What is an IEP?

In the US, students receive additional services depending on their educational needs. One way to support struggling learners is through an IEP. Some students struggle to learn the language, speak, process math computation, or remember information. Specific support systems are in place to support struggling learners in school districts. 

Purpose of IEP

The acronym IEP is a short way to say Individualized Education (IEP) Program. Some refer to an IEP as a special education plan. An IEP aims to identify the instructional supports and services a school provides to a student. An IEP is a document that outlines the educational and related services that a student with disabilities or specific educational needs requires to succeed in school. This educational plan is based on the student’s learning needs. 

Like a 504 plan, an IEP is a legal document protected under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). An IEP is a legal document protected under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The IDEA requires that all students with disabilities have access to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) and that their educational needs are met through an IEP that is developed collaboratively by the student’s parents, teachers, and other professionals involved in their education. Unlike a 504 plan

Who needs an IEP?

Any student that presents an educational need qualifies for an IEP.  This includes students with various disabilities, such as intellectual disability, autism, specific learning disabilities, emotional disturbance, speech impairment, developmental delays, and other health impairments.

In other words, children with disabilities qualify for additional services that a school district must assess, plan, and provide regularly. The eligibility criteria may vary from state to state.

IEP Process

The process of an IEP can begin at any time during a child’s educational journey. For instance, a child can receive an Individualized Education Program (IEP) as early as 3 years old if eligible for special education services. The process of an IEP involves school personnel, parent participation, and medical staff.

School personnel may include a general education teacher, a special education teacher, a psychologist, administrators, an interpreter, or an educational diagnostician. There below categories show the different ways an IEP may begin. 

Referral and Evaluation

TA referral is often called a special education evaluation. For instance, a child’s regular education teacher can refer a child for evaluation. Parents can also refer or request an evaluation at any time. Medical staff are also known to recommend for evaluation. 

An evaluation aims to determine a child’s current educational performance, educational needs, and educational placement. An evaluation consists of an assessment that determines a child’s educational performance in reading, writing, speaking, mathematics, and more.  

Eligibility determination

There are various assessments that school staff administer to determine if a child is eligible for an IEP.  A psychologist, educational diagnostician, The results of an evaluation determine a child’s educational performance compared to the average student performance of that age level.

A range of assessments can be used to evaluate a child during an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Some common assessments include:

  1. Psychoeducational assessments evaluate a child’s learning capabilities, cognitive functioning, and academic skills.
  2. Speech and language assessments evaluate a child’s ability to express themselves verbally and understand spoken language.
  3. Occupational therapy assessments evaluate a child’s fine motor skills and ability to perform daily tasks.
  4. Physical therapy assessments evaluate a child’s gross motor skills and overall physical functioning.
  5. Behavioral assessments: These assessments evaluate a child’s behavior in different settings and circumstances to identify specific areas that must be addressed.
  6. Social-emotional assessments evaluate a child’s emotional well-being and social skills to identify areas impacting their ability to learn and thrive in the classroom.

The type of assessment used will depend on the specific needs and abilities of the child, as well as the goals outlined in the IEP.

Parent and student involvement

Parent and student involvement in an IEP is crucial as it ensures the plan is tailored to meet the student’s unique needs. The following are ways in which parents and students can participate in the IEP process:

Attend IEP meetingsParents should attend all IEP meetings to discuss their child’s progress, goals, and needs. Students should also be present to contribute their thoughts and suggestions.
Share informationParents should provide information about their child’s strengths, weaknesses, and progress to help the team make informed decisions. Students can also share their experiences and opinions.
Review IEP documentsParents and students should carefully review all documents related to the IEP and ask questions if they don’t understand any item.
Provide input on goalsParents and students should have input in developing and setting goals for the IEP. Students should be encouraged to set personal goals that they want to achieve.
Monitor progressParents and students should regularly monitor progress toward achieving goals in the IEP. If the goals are unmet, the team should reconvene to make adjustments.
Parent and student involvement

Overall, involving parents and students in the IEP process ensures that the plan reflects the student’s needs, strengths, interests, and goals. It promotes collaboration and empowers students to participate in their education actively.

Developing the IEP

IEPs, or Individualized Education Plans for children with disabilities, are developed through the following steps:

A child may be identified as needing an IEP through teacher observation, parent request, or evaluation results.  

