IEP Guide

If you’re here chances are you know what an IEP is. Individualized Education Program. In case you don’t know, I work at my state’s Parent Information and Training Center. Find yours here. I work with families daily on IEPs, special education, and all disability related things. If you have never heard of one of these centers, I encourage you to call and ask for help and support if needed. In this post I decided to share some information I give to families all the time on IEPs so bare with me if its boring or too structured. Most of this is taken from presentations I do and the websites listed at the end.

Here we go:

The purpose of an IEP is to set reasonable learning goals for a child, and to state the services that the school district will provide for the child. Each child’s IEP must contain specific information, as listed within IDEA, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This is a federal law binding in all states. State law can mandate more protection than IDEA but not less. Each state uses different criteria to determine programs and guidelines for qualifying students for special education.

An IEP meeting must be held within 30 calendar days after it is determined by a full and individual evaluation that the  child has one of the disabilities listed in IDEA and needs special education and related services. A child’s IEP must also be reviewed at least annually thereafter to determine whether the annual goals are being achieved and must be revised as appropriate. The team may meet before the anniversary date to make amendments at any point and it will not replace the annual IEP meeting date.

It is allowed for the IEP team to bring a draft of the IEP but a discussion and explanation of changes still needs to happen. If the IEP team chooses to use a draft IEP, the team must ensure that the parents understand that the document is a draft, and is not set in stone. If the IEP team uses a draft IEP, they should provide a copy of the draft document to the parents well in advance of the IEP meeting. The parents must have enough time to give careful consideration to the recommendations in the draft IEP.

Parental consent is required to provide services defined in the IEP.

IDEA states that, as soon as possible following development of the IEP, special education and related services are made available to the child in accordance with the child’s IEP.  But, it does not give a specific amount of time between finishing development of the IEP and beginning the services described in the IEP. The only exception is if the meeting occurs during a school vacation or when arrangement of services such as transportation are involved.

IDEA also requires that the school system ensure that each regular/special education teacher, related services provider and any other service provider who is responsible for the IEP’s implementation:

  • have access to the IEP;
  • be informed of their specific responsibilities;
  • specific accommodations, modifications, and supports to be provided to the child, in accordance with the IEP

An IEP team member can be excused for all or part of IEP meetings if parents and IEP team agree in writing his/her presence is not necessary and because their expertise is not going to be discussed or modified at the meeting.  IEP can be developed via alternative means to a face-to-face meeting if parents and school agree  like a phone conference.

If parents or the school want to amend or modify the IEP, the team does not have to physically meet.  IEP teams have the option of drafting a written amendment to the IEP, agreeing to the amendment and incorporating this modification into the IEP plan.  However, before the IEP team can use this new alternative to gathering in person specific conditions must be met.

  • This option cannot be used with the IEP meeting that is required at least annually to review and revise the IEP. This option applies only to modifications the team might want to make after the annual IEP meeting has been held in person.
  • Parents and LEA must agree to not meet but to take this approach instead.
  • The amendment or modification to the IEP must be in writing.

Required participants include:

Parents or guardians

Special education teacher

General education teacher

School district representative (ODR) that can commit district resources

Person(s) who can interpret evaluation results

  May include:

Related services providers

Family members


Student – required at age 14

Transition services personnel

Key Components of an IEP:

Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance  (PLAAFP)

The PLAAFP statement is a key part of your child’s IEP.  The very first PLAAFP for your child describes his skills and abilities based on his initial special education evaluation. The PLAAFP should cover all areas of development where your child may need support. Some examples are:

  • Academic skills like counting, pre-reading, pre-writing
  • Daily living or self-help skills such as dressing, eating, using the bathroom
  • Social skills like playing with friends
  • Behavior
  • Sensory skills such as hearing, seeing
  • Communication skills as like talking, listening
  • Mobility getting around in school and in the community.

The purpose of the PLAAFP is to identify the kinds and amount of special education services your child may need. In other words, you and the rest of the team will talk about the impact your child’s disability has on his ability to learn and do the kinds of things that children without disabilities learn and do. This information is then included in his IEP.

Measurable Annual Goals

Measurable annual goals are statements that describe what a child  current level and  can reasonably be expected to accomplish within a 12-month period in the child’s education program. There should be a direct relationship between the measurable annual goals and the needs identified in the PLAAFP.

Special Education/Related Services

Let’s start with IDEA’s full requirement for specifying a child’s related services in his or her IEP.  Each child’s IEP must contain the following:

A statement of the special education and related services and supplementary aids and services, based on peer-reviewed research to the extent practicable, to be provided to the child, or on behalf of the child, and a statement of the program modifications or supports for school personnel that will be provided to enable the child to the following:

  1. Advance appropriately toward attaining the annual goals;
  2. To be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum and to participate in extracurricular and other nonacademic activities; and to be educated and participate with other children with disabilities and nondisabled children in the activities

Least Restrictive Environment or (LRE) and Placement Decisions

LRE is part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  IDEA says that children who receive special education should learn in the least restrictive environment. This means they should spend as much time as possible with peers who do not receive special education this includes extra extracurricular activities.  IDEA says two things about LRE that are important to understand when working with the IEP team:

  1. Your child should be with kids in general education to the “maximum extent that is appropriate.”
  2. Special classes, separate schools or removal from the general education class should only happen when your child’s learning or attention issue of his “disability” under IDEA is so severe that supplementary aids and services can’t provide him with an appropriate education.

