The Process

Before the Individualized Education Program (IEP) can even begin, a child must be identified as having a disability. The parents or a professional at a child's school can request that a child be evaluated to determine if a disability exists. Parental consent is required if the parents do not initiate the request.

The child's evaluation must encompass anything that can be related to the suspected disability. Qualified professionals sit down with the parents and review the results of the evaluation. Together they decide if the child meets the criteria to be classified as having a disability. If diagnosed with a disability, the results of the evaluation are used to determine what types of services and special educational programs will best suit the child. The parents can challenge the review by the professionals and even request that the school system pay for a second, independent educational evaluation. If the child meets the criteria to be classified as having a disability, the IEP team is required to meet within 30 days to write the IEP for that child.

Organizing the IEP team meeting is the responsibility of the school and its staff. The staff must contact all of the participants and select a time and place that works out for the parents and school administrators. Staff must also inform the parents about who will be attending the meeting and allow the parents to invite people they feel would be helpful to the planning. Once the team meets, they will discuss the child and the evaluation results to write an IEP.

Prior to writing the education program for a child, team members review any past classroom evaluations, go over observations made by people involved with the child, and cover any standardized test results that have been completed by the child. Members also discuss the child's strengths in any areas and address any additional factors necessary for the child to be better prepared to meet the annual goals. Additional factors can include: visual or hearing impairments, communication difficulties, behavioral issues, and assistive technologies. Team members need to keep in mind that the results of their efforts need to help advance the child to meet the annual goals. The IEP should also help guide the child toward involvement in the general curriculum of the school and extracurricular activities, and help the child interact with other children in the educational setting.

Before the child can begin receiving services and special instruction under the IEP, the parents must approve of the plan. If the parents do not approve, they may negotiate with other team members to re-write the IEP, or parents may ask for mediation with the school. The parents could also file a due process complaint about the IEP and meet with the school staff before a hearing officer to present both sides of the dispute. The final appeal would involve the parents filing a complaint with the state education agency and requesting a hearing with mediation at the state level.

Once the IEP is approved, the child's school will begin implementing the program. The child's progress needs to be measured according to the guidelines written into the IEP to make sure the child is staying on schedule to meet the annual goals. Parents should be given progress reports on how their child is doing. The reports should be made as often as needed or, at a minimum, whenever the regular education students receive their progress reports.

At least once a year the IEP team re-assembles to assess how well the child is being served by the IEP. This review should include the child's progress or lack of progress toward reaching the annual goals. The parents and school staff may also have new information based on their observations of the child. At this time, team members can make recommendations on how to change the IEP to meet the child's developing needs, and revise services or education plans to better serve the child. At least once every three years the child should be re-evaluated, to determine if the child still meets the disability criteria. The child can be re-evaluated more often if a teacher, parent, or circumstances warrant an updated evaluation.

IEP Contents

The Individualized Education Program is specifically created to identify and address the unique needs of an individual child. When the IEP is followed, improvements should be seen in how well the child learns and retains information. The results will be a better overall education for the child. and a progression in the child's knowledge and experience. This section will discuss the minimum information that is required by law to be contained in an IEP.

Required Contents

  • Dates and places. The IEP must list when services will begin, how long they will last, how often they will be provided, and where they will be provided.
  • Annual goals. The goals that the child can reasonably accomplish in a year. They are broken down into short-term objectives or benchmarks. The goals can address academic, social or behavioral needs, relate to physical needs, or address other educational needs. They must be measurable?meaning that it must be possible to measure whether the student has achieved the goals.
  • Measuring progress. The IEP must state how the child?s progress will be measured and how parents will be informed of that progress.
  • Current performance. The IEP must state how the child is currently doing in school. This information usually comes from the evaluation results such as classroom tests and assignments, individual tests given to decide eligibility for services, and observations made by parents, teachers, and other related service providers. The statement about "current performance" includes how the child's disability affects his or her involvement and progress in the general curriculum.
  • Participation in standardized tests. Most states and districts give achievement tests to children in certain grades or age groups. The IEP must state what modifications in the administration of these tests the child will need. If a test is not appropriate for the child, the IEP must state why the test is not appropriate and how the child will be tested instead.
  • Special education and related services. The IEP must list the special education and related services to be provided to the child or on behalf of the child. This includes modifications (changes) to the program or supports for school personnel such as training or professional development?that will be provided to assist the child.
  • Participation with non-disabled children. The IEP must explain the extent (if any) to which the child will not participate with non-disabled children in the regular class and other school activities.
  • Transition services needs. Beginning at age 14 (or younger, if appropriate), the IEP must address the courses the child needs to take to reach post-school goals. A statement of transition services needs must also be included in each of the child's subsequent IEPs.
  • Needed transition services. Beginning at age 16 (or younger, if appropriate), the IEP must state what transition services are needed to help the child prepare for leaving school.
  • Age of majority. Beginning at least one year before the child reaches the age of majority (legal adulthood), the IEP must include a statement that the student has been told of any rights that will transfer to him or her at the age of majority. (This statement would be needed only in states that transfer rights at the age of majority.)

Teachers are critical participants at the IEP meetings. A regular education teacher can assist with the IEP group's determination of what types of services and educational programs can help the child to learn. The regular teacher also has knowledge about the general curriculum that is taught in the school. The teacher may even have prior experience working with a child with similar learning and/or behavioral issues. Once strategies for the IEP are determined, the regular education teacher can inform the group of any specialized training that the teacher or other support staff will need to help the child meet the IEP goals.