What is an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)?

An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) (which falls under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act - IDEA) guarantees that any child attending a public school (pre-k through grade 12) has a specialized educational plan to follow throughout the school year.

Once a child is identified as having a disability that requires learning help (such as a speech impairment, a developmental delay, cognitive delay, an emotional disorder, autism, or other qualifying diagnoses), there will be a request put in to the school district for an IEP on behalf of the child.

In order to qualify for an IEP, the child must have a learning disability.

For children with no cognitive impairments, there is a 504 plan which provides accommodations for the child while at school (also covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act).

While this may seem scary and intimidating to a parent, an IEP is an excellent tool for parents. The school will work with you to create a plan tailored around your child, so that he or she can learn, grow, and thrive in the most supportive environment possible.

The Steps Involved In An IEP:

1) A child is determined as possibly requiring special education and services. A teacher, a therapist, the child's physician, or the parent/guardian may request an IEP evaluation if delays have been noted.

Keep in mind: Parental consent is required to begin an IEP.

2) IEP Evaluation. After the parent consents to an IEP evaluation, the child undergoes evaluation for an IEP in any areas where delays or cognitive impairment have been noted. During this IEP evaluation, the child will be evaluated for the current level of cognitive functioning as well as assessed to determine if the child is eligible for special education services.

Keep in mind: If parents disagree with the results of the evaluation, they may request an Independent Educational Evaluation (known as an IEE) which may be paid for by the school system.

Keep in mind: This IEP evaluation, while it may feel intimidating, is simply a tool used by professionals to ascertain the level at which the child is currently functioning, so that appropriate, achievable goals may be set.

Keep in mind: An IEP evaluation may take a few hours from start to finish. However, during the IEP evaluation, the child will likely not know that he or she is being evaluated. Many of the evaluation tools involve games and playing - such as stacking a box or drawing a person. 

3) Child's eligibility for an IEP is decided. Parents and a group of professionals go over the results of the IEP evaluation to decide if the child meets the criteria for a "child with a disability" as defined by IDEA.

Keep in mind: Parents may request a hearing to challenge the eligibility decision.

4) It is decided that the child qualifies for an IEP. If the results of the IEP evaluation find the child as a "child with a disability," as defined by IDEA, the child is eligible for special education and other services.

Keep in mind: within 30 calendar days, the IEP team must meet and write an IEP for the child.

5) IEP Meeting Scheduled. Within 30 calendar days of the determination that the child meets the criteria, an IEP meeting is scheduled. This occurs at the school level.

Keep in mind: the staff in the school system must do the following:

  • Contact all participants - including the parents of the child - at an early enough date that parents can attend the meeting.
  • Schedule the IEP meeting at an agreeable time/place for parents as well as school system.
  • Inform the parents of the purpose, time, and location of the meeting.
  • Tell the parents who else will be in attendance at the IEP meeting.
  • Inform parents that they may invite others to the meeting who have knowledge or special expertise about the child.

6) IEP Meeting Held and IEP written. The IEP team meets to discuss the needs of the child and write the IEP. Parents (and occasionally the child) are part of this IEP team. If the parents do not agree to the IEP and placement, they may discuss this at the IEP meeting and attempt to work out an agreement. If there remains disagreement, parents may request mediation.

Keep in mind: parental consent to special education and other services must be given the first time before the child can receive special services.

Keep in mind: IEP services will begin as soon as possible following the IEP meeting.

Keep in mind: Parents may file a complaint with their state's education agency and request a due process hearing, during which mediation may be available.

7) IEP Services Begin - after the IEP is set in place, the school ensures that the IEP is implemented as it was written. Parents are given a copy of the IEP, as are teachers and other service providers. Each person knows his or her responsibilities for carrying out the IEP.

Keep in Mind: an IEP is a legal document.

8) Child's progress is measured and reported to the parents. The child's progress toward the IEP goals is measured and parents are regularly notified of their child's progress.

Keep in mind: Throughout the school year, the IEP will be updated to reflect the child's progress, any goals that have been met, or revised, if goals were too demanding.

9) The IEP is Reviewed: At least once a year (or more often), the IEP is reviewed and, if needed, revised. Parents are invited to these IEP review meetings.

Keep in mind: as a parent, you can make suggestions for changes to the IEP, agree or disagree with the goals and/or placement.

Keep in mind: if parents disagree with the IEP and placement, the parents may mention their concerns with the IEP team to work out an agreement. Additional testing, an independent evaluation, or mediation may be requested.

10) Reevaluation of the child. At least every three years (more if conditions change, parents or teachers request a reevaluation), the child with the IEP must be reevaluated, in a session called a "triennial." The purpose of this evaluation is to determine whether or not the child is still considered a "child with a disability" under the IEDA as well as what the continued educational needs may be.

Keep in mind: a parent may request reevaluation at any point in time.

What Are The Contents of an IEP?

By law, an IEP must include certain types of information about the child and the program that has been devised to meet his or her needs. This information includes the following:

Current Performance - an IEP must clearly state how the child is currently doing in school (education performance), information that is gathered from parents, progress in the classroom, teachers and other school personal.

