Individualized Education Programs (IEP)

Individualized Education Programs (IEP)

Note: This information is from our manual, Protecting the Educational Rights of Students with Disabilities in Public Schools

What is an individualized education program or “IEP?”

An IEP is a detailed description of the instruction and services a student with disabilities needs in order to receive a meaningful education.

The individualized education program, or IEP, is a document that describes the specific special education services that a child will receive. An IEP is a legal document and students are entitled to receive all of the services outlined in the IEP. An IEP should be tailored to a child and his or her educational needs, and it can include creative strategies for delivering services.

The IEP must include:

  • A statement of the student’s current levels of educational and functional performance—how the student is doing
  • Annual educational goals
  • A statement of how a child’s progress will be measured and when periodic reports on the child’s progress will be provided
  • Descriptions of all of the services a child will receive both in the general education classroom setting and in a special education setting
  • A description of “related services” the student will receive such as speech and language therapy, transportation, and counseling
  • A description of all program modifications to be provided, such as modified reading materials, a reader for exams and other assignments, a tape recorder for lectures, etc.
  • A determination of whether the student needs assistive technology devices and services. Assistive technology means equipment or systems that enhance or maintain the capabilities of the student and can include commercially produced items such as a computer or custom keyboard
  • A decision on eligibility for adaptive PE, and if eligible, how it will be provided
  • A description of how the student will participate in general education classes and activities, and if not, why
  • Any accommodations the student will have for taking extended school year services, if determined necessary by the IEP Team
  • Aversive interventions, if any, required for the student
  • The location, duration, and frequency of services to be delivered
  • Dates on which services will begin
  • Beginning not later than the IEP to be in effect when the student turns 16, or younger if determined appropriate by the IEP Team: 1) appropriate measurable postsecondary goals and 2) transition services needed to assist the student in reaching those goals.

In addition, students who take alternate assessments must also have the following included in their IEP:

  • A description of benchmarks or short term objectives
  • A statement of why the student cannot participate in the regular assessment
  • A statement of why the particular alternate assessment is appropriate for the student.

How soon after the initial evaluation will my child get an IEP if he or she is eligible for special education?

Within 30 calendar days of the decision that a student is eligible for special education, an IEP meeting must be held.

Once a school district determines a student is eligible for special education services, the district has 30 calendar days (not school days) to hold an IEP meeting and develop an individualized plan for the student.

Who develops the IEP?

The IEP Team is made up of people who can help design the student’s education program.

A team of people is responsible for writing and approving the IEP. The following people are part of the IEP Team and generally should be present at all IEP meetings:

  • Parent or guardian
  • At least one of the student’s general education teachers (if the student is or may be participating in the general education environment)
  • At least one of the student’s special education teachers or, where appropriate, special education provider
  • A district representative who is qualified in the education of children with disabilities and is knowledgeable about the general curriculum and available resources (such as a director of special education)
  • An individual who can interpret evaluation data (can be one of the above people or the school psychologist)
  • At the discretion of the parent or district, others who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child
  • The student (if appropriate)
  • Transition service providers (such as vocational specialists or someone from an outside agency such as the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD)).

Other people can be on the IEP Team. The law specifically allows others who “have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child” to participate on the IEP Team. This means that the IEP Team can include relatives, family friends, community members, therapists, and advocates. The district or the parent decides who has knowledge or expertise regarding the child. If there are people that you think should be included in your child’s IEP Team, be sure to tell the school so they can be invited.

However, under IDEA and state special education law, members of the IEP Team may not be required to be in attendance in all circumstances. A member of the IEP Team listed above is not required to attend the IEP meeting if the member’s area of curriculum is not a subject of the meeting and the parent and the school district agree in writing that his or her attendance is not necessary.

For example, a speech and language provider may not be required to attend if speech services are not the subject of the IEP meeting and the parent and school district both agree in writing that the speech and language provider does not need to attend because the purpose of the meeting is to discuss the student’s behavior intervention plan only.

Furthermore, members of the IEP Team may be excused from the meeting EVEN IF the meeting involves a modification or discussion of the team member’s area if the parent and the school district agree in writing. However, the excused IEP Team member must submit written input into the development of the IEP to both the parent and the school district prior to the meeting.

