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FAQs: Developing Your Child's Individualized Education Program (IEP)

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Q: So my child has been found eligible for special education. What next?

A: The next step is to write what is known as an Individualized Education Program—this is usually called an IEP. After a child is found eligible, a meeting must be held within 30 days to develop to the IEP.

Q: What is an Individualized Education Program?

A: An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a written statement of the educational program designed to meet a child’s individual needs. Every child who receives special education services must have an IEP.

The IEP has two general purposes:
(1) to set reasonable learning goals for your child; and
(2) to state the services that the school district will provide for your child.

Q: What type of information is included in an IEP?

A: According to the IDEA, your child’s IEP must include specific statements about your child that are listed below.

Take a moment to read over this list. This information will be included in your child’s IEP.

1. Present levels of educational performance

This statement describes how your child is currently doing in school. This includes how your child’s disability affects his or her involvement and progress in the general curriculum.

2. Annual goals, short-term objectives or benchmarks

The IEP must state annual goals for your child, meaning what you and the school team think he or she can reasonably accomplish in a year. This statement of annual goals includes individual steps that make up the goals (often called short-term objectives) or major milestones (often called benchmarks). The goals must relate to meeting the needs that result from your child’s disability. They must also help your son or daughter be involved in and progress in the general curriculum.

3. Special education and related services to be provided

The IEP must list the special education and related services to be provided to your child. This includes supplementary aids and services (such as a communication device). It also includes changes to the program or supports for school personnel that will be provided for your child.

4. Participation with nondisabled children

How much of the school day will your child be educated separately from nondisabled children or not participate in extracurricular or other nonacademic activities such as lunch or clubs? The IEP must include an explanation that answers this question.

5. Participation in state and district-wide assessments

Your state and district probably give tests of student achievement to children in certain grades or age groups. In order to participate in these tests, your child may need individual modifications or changes in how the tests are administered. The IEP team must decide what modifications your child needs and list them in the IEP. If your child will not be taking these tests, the IEP must include a statement as to why the tests are not appropriate for your child and how your child will be tested instead.

6. Dates and location

The IEP must state
(a) when services and modifications will begin;
(b) how often they will be provided;
(c) where they will be provided; and
(d) how long they will last.

7. Transition service needs

If your child is age 14 (or younger, if the IEP team determines it appropriate), the IEP must include a statement of his or her transition service needs. Transition planning will help your child move through school from grade to grade.

8. Transition services

If your child is age 16 (or younger, if determined appropriate by the IEP team), the IEP must include a statement of needed transition services and, if appropriate, a statement of the interagency responsibilities or any needed linkages.

9. Measuring progress

The IEP must state how school personnel will measure your child’s progress toward the annual goals. It must also state how you, as parents, will be informed regularly of your child’s progress and whether that progress is enough to enable your child to achieve his or her goals by the end of the year.

It is very important that children with disabilities participate in the general curriculum as much as possible. That is, they should learn the same curriculum as nondisabled children do -- reading, math, science, social studies, and physical education.

In some cases, this curriculum may need to be adapted for your child to learn, but it should not be omitted altogether.

Participation in extracurricular activities and other nonacademic activities is also important. Your child’s IEP needs to be written with this in mind.

For example, what special education services will help your child participate in the general curriculum—in other words, to study what other students are studying? What special education services or supports will help your child take part in extracurricular activities such as school clubs or sports? When your child’s IEP is developed, an important part of the discussion will be how to help your child take part in regular classes and activities in the school.

Q: Who develops my child’s IEP?

A: Many people come together to develop your child’s IEP. This group is called the IEP team and includes most of the same types of individuals who were involved in your child’s evaluation. Team members will include:

1. You, the parents
2. At least one regular education teacher, if your child is (or may be) participating in the regular education environment
3. At least one of your child’s special education teachers or special education providers
4. A representative of the school system who (a) is qualified to provide or supervise the provision of special education, (b) knows about the general curriculum; and (c) knows about the resources the school system has available
5. An individual who can interpret the evaluation results and talk about what instruction may be necessary for your child - this is usually the school psychologist
6. Your child, when appropriate
7. Representatives from any other agencies that may be responsible for paying for or providing transition services (if your child is 16 years or, if appropriate, younger)
8. Other individuals (invited by you or the school) who have knowledge or special expertise about your child. For example, you may wish to invite a relative who is close to the child or a child care provider.

