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Family and Children's
Resource Program

Vol. 21, No. 1
January 2016

IEP Basics

Adapted from Iowa Univ. Center for Excellence on Disabilities, n. d.

An Individual Education Program is a written plan that specifies the academic and/or functional goals with the frequency, duration, and location of specially-designed instruction for students with disabilities. A legal document, the IEP focuses on the child's strengths as well as areas in which the child requires specially-designed instruction in order to make progress.

How IEPs usually get started
1. The IEP Team forms when a child is first identified as needing special education services. The IEP team consists of the individuals involved in a child's education:

  • Parent -- the parent is a key member of the IEP team
  • Older children are expected to be involved in the IEP process
  • At least one general education teacher who works with the child
  • At least one special education teacher who works with the child
  • A representative from the school district who is qualified to oversee the provision of special education and general education
  • Any specialists that work with a child, such as a speech, physical, or occupational therapists or social workers
  • Another professional the parent or school district would like who has special training

2. The Team meets to write the IEP. The team meets when a child is first identified as needing special education services. It meets at least annually thereafter. The IEP team may meet sooner if a member of the team, such as the school or parents, feels a meeting is necessary.

3. IEP Contents. The IEP should contain . . .

  • A statement about the student's present levels of academic achievement and functional performance, including how the student's disability affects his or her involvement in the general education curriculum.
  • A statement about when and if a child will be pulled out of the regular classroom for services. Children should be in the regular classroom as much as possible. Children who are spending a lot of time in a special education classroom should still be with the regular class for lunch, recess, PE, art, music, and afterschool programs unless there is a reason why they cannot participate in these activities.
  • If the child is 14 years old or older, the IEP should include information about the student and family goals and expectations for living, learning, and working after high school (schools often refer to this as "transition services" or "transition plan"). The information about the present levels of functioning should include information about the child's present education level and what is needed to help the child reach post-secondary goals.

Goals for the child and how they will be measured

  • It should be clear to everyone involved when and how goals in the IEP will be measured.
  • Parents of children with IEPs should be informed about their child's progress as much as parents of children without IEPs. An IEP progress report is in addition to a report card and provides an update regarding the student's progress toward the IEP goals. IEP progress reports are provided as often as report cards.
  • The IEP must contain a statement of measurable goals for the child. IEP goals are related to the unique needs of the student and are addressed through specially-designed instruction.
  • The IEP must include information on how the goals will be measured and how often.
  • The IEP team may determine that progress reports are needed more often and will decide what these reports will look like.

Curious what an IEP looks like?

  • Click here. Note that the forms your local school system uses may look different but must contain all of the components found in this example.
  • The forms and directions for their use can be found on the NC Department of Public Instruction's website at:
What's the Difference between an IEP and a 504 Plan?

The Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) is a plan or program developed to ensure a child who has a disability identified under the law and is attending a public elementary or secondary educational institution receives specialized instruction and related services.

The 504 Plan is a plan developed to ensure a child who has a disability identified under the law and is attending a public elementary or secondary educational institution receives accommodations that will ensure their academic success and access to the learning environment.

Students with 504 Plans do not require specialized instruction. However, as with an IEP, 504 Plans should be updated annually to ensure students are receiving the most effective accommodations for their specific circumstances.

Source: University of Washington, 2015

References for this and other articles in this issue