An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a federal program that is designed to help your child do better in school. It is a plan or program that is developed to ensure a child who has a learning disability (identified under the law and is attending an elementary or secondary educational institution) receives specialized instruction and related services. Each plan and program is specific to that child’s needs.

If your child has been diagnosed with an IEP, it might be a bit confusing and frustrating to deal with, especially when your child is first diagnosed. Some parents go so far as to think that their child is stupid, but that is far from the truth! It doesn’t mean that your child is mentally disabled. It just means that your child needs extra help with a specific area in school such as needing help in math, science, reading, or writing. In addition, it doesn’t mean that they will have it for the rest of their life.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that requires public schools to create an Individual Education Program (IEP) for students receiving special education. However, private schools are not required to have an IEP program, but that doesn’t mean they don’t offer an IEP to their students.

Students from preschool (3 years old) through high school graduation (maximum of 22 years old) may be eligible for an IEP. The IEP is meant to address each child’s unique learning issues and include specific educational goals.

The IEP Process

Below is a list gathered from the Department of Education chapter on IEP that explains the process of identifying and aiding an IEP student.

1) Child is identified as possibly needing special education and related services

The state must identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities who need special education and related services by conducting “Child Find” activities. A child may be identified by “Child Find,” and parents may be asked if the “Child Find” system can evaluate their child. Parents can also call the “Child Find” system and ask that their child be evaluated.

Another way to identify a child that may need an IEP is through a referral or request for evaluation made by parents and a school professional. This request may be verbal or in writing. Parental consent is needed before the child may be evaluated. Evaluation needs to be completed within a reasonable time after the parent gives consent.

2) Child is evaluated

The evaluation must assess the child in all areas related to the child’s suspected disability. The evaluation results will be used to decide the child’s eligibility for special education and related services and to make decisions about an appropriate educational program for the child. If the parents disagree with the evaluation, they have the right to take their child for an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE). They can ask that the school system pay for this IEE.

3) Eligibility is decided

A group of qualified professionals and the parents look at the child’s evaluation results. Together, they decide if the child is a “child with a disability,” as defined by IDEA. Parents may ask for a hearing to challenge the eligibility decision.

4) Child is found eligible for services

If the child is found to be a “child with a disability,” as defined by IDEA, he or she is eligible for special education and related services. Within 30 calendar days after a child is determined eligible, the IEP team must meet to write an IEP for the child.

5) IEP meeting is scheduled

The school system schedules and conducts the IEP meeting. School staff must:

  • contact the participants, including the parents;
  • notify parents early enough to make sure they have an opportunity to attend;
  • schedule the meeting at a time and place agreeable to parents and the school;
  • tell the parents the purpose, time, and location of the meeting;
  • tell the parents who will be attending; and
  • tell the parents that they may invite people to the meeting who have knowledge or special expertise about the child.

6) IEP meeting is held and the IEP is written

The IEP team gathers to talk about the child’s needs and write the student’s IEP. Parents and the student (when appropriate) are part of the team. If the child’s placement is decided by a different group, the parents must be part of that group as well.

Before the school system may provide special education and related services to the child for the first time, the parents must give consent. The child begins to receive services as soon as possible after the meeting.

If the parents do not agree with the IEP and placement, they may discuss their concerns with other members of the IEP team and try to work out an agreement. If they still disagree, parents can ask for mediation, or the school may offer mediation. Parents may file a complaint with the state education agency and may request a due process hearing, at which time mediation must be available.

7) Services are provided

The school makes sure that the child’s IEP is being carried out as it was written. Parents are given a copy of the IEP. Each of the child’s teachers and service providers has access to the IEP and knows his or her specific responsibilities for carrying out the IEP. This includes the accommodations, modifications, and supports that must be provided to the child, in keeping with the IEP.

8) Progress is measured and reported to parents

The child’s progress toward the annual goals is measured, as stated in the IEP. His or her parents are regularly informed of their child’s progress and whether that progress is enough for the child to achieve the goals by the end of the year. These progress reports must be given to parents at least as often as parents are informed of their non-disabled children’s progress.

9) IEP is reviewed

The child’s IEP is reviewed by the IEP team at least once a year, or more often if the parents or school ask for a review. If necessary, the IEP is revised. Parents, as team members, must be invited to attend these meetings. Parents can make suggestions for changes, can agree or disagree with the IEP goals, and agree or disagree with the placement.

If parents do not agree with the IEP and placement, they may discuss their concerns with other members of the IEP team and try to work out an agreement. There are several options, including additional testing, an independent evaluation, or asking for mediation (if available) or a due process hearing. They may also file a complaint with the state education agency.

10) Child is reevaluated.

The child must be reevaluated once every 3 years. This evaluation is often called a “triennial.” Its purpose is to find out if the child continues to be a “child with a disability,” as defined by IDEA, and what the child’s educational needs are. However, the child must be reevaluated more often if conditions warrant or if the child’s parent or teacher asks for a new evaluation.