Together, these people will work as a team to develop your child’s IEP.

Q: So I can help develop my child’s IEP?

A: Yes, absolutely. The law is very clear that parents have the right to participate in developing their child’s IEP. Your input is invaluable. You know your child so very well, and the school needs to know your insights and concerns.

Q: Who will schedule a meeting to develop my child's IEP? How will this be done?

A: The school staff will try to schedule the IEP meeting at a time that is convenient for all team members to attend.

If the school suggests a time that is impossible for you, explain your schedule and needs. It’s important that you attend this meeting and share your ideas about your child’s needs and strengths. Often, another time or date can be arranged.

However, if you cannot agree on a time or date, the school may hold the IEP meeting without you. In this event, the school must keep you informed, for example, by phone or mail.

Q: What should I do before the IEP meeting?

A: The purpose of the IEP meeting is to develop your child’s Individualized Education Program. You can prepare for this meeting by:

1. Making a list of your child’s strengths and weaknesses,
2. Making a list of your concerns about your child
3. Talking to teachers and/or therapists and getting their thoughts about your child,
4. Observing your child's class
5. Talking to your child about his or her feelings toward school

It is a good idea to write down what you think your child can accomplish during the school year. Make notes about what you would like the school team to know about your child. Write down the concerns you have about your child's educational progress and program.

NOTE: You learn how to use a Parent Agenda and Pre-Meeting Worksheet in Chapters 25 and 26 about preparing for and surviving meetings (Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy).

Practice what you want to say during the meeting.

Q: What happens during an IEP meeting?

A: During the IEP meeting, members of the IEP team share their thoughts and suggestions. Since IEPs should be based on the child's current educational performance, the IEP team should discuss your child's test results.

If this is the first IEP meeting after your child’s evaluation, the team should review the the evaluation results so the team understands your child’s strengths and needs. These test results will help the team make decisions about the special help your child needs in school.

If your child has been in special education, the team should evaluate your child's test results to determine if your child is making acceptable progress.

You a very important part of the IEP team. You know your child better than anyone.

Don’t be shy about speaking up, even though there may be a lot of other people at the meeting. Share what you know about your child and what you want the team to know about your child.

After the team members (including you, the parent) have shared their thoughts and concerns about your child, the group will have a better idea of your child’s strengths and needs. This will allow the team to discuss and decide on:

  • the educational and other goals that are appropriate for your child; and
  • the special education services your child needs

Q: What are related services?

A: The IEP team will also talk about the related services your child may need to benefit from his or her special education. The IDEA lists many related services that schools must provide if eligible children need them. Examples of related services include:

  • occupational therapy can help a child develop or regain movement
  • speech therapy (called speech-language pathology) can help children who have trouble speaking.

Related services listed in the IDEA include:

  • Transportation
  • Speech-language pathology
  • Audiology services
  • Psychological services
  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Recreation (including therapeutic recreation)
  • Early identification and assessment of disabilities in children
  • Counseling services (including rehabilitation counseling)
  • Orientation & mobility services
  • Medical services for diagnostic or evaluation purposes
  • School health services
  • Social work services in schools
  • Parent counseling & training

This list does not include all related services that a child may need or that a school may offer.

Depending on your child's needs, the IEP team may discuss these special factors:

  • If your child’s behavior’s interferes with his or her learning or the learning of others, the team will discuss strategies and supports to address your child’s behavior.
  • If your child has limited proficiency in English, the IEP team will talk about your child’s language needs as these needs relate to his or her IEP.
  • If your child is blind or visually impaired: The IEP team must provide for instruction in Braille or the use of Braille, unless it determines after an appropriate evaluation that your child does not need this instruction.
  • If your child has communication needs: The IEP team must consider those needs.
  • If your child is deaf or hard of hearing: The IEP team will consider your child’s language and communication needs. This includes your child’s opportunities to communicate directly with classmates and school staff in his or her usual method of communication (for example, sign language).

Q: What is assistive technology?

A: The IEP team will also talk about whether your child needs any assistive technology devices or services. Assistive technology devices can help many children do certain activities or tasks.