While in the regular class accommodations and/or modifications are use in the regular curriculum. When modifications are made, kids with disabilities are not expected to master the same academic content as others in the classroom. With accommodations adjustments students have equal access to curriculum in a successful way. (I’ll go into more detail about the differences between the two in another post) 

If child is moved to a self contained class it is only decided  if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily. An IEP must happen to make changes in placement.

Time Frame of IEP

  • Initiated as soon as written, unless written during school vacation/summer or when short delay required for services to be provided
  • Transfer students served within 1 week of  transfer
  • Must be in place before student placed in special education


IDEA requires a transition plan when a student has a disability. Transition services are intended to prepare students to move from the world of school to the world of adulthood beginning during high. Transition planning takes place as part of developing the student’s Individualized Education Program at the age of 14 or younger if determined appropriate by the IEP Team.  The student must be invited to any IEP meeting where post-secondary goals and transition services needed to reach those goals will be considered. (Every student regardless of disability can participate in their own IEP in some way, and at any age although they should be invited by 14. Participation can look different for each student. I’ll make a post just on this soon.)

This plan is to help students prepare for life after school, focus on post-secondary education, training, employment, & independent living. As you can see the areas to explore by the IEP team to determine what types of transition-related support and services the  student with a disability will need. It’s easy to see how planning ahead in each of these areas, and developing goal statements and corresponding services for the student can greatly assist that student in preparing for life after high school.

Progress Toward Annual Goals

Another component of the IEP that IDEA requires is specifying how the child’s progress will be measured. This statement flows naturally out of the annual goals written for the child which must be measurable. Schools have to report to you with a IEP Progress  Report periodically. This gives parents, and other members of the IEP team the opportunity to review the IEP and make adjustments if they are warranted. When a child does not make the progress expected, then it’s essential to determine why and take corrective action.

Expect IEP progress report four times a year when report cards are given out to all students. If you don’t  get one ask for it, it is your right!

Special Considerations

  • Language needs for students and parents with limited English proficiency
  • Behavior intervention plan for students with behavior challenges
  • Braille instruction/use of Braille for students and parents with visual impairments, unless deemed inappropriate
  • Communication and language needs for students with hearing impairments
  • Need for assistive technology devices/services

Quick overview of Substantive Requirements: 

  • Parents must be equal partners; however, they do not have absolute veto
  • IEP must be reviewed annually or sooner if progress is lacking
  • All teachers involved in implementing IEP must have access to it; must be implemented as written and
  • Districts are still responsible for IEPs of students placed in private school

Prior Written Notice

Prior Written Notice should be given to parents and all IEP participants in their preferred language even if their language is not a written language. Also it should be given within a reasonable time before the school or local education agency proposes or refuses:

  1. to initiate or change the identification, evaluation, or educational placement including graduation with a standard or advanced diploma of the child or
  2. the provision of a free appropriate public education FAPE for the child.

Federal and/or state special education laws and regulations do not define what would be deemed as a reasonable time. However parents can stay a step ahead by highlighting their child’s anniversary date for both the triennial evaluation and annual review meeting dates as listed on the IEP.  This is key as oftentimes, the anniversary date may cover an extended school holiday.


There is no regulation that says you must sign the IEP immediately at the end of the meeting, or at all. If you feel the need to wait before signing the IEP, if you need to “sleep on it” or share it with your spouse/child’s tutor/consultant, say so. You may wish to list specific items in the IEP that you want to think about before signing (“I’m still uncomfortable with ____, and I’d like to think about it some more”). This lets the school know where you stand and gives everyone time to think of possible solutions or compromises.

Whatever you decide, read the IEP document in its final version before signing. This is also a good time to review the list of concerns you prepared before the IEP meeting. Did the team talk about all of those items? When all the talking is done, if you are comfortable with the IEP, go ahead and sign. If you agree with everything except one item, you can sign your agreement and add a statement about the one item you disagree with. The team can implement all of the IEP except that one item, until you do resolve it.

Final Tips

  • Make an agenda of your main concerns will help keep you on track and everyone else. Make one for yourself with all of the notes of concerns to discuss so you don’t forget to mention something important during the meeting.
  • Writing down any questions, concerns and ideas beforehand will ensure you’re following the agenda.
  • Arriving early to the meeting shows that you’re prepared and ready.
  • Start the meeting with an expression of appreciation setting positive ground rules.
  • Focus on the issue your child’s NEEDS not personalities
  • Always remember that with the end in mind “the beginning impacts the end”.
  • Stay focused on the student throughout the process.
  • Focus on interests the What not positions the Why which is key in conflict resolution
  • Communicate clearly and listen carefully
  • Respect the views of others even if you don’t agree
  • Share your views willingly
  • Ask and welcome questions
  • Be open to ideas and views presented
  • Honor time limits and stay on task

As the parent of a child with disabilities, you are a valuable member of your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) team. You have knowledge about your child from which school personnel and other IEP team members will benefit. Likewise, they have information and professional perspectives that will help you understand your child’s educational program. The following questions can help you gather information from others and be an effective member of the IEP team.

  • Could you please share the data to support ___?
  • What time of day does ___ usually happen?
  • You say the policy is _____. May I please have a copy of that policy to read?
  • I think I heard you say_____. Is that correct?
  • Would you please rephrase that so I’m sure I understand?


Getting Ready for Child’s IEP

Parent Center Hub IEP Progress

Wrightslaw: IEP Draft

IEP Goal Tracker

Understanding IEP Law

Anatomy of an IEP





Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.