A team of professionals, including teachers, parents, and specialists, will evaluate the child’s academic, cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development.The IEP team will gather to discuss the assessment results and develop the IEP goals, objectives, and accommodations.

The written IEP document outlines the child’s current performance level and goals for improvement, as well as identifying special education and related services needed to meet those goals.The IEP plan will be implemented, with regular monitoring and progress tracking to ensure the child is making progress toward their goals.

The IEP team will meet at least once a year to review the child’s progress and make any necessary updates to the IEP plan.

Implementing and reviewing the IEP

During implementation, the student receives the accommodations and services outlined in the plan. Teachers and other professionals provide direct instruction, accommodations, and services to help students achieve their goals.

The IEP team regularly reviews the student’s progress throughout the implementation and adjusts the plan as necessary. The team evaluates the plan’s effectiveness in achieving the student’s goals and makes program modifications if necessary.

In addition, an annual review allows the school to revise and renew the IEP plan. This ensures that the plan meets students’ needs throughout their educational journey.

Components of an IEP

An individual educational plan contains various sessions that lay out this individualized document. Although the document may look the same for most students, it contains specific information unique to a child’s needs. The components of an IEP document may vary depending on

A well-developed IEP contains a student’s present level of educational and functional performance. A student’s academic performance may include reading, writing skills, and math assessment results. 

Annual goals

In a student’s plan, annual goals are specific, measurable targets that are designed to help students with disabilities make progress toward their educational objectives. These goals identify the knowledge, skills, and abilities that students need to develop over the course of an academic year. In addition, measurable goals outline the strategies, resources, and supports required to achieve those outcomes.

Annual goals are based on the student’s academic and functional performance level and are tailored to their strengths and needs. They are typically broken down into smaller, more manageable objectives that can be tracked and monitored throughout the year. Examples of annual goals in an IEP may include improving reading comprehension, developing social skills, or increasing math proficiency.

The progress toward achieving these goals is regularly monitored and assessed. And goals are revised as necessary to ensure they remain relevant and achievable for the student.

Accommodations and modifications

Accommodations and modifications refer to changes to the learning environment or curriculum to support students with disabilities or other special needs.

For instance, accommodations are changes made to the learning environment or materials to enable students to access and participate in the curriculum. They are typically designed to create equal access and opportunity in academics. They may include providing extended time for tests, using assistive technology, allowing breaks, or providing written directions and verbal instructions.

Modifications, on the other hand, involve changes to the curriculum or expectations for learners. These changes happen when accommodations alone cannot meet a student’s needs. Modifications may involve changes to the content or level of instruction, different materials or resources, or adjustments to assignments or assessments. Both accommodations and modifications aim to support students’ learning and help students achieve their full potential. 

Measuring progress

An important part of an IEP is progress monitoring. Ongoing assessments and progress reports help educators monitor a student’s performance goals. Progress monitoring happens regularly to ensure that accommodations and modifications are working. Revisions may be necessary when there is limited progress.

Benefits of an IEP

An IEP provides several benefits. As a legal document, an IEP outlines a student’s educational plan. As an official legal document, schools must provide the resources and support necessary for the students to achieve their educational goals. The IEP helps identify the requirements.

The plan holds students, parents, and educators accountable for creating a roadmap for the student’s academic advancement, social and emotional development, and career planning. A collaborative and cooperative effort of the school, the student, and their parents help build a communication and rapport atmosphere that evolves trust and support for the student.

Challenges of an IEP

Although IEPs are legally protected by the law, not every student’s IEP is fully implemented. Limited school resources can often present challenges in meeting the needs of students with IEPs. Schools may struggle to provide the necessary accommodations and specialized instruction for students with disabilities due to lack of funding, staffing, or facilities.

Inadequate training for teachers is another challenge that schools experience. This is because a lack of training limits the quality of instruction teachers can provide. Classroom and special education teachers require training to strengthen their teaching skills. 


In conclusion, an IEP is a legally required document that ensures students with disabilities receive the appropriate support and education they need to succeed academically. It is a collaborative effort between parents, teachers, and school administrators that outlines specific goals, accommodations, and services to help the student achieve academic success. Ultimately, these plans are designed to give students the tools they need to maximize their potential and achieve their educational goals.

An IEP is a wonderful resource that can create a more inclusive and equitable educational experience for all students with disabilities. Let’s work together to ensure every student has the tools they need to succeed in school and beyond.

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