Examples of these devices are:

  • devices that make the words bigger on the computer screen or that “read” the typed words aloud—which can help children who do not see well
  • electronic talking boards—which can help students who have trouble speaking
  • computers and special programs for the computer—which can help students with all kinds of disabilities learn more easily

Q: What are assistive technology services?

A: Assistive technology services include evaluating your child to see if he or she could benefit from using an assistive device. These services also include providing the devices and training your child (or your family or the professionals who work with your child) to use the device.

Discussing Your Child's Needs

As you can see, there are a lot of important matters to talk about in an IEP meeting. You may feel very emotional during the meeting, as everyone talks about your child’s needs. Try to keep in mind that the other team members are all there to help your child.

If you hear something about your child which surprises you, or which is different from the way you see your child, bring this to the attention of the other members of the team. In order to design a good program for your child, it is important to work closely with the other team members and share your feelings about your child’s educational needs. Feel free to ask questions and offer opinions and suggestions.

Writing the IEP

Based on the above discussions, the IEP team will then write your child’s IEP. This includes the services and supports the school will provide for your child. It will also include the location where particular services will be provided.

Q: What about my child's placement - who decides this?

A: Your child’s placement (where the IEP will be carried out) will be determined every year, must be based on your child’s IEP, and must be as close as possible to your child’s home.

The placement decision is made by a group of persons, including you the parent, and others knowledgeable about your child, the meaning of the evaluation data, and the placement options.

In some states, the IEP team makes the placement decision. In other states, the placement decision is made by another group of people. In all cases, you as parents have the right to be members of the group that makes decisions on the educational placement of your child.

Depending on the needs of your child and the services to be provided, your child’s IEP could be carried out:

  • in regular classes,
  • in special classes (where all the students are receiving special education services),
  • in special schools,
  • at home,
  • in hospitals and institutions, and
  • in other settings

Which of these placements is best suited for your child?

Can he or she be educated in the regular classroom, with supplementary aids and services? (The IDEA prefers this placement.) If not, then the placement group will look at other placements for your child. Before the school system can provide your child with special education for the first time, you, as parents, must give your written consent.

Q: Can my child’s IEP be changed?

A: Yes. At least once a year a meeting must be scheduled with you to review your child’s progress and develop your child’s next IEP. The meeting will be similar to the IEP meeting described above.

The team will talk about:

  • your child’s progress toward the goals in the current IEP,
  • new goals that should be added
  • whether changes need to be made to the special education and related services your child receives

This annual IEP meeting allows you and the school to review your child’s educational program and change it as necessary.

But you don’t have to wait for this annual review. You (or any other team member) may ask to have your child’s IEP reviewed or revised at any time.

For example, you may feel that your child is not making good progress toward his or her annual goals. Or you may want to write new goals, because your son or daughter has made such great progress! Call the principal of the school, or the special education director or your child’s teacher, and express your concerns. If necessary, they will call the IEP team together to talk about changing your child’s IEP.

Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy

For information about IEPs, read Chapter 8, Evaluations and Your Child's Disability; Chapters 10 and 11 about Tests and Measurements; and Chapter 12, SMART IEPs. Read Chapter 17, IDEA - Section 1414: Evaluations, Eligibility, IEPs, and Placement.

For information about IEP Meetings, read Chapter 25, Preparing for Meetings and Chapter 26, Meeting Strategies.

More FAQ Sheets on FetaWeb.com

FAQs about Special Education - What Is it? Who is Eligible?
FAQs about Your Child's Evaluation
FAQs about Your Child's Eligibility
FAQs about Writing IEPs
FAQs about Reevaluations
FAQs - Resolving Disputes with the School

This article is an excerpt from "Questions Often Asked by Parents about Special Education Services", NICHCY Briefing Paper LG1 (4th Edition), September 1999.

NICHCY Briefing Papers are developed in response to questions and concerns of individuals and organizations that contact the Clearinghouse. NICHCY disseminates other materials and can respond to individual requests for information.

This document was reviewed by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs for consistency with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997, Public Law 105-17, and the final implementing regulations published March 12, 1999.

For further information and assistance, or to receive a NICHCY Publications Catalog, contact:

P. O. Box 1492,
Washington, DC 20013
Phone: 1-800-695-0285 (Voice/TTY) and (202) 884-8200 (Voice/TTY).

Visit the NICHCY website at www.nichcy.org or e-mail at: nichcy@aed.org


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