Future Reflections Summer 2000, Vol. 19 No. 2


Writing an IEP


  From the Editor: The following material is an excerpt from the NICHCY Briefing Paper titled “Questions Often Asked by Parents about Special Education Services.” The publication 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.

To order one free copy of the complete version of this publication contact NICHCY, National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities, P.O. Box 1492, Washington, DC 20013, 1-800-695-0285 (Voice/TTY), e-mail: <[email protected]>, Web: <www.nichcy.org>. NICHCY has an extensive collection of free or low cost publications about IDEA, the IEP, education laws, related services, disability fact sheets, state and national resources for parents, and so forth. Here is the excerpt:





What is an Individualized
Education Program?

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.


What type of information is
included in an IEP?

According to the IDEA, your child’s IEP must include specific statements about your child. These are listed below. Take a moment to read over this list. This will be the information included in your child’s IEP.

Your child’s IEP will contain the following statements:


  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.

  Annual goals. 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 include: 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.

  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 support for school personnel that will be provided for your child.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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, for example, reading, math, science, social studies, and physical education, just as nondisabled children do. 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.


Who develops my child’s IEP?

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:

  you, the parents;

  at least one regular education teacher, if your child is (or may be) participating in the regular education environment;

  at least one of your child’s special education teachers or special education providers;

  a representative of the public agency (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;

  an individual who can interpret the evaluation results and talk about what instruction may be necessary for your child;

  your child, when appropriate;

  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); and

  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.


So I can help develop my child’s IEP?

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

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.


What should I do
before the IEP meeting?

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

  making a list of your child’s strengths and weaknesses,

  talking to teachers and/or therapists and getting their thoughts about your child,

  visiting your child’s class and perhaps other classes that may be helpful to him or her, and

  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. It also helps to make notes about what you would like to say during the meeting.


What happens during an
IEP meeting?

During the IEP meeting, the different members of the IEP team share their thoughts and suggestions. If this is the first IEP meeting after your child’s evaluation, the team may go over the evaluation results, so your child’s strengths and needs will be clear. These results will help the team decide what special help your child needs in school.

Remember that you are 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 wish others to know.

After the various 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 type of special education services your child needs.

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. The related services listed in IDEA are presented below:


Related Services, as listed in IDEA


Speech-language pathology

Audiology services

Psychological services

Physical therapy

Occupational therapy

Recreation (including therapeutic


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 every related service a child might need or that a school system may offer. To learn more about these related services and how IDEA defines them, contact NICHCY and ask for the “News Digest on Related Services.”

Depending on the needs of your child, the IEP team may also discuss the special factors listed below:

1. If your child’s behavior interferes with his or her learning or the learning of others: The IEP team will talk about strategies and supports to address your child’s behavior.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. If your child has communication needs: The IEP team must consider those needs.

5. 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).

6. 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; and

  computers and special programs for the computer which can help students with all kinds of disabilities learn more easily.

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. 

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.

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. 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 make 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.


Can my child’s IEP be changed?

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,

  what new goals should be added, and

  whether any 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, 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.


Is the school responsible for
ensuring that my child reaches
the goals in his or her IEP?

No. The IEP sets out the individualized instruction to be provided to your child, but it is not a contract. The school is responsible for providing the instructional services listed in an IEP. School officials must make a good-faith effort to help your child meet his or her goals. However, the school is not responsible if your child does not reach the goals listed in the IEP. If you feel that your child is not making progress toward his or her goals, then you may wish to contact the school and express your concerns. The IEP team may need to meet and revise your child’s IEP.


What if I disagree with the school about what is right for my child?

You have the right to disagree with the school’s decisions concerning your child. This includes decisions about:

  your child’s identification as a “child with a disability,”

  his or her evaluation,

  his or her educational placement, and

  the special education and related services that the school provides to your child.

In all cases where the family and school disagree, it is important for both sides to first discuss their concerns and try to compromise. The compromise can be temporary. For example, you might agree to try out a particular plan of instruction or classroom placement for a certain period of time. At the end of that period, the school can check your child’s progress. You and other members of your child’s IEP team can then meet again, talk about how your child is doing, and decide what to do next. The trial period may help you and the school come to a comfortable agreement on how to help your child.

If you still cannot agree with the school, it’s useful to know more about the IDEA’s protections for parents and children. The law and regulations include ways for parents and schools to resolve disagreements. These include:

  mediation, where you and school personnel sit down with an impartial third person (called a mediator), talk openly about the areas where you disagree, and try to reach agreement;

  due process, where you and the school present evidence before an impartial third person (called a hearing officer), and he or she decides how to resolve the problem; and

  filing a complaint with the State Education Agency (SEA), where you write directly to the SEA and describe what requirement of IDEA the school has violated. The SEA must either resolve your complaint itself, or it can have a system where complaints are filed with the school district and parents can have the district’s decision reviewed by the SEA. In most cases, the SEA must resolve your complaint within 60 calendar days.

Your state will have specific ways for parents and schools to resolve their differences. You will need to find out what your state’s policies are. Your local department of special education will probably have these guidelines. If not, contact the state department of education and ask for a copy of their special education policies. The telephone number and address of the state department of education are listed on NICHCY’s State Resource Sheet for your state.