How do I know when the IEP Team is meeting?

The district must notify parents of the purpose of the IEP meeting, the time and location, and who will be attending. The district must give notice early enough to make sure that the parents have an opportunity to attend. The meeting should be scheduled at a mutually agreed upon time and place.
If the parent and the school district agree, meetings can also be held by telephone or video conference.

What can I contribute to the IEP?

Input from parents and others who know the student and care about his or her success is key to creating an effective special education program. Parents are an essential part of the IEP Team and may have some great ideas about other useful people to include. The IEP Team must consider the limitations when creating a plan. You should let the school know if there are other people you think can contribute to this process.

An important part of your role as an advocate is to analyze the educational program and services being offered by the school district. For example, are the goals and objectives reasonable given your understanding of your child’s abilities? Are the kinds of services recommended by the district going to make a difference for your child? If you have suggestions for improving the education plan, you should voice them in the IEP Team meeting.

You can also add a fresh perspective and creativity to the process. Think about ways to engage your child that the educators may not have considered. For example, if a reward of a special activity or sports time motivates your child to do chores at home, then a similar reward for completing assignments could be put in place at school. Or maybe you know that your child has a difficult time when there are a lot of distractions, people, and noise. You could suggest that your child change classes before or after the rest of students do.

How does the IEP address behavior issues?

The IEP should include a functional behavior assessment and a behavior intervention plan if behavior problems exist.

For a student whose behavior gets in the way of his or her learning or that of other students, the IEP should provide goals and objectives for improving behavior and strategies for addressing the problem. It is important to remember that a student’s behavior may be related to his or her disability. The IEP should anticipate behavior problems and create effective ways to respond to those problems before they occur.

When does an IEP get reviewed or revised?

At least once a year, but more frequently if an IEP Team member requests it.

IEPs should be reviewed at least once a year. However, a district must follow an IEP even if it is past due for review. At the end of a year, the IEP Team must meet to review the education program and to determine whether the student’s annual goals are being achieved.

The IEP must be revised if the student has not shown academic progress or new information about the student is made available. The IEP should also anticipate a student’s changing needs as he or she matures.

The IEP can also be reviewed at any time at the request of a team member or when circumstances have changed.

However, under IDEA and state special education law, changes can now be made to a child’s IEP after the annual review meeting without convening an IEP meeting if the parent and the district agree to do so. In this case, a written document can be used to amend or modify the child’s IEP. At the parent’s request, the school district must provide the parent with a revised copy of the IEP that includes the amendments. If you think that the IEP or your child’s special education services have changed, ask the District for a copy of the most recent IEP including any written amendments that have been made through agreement.

Under IDEA, school districts are also encouraged to reduce the number of IEP meetings held for each student per year by encouraging the consolidation of IEP Team meetings.

What if changes are made to my child’s IEP without my permission?

Talk to the school right away about your concerns.

You are part of the IEP Team and must be included in all decisions about your child’s special education programming. If you are unable to resolve a disagreement informally by talking to school staff, read Section VII Dispute Resolution in this publication for more options.

Once my child qualifies for special education, is there any further evaluation?

Yes, students with disabilities should be evaluated at least once every three years, and more often if necessary.

Although the IEP must be reviewed once a year, reevaluations of students with disabilities need not occur that frequently. Reevaluations must occur at least once every three years. A parent and the school district may agree that a three year reevaluation is not necessary. However, these three year evaluations often give parents and school districts valuable information on how a student is doing. Imagine the changes that a student experiences in the three years from grade school to high school! Think carefully before agreeing not to re-test your child because many things may have changed in the three years that have passed since the last evaluation.

A student can be reevaluated sooner if the school district determines that the educational and service needs of the child warrant a reevaluation (this includes circumstances where the child has made improvement) or if the parent or the teacher requests a reevaluation. However, reevaluations may not occur more frequently than one time per year unless the parent and the district agree that an evaluation is necessary.