Annual Goals - the IEP must list annual goals that are reasonable, and feasuable goals the child should be able to master over the school year. The IEP goals may be academic, involve behavioral, or social and must be measurable and quantifiable.

Special Education and Related Services - an IEP must list all special education and other services - supplementary needs and services - needed or provided for the child.

Participation With Non-Disabled Children - the IEP must explicitly state the amount the child can participate with non-disabled children in class and other school functions.

Participation in State and District-Mandated Tests - most schools give achievement tests to children. An IEP must state the modifications the child may need during the tests or why the child is unable to participate in such tests.

Dates and Locations of Services - an IEP must state when services will begin, how often services are required, and how long the services are expected to last.

Transition Service Needs - At age 14 (or younger in certain cases), parts of the IEP must address the courses the child must take to reach the goals. This must also explain the transition services that will be needed.

Needed Transitional Services - At age 16 (or younger, in certain cases), his or her IEP must provide the transition services necessary for leaving school.

Age of Majority (in states that transfer rights at the age of majority) - at least a year before the child reaches the age of majority, the IEP must state that the child has been informed of his or her rights that will be transferred when the child reaches the age of majority.

Measuring Progress - the IEP must provide information about how the progress of the child will be measured and how parents will be told of this progress.

Tips For The IEP Process:

While going through the IEP process, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

  • The first IEP is always the most intimidating, due to the fear of the unknown and the daunting process of obtaining an IEP.
  • Once the school, teachers, therapists and parents have the IEP created, things should fall into place. It's very normal to be nervous - you want what is best for your child! The IEP team understands and also wants the best for your child. The IEP will work to answer all your questions and calm your fears.
  • Do not go alone to the IEP meeting - take a friend or relative. A lot of information will be given to you in a short period of time, which can make it very hard to process.
  • Have your guest take notes during the meeting, so you have something to refer back to when the meeting is over.
  • While the IEP goals are being discussed, you may ask questions or suggest changes to goals. Be sure to participate!
  • Getting an IEP done is both a blessing and a curse. It's hard to see in black and white words that discuss your child and what your child cannot yet do. However, there's much satisfaction when you can see how far your child has come!
  • Bring a list of questions you have for the staff and other people involved in the child's care and write down the answers. You may feel overwhelmed by the volume of information you receive and it's best to have notes.
  • During the IEP meeting, make sure to ask questions if you don't understand the goals set for the child or the technical language used (it's often medical-ese). Don't feel as though you are "burdening them" by asking questions.
  • Bring a notebook and a pen to write down all of the things that are said that you may need further follow-up on. Make sure to ask the questions, then write down the answers.
  • Ask for clarification or that the staff slows down so that you have time to properly absorb and understand the information at the IEP meeting.
  • The meeting can take anywhere from an hour to three hours. The plan is to ensure that everyone leaves the meeting on the same page, and doing what is best for the child.
  • Once the IEP is signed, the IEP is implemented, and the parent will receive a copy. Make copies of that copy of the IEP. Keep all copies of the IEP in safe places. Give a copy of the IEP to a friend or family member to store in a safe place.
  • As the child grows the IEP will change and grow as well.

What Is The Parent's Role in an IEP?

As the parent of the child obtaining an IEP, the first thing you need to do is…

...take a deep breath.

Next, learn about IEPs. However, do this the right way. Remember, the Internet is inherently full of bad, misleading information. As is your sister-in-law's aunt's best friend, who has a child who got an IEP this one time back in 1982.

This is your child. Do your own research. Be prepared.

While it may not help now, be assured that there is no reason to be nervous. The IEP meeting will be full of people who - like you - want what's best for your child. They'll work WITH you to form a plan with measurable goals. There will be goals set in areas like math (example: "he’ll be able to count to 20 by the end of school"). These won't be unattainable goals, but they will be challenging goals.

You are the parent. If you don't feel the IEP goals are appropriate, SAY SO. Tell the IEP team that you feel the goal is written improperly for (your reasoning here).

Ask questions.

Take notes.

The idea is that as a team, you're working together to create a plan to guide your child through the school year, while allowing the flexibility and challenge that he or she needs. An IEP is NOT intended to be you versus the IEP team.

Sometimes, though, you may need to speak up.

You must be the advocate for your child.

Related Resource Pages on Band Back Together:

Special Needs Parenting

How To Help A Parent With A Special Needs Child

Developmental Milestones Resources

Learning Disabilities

Pervasive Developmental Disorder

Asperger's Syndrome Resources

Angelman Syndrome Resources

Autism Resources

Williams Syndrome Resources

Down Syndrome Resources

Maple Syrup Urine Disease

Muscular Dystrophy

Jacobsen Syndrome

Cerebral Palsy

Additional Information About Individualized Education Plans (IEP):

U.S. Department of Education: detailed information about an IEP, what to expect from an IEP and the purpose of an IEP.

WrightsLaw: a site who's mission is to provide parents, advocates, educators, and attorneys with accurate, up-to-date information about special education law and advocacy so they can be effective catalysts.

IEP versus 504: Information that compares/contrasts the differences between and IEP and a 504.