What Is an IEP?

Often referred to by its acronym, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is, in its most basic sense, a “prescription” for your child’s educational needs and services. (Without really being a prescription, of course.)

Typically drafted following an extensive evaluation by a Child Study Team or other multidisciplinary team including educators, school psychologist, developmental professionals, and counselors, if a student is approved for services after an evaluation, an IEP will then be carefully written, with an appropriate section for each team member.

After a parent/guardian meeting and approval, it will then be finalized by the team, with signatures from all parties including the parent/guardian, and put into action.

While the format and content can vary from state to state and district to district, IDEA, (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act – federal specialeducation law enacted in the 1970s) mandates that the following components be included:

  • Present Levels of Academic Achievement/Performance (also known as PLOPS): This includes scores on standardized exams and assessments, reading levels, etc.
  • Related Services: Based on thorough, formal evaluation, any recommendations for related services such as speech therapy, PT/OT, counseling, or other services will be outlined here.
  • Measurable Annual Goals: Typically written by the teacher, these are goals for each subject or content area that the child is anticipated to meet by year end.
  • Modifications: These can include extended time on tests, testing in smaller groups, special transportation, use of a paraprofessional, preferential classroom seating, etc.
  • Participation (if any) with Children Without Disabilities: (also known as extent of nonparticipation) This is where it would be explained if there are any circumstances to where the child will not participate with children without disabilities in classes and activities.
  • Any other Individual Accommodations: This can include other accommodations that do not fall into the aforementioned categories including medical needs, use of assistive technology, etc.

Outside of the IDEA mandates, IEPs may also contain:

  • Anecdotal evidence of performance within the classroom
  • Student experience in dealing with peers
  • Positive but informal accommodations put in place within the classroom
  • Preferred learning settings and styles
  • Transitional goals for students (beginning at age 14) that help to plan for the future outside of school.

Once the IEP is crafted, but before implementation, it will be accessible to all educational professionals who work with the student, as well as the parents. (Older students sometimes review their IEPs, but it’s usually up to the school if/when that happens.) Before it is enacted and considered legally binding, the parent/guardian must provide written permission in agreement with the language contained within the IEP.  Then, the student will officially be deemed eligible for special education services as outlined in the document.

At least once per year (though a parent/guardian can request one at any time), an IEP meeting is held with all parties where goals are reviewed, and modifications or amendment possibilities are explored. Student progress, growth, data, and anticipated needs for the following school year will be considered.

As this meeting culminates, a new IEP will be drafted for the next calendar year, and the process repeats itself each year until a child graduates, or no longer qualifies for, or needs services.

Continue your research:

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Author: Erin Nicole Celletti

Erin Celletti is a freelance journalist and the Director of Communications at Integration Charter Schools. With seven years of classroom teaching and leadership experience, Erin has a BA in Journalism from Quinnipiac University, as well as a M.S.Ed. in Childhood and Special Education from St. John's University, and a M.S.Ed. in School and Building Leadership from Wagner College. Erin lives in Hoboken, NJ with her husband, and baby girl on the way. Her work has also appeared in BRIDES, Teen Vogue, Allure, and TODAY Parents.

What Is an IEP?