The purposes of a reevaluation are to determine:

  1. Whether the student continues to meet eligibility criteria
     
  2. What additional services are needed to meet the goals of the IEP
     
  3. The present levels of academic achievement and related developmental needs of the student.

The IEP Team must review the existing evaluation data for the student and decide what additional testing, if any, is needed to address the three issues listed above.

Where will my child with disabilities receive services described in his or her IEP?

Students with disabilities must be educated in the least restrictive educational environment – and that may mean a general education class.

An essential principle of IDEA is that students with disabilities should be included in the general education program as much as possible and not excluded or educated separately.

Children with disabilities have the right to be educated in the least restrictive environment. This means that an IEP Team must consider educating and providing services to a student in the same setting as students without disabilities for academic, non-academic, and extracurricular activities. A student with disabilities can be removed from the general education classroom setting only if the needs are so severe or disruptive that he or she cannot make educational progress, even with extra support and services in the general education classroom.

Not all students with disabilities can succeed in a general education classroom without support. Some students need individual help from a teacher’s aide in the class, or modifications of curriculum, materials, or methods of instruction. Other students require a different setting entirely, such as a special day school or home instruction.

Every school district must make sure that a range of educational settings is available for students with disabilities since some students with disabilities need more than can be offered in a general education setting. Students must be educated in the educational setting that is closest to the general education classroom, but will still allow the student to make academic progress.

This range of educational settings is sometimes called a continuum of placements and can include the options described in the chart to the left.

What happens if my child has an IEP and we move during the school year?

  1. Moves within the state: The new school district must provide the student with services comparable to those outlined in the IEP from the former district until the new district either adopts the old IEP or develops a new IEP.
     
  2. Moves out of the state: The new district in the new state must provide the student with services comparable to those outlined in the IEP from the former district until the new district conducts an evaluation, if necessary, and develops a new IEP.

In both circumstances, the new school must take reasonable steps to promptly obtain the child’s special education records and the previous school must promptly reply to the request for records.

Can my child with disabilities receive special education services during the summer?

Yes.

  1. Extended school year (ESY) services

A student with disabilities may receive special education services during the summer if the IEP Team decides that the services are necessary in order for the student to get a meaningful education. Eligibility for extended school year services can be based on the following factors:

  • The likelihood that the student will lose skills over the summer
  • Whether a summer program is necessary for the student to meet the annual IEP goals
  • A recommendation from a professional
  • The student’s educational history.

School districts are required to develop criteria for IEP Teams to use when determining a student’s need for extended school year services. If you think your child requires extended year services, ask for a copy of the district’s criteria.

If a summer program is provided, it has to meet the goals of the IEP. In other words, participation in the general education summer school courses offered to all students may not be enough. If a student’s IEP provides for a one-on-one aide during the school year, he or she has to be provided with one-on-one help during the summer as well. An extended school year program must be provided at no cost to the student.

If the district does not have an appropriate summer program for a student who qualifies for extended school year services, the district should create one or pay for the student to participate in a program offered by another school district or a private organization. The district must pay transportation and other costs associated with the extended school year program.

  1. Accommodations and services in general education summer school

If a student with disabilities does not qualify for ESY services but signs up for the district’s general education summer school program, the school should still provide accommodations and specialized instruction to the student. Ask for these services under IDEA or Section 504 if your child needs additional help in order to participate in the program.

Can a special education program help my child transition from school into adult life?

Yes, special education must provide transition services to students beginning at least by age sixteen.

Special education provides services to all students with disabilities to help them prepare for adult life. These services, called “transition services,” are designed to promote movement from school to post-school activities, including college and other post-secondary education, vocational training programs, independent living programs, adult services, and supported employment.

School districts must start transition planning for older students, beginning no later than the first IEP to be in effect when the student is 16. This means that the school district must address transition planning at the annual IEP meeting prior to the student’s 16th birthday. After transition is addressed, the IEP must include appropriate, measurable post secondary goals related to training, education, employment and, where appropriate, independent living skills and outline the transition services, including courses of study, the student will need to reach these goals. These goals must be based upon an age appropriate transition assessment. The kinds of transition services a student receives should take into account his or her interests and preferences and the skills he or she needs to acquire.