Individualized Education Program (IEP)

The passage of the updated version of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) made parents of kids with special needs even more crucial members of their child's education team. Parents can now work with educators to develop a plan — the individualized education plan (IEP) — to help kids succeed in school. The IEP describes the goals the team sets for a child during the school year, as well as any special support needed to help achieve them.

Every child who qualifies for special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) must have an IEP. The IEP is the foundation document that details all the special education and related services needed for a student to receive a free appropriate public education, or FAPE. A meeting to develop the IEP must be held within 30 days of determining that the child is eligible to receive special education services.

IEP Team

The parent plays a vital role on the IEP team, along with educators and other qualified professionals. This team works collaboratively to develop the child's IEP. Information gathered during the evaluation process, sometimes referred to as a multifactored evaulation or MFE, will be used in the development of the special education services and supports to address the unique learning needs of your child. The IEP team includes:

  • Parent(s) or legal guardian
  • At least one regular education teacher (if the child is participating in regular education classes)
  • At least one special education teacher or provider, such as a therapist
  • A representative of the school district, such as an administrator
  • An individual who can explain the results of the evaluation and what it means for instruction, such as a school psychologist
  • An individual with knowledge or special expertise about the child, such as an advocate or private health care provider, at the discretion of the parent or school
  • The child, whenever appropriate

Members of the IEP team may be excused from attending if they submit their input to the team in writing and if the parent consents.

Terms You Need to Know for Your Child's IEP

Age of Majority means that beginning at least one year before the student reaches the age of majority, the student will be informed of all rights under IDEA that will transfer to him. This age is normal 18 years of age, but can vary from state to state.

Annual Goals are written goals that are specific, measurable and designed to address your child's unique educational needs in academic and functional areas. Short-term objectives will only be required for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. Student progress on reaching goals is measured and reported back to the parents, usually at the same time that report cards are distributed. If a child is not making progress, this is often a signal that teaching strategies and instructional materials need to be evaluated.

Extended School Year (ESY) services are special education and related services that are identified as necessary for the child to meet specific goals in the IEP. ESY differs from the regular school year program because it is designed to prevent the loss or regression of specific skills that may occur during school breaks, such as over the summer. The need for extended school year services should be discussed at an IEP meeting early enough in the school year as this process can often take time for the parents and school to agree on services. The team considers many factors including the student's individual needs, progress toward IEP goals, the nature and severity of the disability, behaviors that significantly interfere with learning, the likelihood of regression caused by school breaks and the failure to recover these critical skills in a reasonable time.

Wrightslaw has information and resources on ESY services and strategies.

Identification of Needs describes the factors that are interfering with a child making progress in the general curriculum. These are the needs that will require specially designed instruction. If there are too many needs to address within a year, the team will usually prioritize them.

Identification of Services describes the specially designed services / instruction needed to help the child reach annual goals, progress in the general education curriculum, participate in extracurricular and other nonacademic activities, and be educated with their nondisabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate. These supports can include a variety of related services, supplementary aids, modifications and accommodations that will enable the child to benefit from the special education program designed in the IEP:

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) for a child is assumed to be the general education classroom. This means that a child be educated and participate with nondisabled peers, to the maximum extent appropriate, in general education, extracurricular and other nonacademic activities.

Special education instruction can be provided in a number of ways, on a continuum from least restrictive to more restrictive settings. This could include instruction in regular classes, special classes, special schools, home instruction, hospitals or institutions. If a placement outside the public school is recommended by the IEP team, such as in a private school, this option will be provided at no cost to you. If the team determines that a different setting is needed for services, an explanation of the extent to which the child will not participate with nondisabled children in the regular class is required.

Present Levels of Performance describes the child's current skills in academic and functional areas. This is objective information that includes how your child's disability affects progress in the general curriculum and appropriate activities. The IEP considers the strengths of the child, concerns of the parents, family and student vision of the future, results of the most recent multifactored evaluation, and academic, developmental and functional needs of the child.

Related services are provided if it is determined that these services are required to assist the child to benefit from the special education program. Related services can include: speech, physical or occupational therapy, audiology, psychological services, interpreting services, recreation, including therapeutic recreation, social work services, counseling services, orientation and mobility services, school nurse services, including the development of an Individual Health Plan, transportation services and medical services that assist with diagnosis and evaluation. Families often view some of these related services as helpful for general medical reasons. However, it is important to realize that public schools are required to provide only the services that are necessary for the child's special education program and that these may not be comparable to private therapy.

Supplementary aids and services must be provided to enable the child to be in the least restrictive environment possible. This can include classroom aids, assistive technology devices, computers, adaptations and modifications to physical environments and other supports so that children with disabilities can be educated with their nondisabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate.

Special Factors

Some Special Factors must also be considered by the team when writing the IEP, these include:

  • Positive behavior plan must be developed to identify strategies for both preventing and responding to behaviors that interfere with learning.
  • Extended school year services for special education that is provided outside the normal 180 day school year must be addressed.
  • Physical education programs that address individual needs must be incorporated.
  • Communication needs including listening, speaking, reading and writing must be identified.
  • Assistive technology devices and services must be included, as needed.
  • Language needs must be identified if the child has limited English proficiency.
  • State and district testing, such as proficiency and graduation tests, that require modifications or alternatives to enable the child to participate must be included.
  • Transition plan mapping passage from child-centered activities to adult-oriented activities.

Annual Review of IEP

Your child's IEP must be reviewed and revised at least once a year. However, this can be done more often if you or the school request it. For example, if your child is not making progress towards goals, or you have new information about your child's disability and its impact on the educational process, it would be a good time to request an IEP meeting to consider revisions. Up to 15 states will be given permission to offer multi-year IEP's, not to exceed three years. Parents will have the option of turning down a multi-year IEP.

Appeals Process for Conflicts

If you disagree with the IEP, you can indicate that on the document and then follow the strategies for resolving conflicts through due process. The first time your child receives an IEP, your signature is required before special education services can begin.


Families and Advocates Partnership for Education - has parent information and planning for and writing the IEP.
A Guide to the Individualized Education Program - Assists educators, parents, and state and local educational agencies in implementing the requirements of Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) regarding Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for children with disabilities, including preschool-aged children.
IEDA 2004 - provides the full text of the law and summaries of each section.
National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities - information on writing an IEP and details on different types of related services.  Also has a detailed section on transition and the IEP.
Questions and Answers On Individualized Education Programs (IEP's), Evaluations and Reevaluations - From the U.S. Department of Education.
U.S. Department of Education - has model IEP, procedural safeguards and prior written notice forms.
Wrightslaw - comprehensive information on writing the IEP. You can also read about writing a SMART IEP that has goals that are specific, relevant and measureable. There are links to information on related services and tips on how to request a teacher aide.
Disclaimer: Njoy Foundation does not endorse or recommend any provider, treatment, or philosophy that families may encounter from the resources, events, or websites listed. Njoy Foundation encourages you to obtain more information about any resource prior to selecting a provider.