Contents of the IEP

By law, the IEP must include certain information about the child and the educational program designed to meet his or her unique needs. In a nutshell, this information is:

1) Current performance

The IEP must state how the child is currently doing in school (known as present levels of educational performance). This information usually comes from the evaluation results such as classroom tests and assignments, individual tests given to decide eligibility for services or during reevaluation, and observations made by parents, teachers, related service providers, and other school staff. The statement about “current performance” includes how the child’s disability affects his or her involvement and progress in the general curriculum.

2) Annual goals

These are goals that the child can reasonably accomplish in a year. The goals are broken down into short-term objectives or benchmarks. Goals may be academic, address social or behavioral needs, relate to physical needs, or address other educational needs. The goals must be measurable-meaning that it must be possible to measure whether the student has achieved the goals.

3) 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 supplementary aids and services that the child needs. It also 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.

4) 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.

5) Participation in state and district-wide 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.

6) Dates and places

The IEP must state when services will begin, how often they will be provided, where they will be provided, and how long they will last.

7) Transition service needs

Beginning when the child is age 14 (or younger, if appropriate), the IEP must address (within the applicable parts of the IEP) the courses he or she needs to take to reach his or her post-school goals. A statement of transition services needs must also be included in each of the child’s subsequent IEPs.

8) Needed transition services

Beginning when the child is age 16 (or younger, if appropriate), the IEP must state what transition services are needed to help the child prepare for leaving school.

9) Age of maturity

Beginning at least one year before the child reaches the age of maturity, 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.

10) Measuring progress

The IEP must state how the child’s progress will be measured and how parents will be informed of that progress.

The IEP Team

An IEP Team is a team that consists of the student, parents, teachers, aids, special education teacher, and other professionals mentioned in the image to the right. These people must work together as a team to write the child’s IEP. Each team member brings important information to the IEP meeting. Members share their information and work together to write the child’s Individualized Education Program. Each person’s information adds to the team’s understanding of the child and what services the child needs.

When the IEP team is meeting to conduct a review of the child’s IEP and, as necessary, to revise it, members must again consider all of the factors, which includes:

  • The child’s strengths
  • The parents’ ideas for enhancing their child’s education
  • The results of recent evaluations or reevaluations
  • How the child has done on state and district-wide tests

Implementing the IEP

Once the IEP is written, it is time to implement it. This includes all supplementary aids and services and program modifications that the IEP team has identified as necessary for the student to advance appropriately toward his or her IEP goals, to be involved in and progress in the general curriculum, and participate in other school activities. While it is beyond the scope of this guide to discuss in detail the many issues involved in implementing a student’s IEP, certain suggestions can be offered.

  • Every individual involved in providing services to the student should know and understand his or her responsibilities for carrying out the IEP. This will help ensure that the student receives the services that have been planned, including the specific modifications and accommodations the IEP team has identified as necessary.
  • Teamwork plays an important part in carrying out the IEP. Many professionals are likely to be involved in providing services and supports to the student. Sharing expertise and insights can help make everyone’s job a lot easier and can certainly improve results for students with disabilities. Schools can encourage teamwork by giving teachers, support staff and/or paraprofessionals time to plan or work together on such matters as adapting the general curriculum to address the student’s unique needs. Teachers, support staff, and others providing services for children with disabilities may request training and staff development.
  • Communication between home and school is also important. Parents can share information about what is happening at home and build upon what the child is learning at school. If the child is having difficulty at school, parents may be able to offer insight or help the school explore possible reasons as well as possible solutions.
  • It is helpful to have someone in charge of coordinating and monitoring the services the student receives. In addition to special education, the student may be receiving any number of related services. Many people may be involved in delivering those services. Having a person in charge of overseeing that services are being delivered as planned can help ensure that the IEP is being carried out appropriately.
  • The regular progress reports that the law requires will help parents and schools monitor the child’s progress toward his or her annual goals. It is important to know if the child is not making the progress expected-or if he or she has progressed much faster than expected. Together, parents and school personnel can then address the child’s needs as those needs become evident.


“A Guide to the Individualized Education Program.” US Department of Education, March 23, 2007. May 29, 2016.

“Definition of Individualized Education Program.” US Department of Education. May 29, 2016.

Let’s Hear From You!

There’s nothing wrong with having an IEP. It doesn’t mean that you’re stupid, and it doesn’t mean that you will have it for the rest of your life. It just means that you could use a little extra help in a particular subject, and that’s nothing to be embarrassed about. For example, my relative had a reading and writing IEP, but after a lot of hard work and practice, he was able to graduate with a 3.8 GPA in physics!

Don’t worry too much if having an IEP will affect your life. Colleges can’t legally reject an applicant for having an IEP. In addition, employers can’t discriminate about hiring a candidate that has an IEP. Schoolwork might be harder for them, but it doesn’t mean that they can’t do well!

Did you or do you have an IEP? What is your IEP? What have you, your teachers, and your parents done to help you improve? Was it difficult? Were you frustrated, embarrassed, or confused? Were you able to overcome your weakness? Are your weaknesses now your strength? What would you like to tell people about having an IEP? Do you have any advice, tips, recommendations, or dos and dont’s for people who either have or have to help their loved ones with IEP?