use of AI with a critical mindset, recognizing its limitations and ensuring that the final IEP is a well-informed, personalized document that meets legal requirements and aligns with the specific needs of the student. While ChatGPT and other AI tools offer valuable assistance, educators should be mindful of potential limitations:
1. Lack of personalized context ChatGPT lacks a personalized understanding of individual students, potentially leading to recommendations that do not fully align with their unique circumstances and needs. Teacher experience and expertise is necessary to evaluate AI suggestions.
2. Risk of biases The model may inadvertently introduce biases into the content it generates, emphasizing the need for educators to review and address any biases in the IEP development process.
3. Legal compliance and expertise AI can be a powerful assistant, but it does not replace the legal expertise required for IEP development, emphasizing the necessity of human review by qualified special education professionals. While ChatGPT can assist in generating content, it is crucial to have the appropriate staff review the final IEP to ensure legal compliance.
4. Limited understanding of emotional and social context The model may struggle to grasp the emotional and social nuances unique to a student, potentially impacting the quality of support strategies proposed in the IEP. Again, human understanding is required.
Educators must be responsible and discerning when interpreting and implementing suggestions from ChatGPT and other AI tools, adapting the generated content to suit the specific needs and context of the student.
5. Data privacy concerns Educators should exercise caution regarding data privacy when using AI models like ChatGPT for IEP development, ensuring compliance with privacy regulations. Using student data comes with ethical obligations around privacy and consent, and it will be important to develop reasonable safeguards and transparency in data policies. Educators should consider not including personally identifiable information (like student names) as inputs into language models like ChatGPT. 6. Overreliance on technology There is a risk of overreliance on technology, diminishing the role of human judgment and expertise in the IEP development process. It would be a mistake to lose sight of the incredible talents of our teachers and special education staff. 7. Human responsibility Educators must be responsible and discerning when interpreting and implementing suggestions from ChatGPT and other AI tools, adapting the generated content to suit the specific needs and context of the student. A useful tool for special education AI offers educators new tools in the development of IEPs; when used thoughtfully, ChatGPT and other AI technologies can be a game-changer for teachers, administrators and special education staff. By tapping into what AI can do, special education staff can save valuable time while meeting the needs of students with disabilities. However, it is crucial to view AI as a complement to human expertise, with special education professionals providing the necessary oversight to ensure legal compliance and high ethical standards. Nothing can replace the know-how, care and deep understanding that teachers, special education staff, administrators and parents bring to the table in crafting IEPs. Artificial intelligence can be a useful and powerful tool, but only when combined with the magic touch of caring, smart educators. References Schaeffer, K. (2023). What federal education data shows about students with disabilities in the US. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2023/07/24/what-federal-education-data-shows-about-students-with-disabilities-in-the-us/ Ben Churchill, Ed.D., is the superintendent of Carlsbad Unified School District. AI tools, including ChatGPT and Bard, were used to generate ideas and text for this article.