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

IEPs can seem pretty complex and hard to understand if you are a parent/guardian. There are a lot of educational and legal terms and it is a long document. The goal of this page is to help make things a little easier to understand.

Quick Facts about IEPs


  1. To set reasonable learning goals for a child

  2. To state the services that the school district will provide for the child


The IEP is developed by a team of individuals that includes key school staff and the child’s parents. The team meets, reviews the assessment information available about the child, and designs an educational program to address the child’s educational needs that result from his or her disability.


An IEP meeting must be held within 30 calendar days after it is determined, through a full and individual evaluation, that a child has one of the disabilities listed in IDEA and needs special education and related services. Often the IEP is developed and reviewed at the same time as the eligibility meeting to determine special education services.


A child’s IEP must also be reviewed at least annually thereafter to determine whether the annual goals are being achieved and must be revised as appropriate. The team, always including the parent, can meet at any time and review or change the IEP as needed.

Different Parts of an IEP

An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is a legally binding document for children who are eligible for special education services that describes:

  1. Eligibility- What makes the child eligible for special education services (e.g., which eligibility category)

  2. Adverse Impacts Statement-How the disability impacts the child's involvement and progress in the general curriculum (e.g., what does the disability make difficult for the child in a regular classroom)

  3. Current performance (aka: present levels)- how is the child is currently doing in school in multiple areas including academics, communication, social-emotional, gross and fine motor, health, adaptive/daily living skills.

  4. Annual goals-These are goals in the areas of need the things that are difficult for the child. These need to be things that the child can reasonably accomplish in a year. Goals may be academic, address social or behavioral needs, relate to physical needs, or address other educational needs.

  5. Special education and related services - What type of services the child will get to help them reach their annual goals and make progress. This differs for each child based on his/her needs. It can include working with a special education teacher for some or part of the day or working with a related service provider such as a speech and language pathologist or occupational therapist. This section also talks about any accommodations and modifications your child may receive.

  6. Measurement of Progress- how will progress on the annual goals be measured and how and how often will the parents be informed of progress.

  7. Participation with nondisabled children - The IEP must explain the extent (if any) to which the child will not participate with nondisabled children in the regular class and other school activities and why.

  8. 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 accommodations or modifications in the administration of these tests the child will need (e.g., testing in a separate classroom). 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.

  9. Special Factors- this section talks about several different things that may or may not apply to a child. If the child is an English Language Learner (e.g., English is not their primary language) this section talks about how they will be supported. If the child needs assistive technology, this section talks about what assistive technology they may need. If the child's behavior impacts the learning of his/herself or of others this section talks about that and how his/her behavior will be supported so it does not impact the learning of self or others.

There are many different parts to the IEP and depending on the age of the child, all parts may not apply. For example, statewide tests are not administered until children are in third grade, so the section of the IEP that talks about participation in state-wide testing would not apply to a child in preschool through second grade.

Common IEP Terms Explained

Accommodations- these change how the student learns the material. Accommodations allow a child with a disability to participate fully in an activity. Examples include, extended time, different test format, and changes to a classroom like different types of seating.

Annual Review- A scheduled meeting of the IEP team every year to review, revise, and update the IEP

Extended School Year (ESY)- Additional instruction beyond the normal school year, normally conducted during the summer months. A child must show a significant amount of loss of skills over breaks (e.g., Christmas or spring break) and have a lot of difficulty relearning those skills. The IEP team determines need for ESY services.

Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)- Special education and related services are provided to students with disabilities at public expense and under public supervision and direction at no cost to the student’s parents.

Goals- skills the student is expected to be able to learn in one year maximum (reviewed and re-evaluated by the IEP team at least every year).

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)- A child with an IEP should be with kids in general education to the “maximum extent that is appropriate.”

Modifications- An academic modification is a change to what a student is taught or expected to do in school. Examples include, using different books (at an easier level), answer different test questions, complete different homework, create alternate projects or assignments.

Related Services- services a child with a disability needs in order to benefit from special education. Related services can include speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, transportation, and counseling.

Triennial Evaluation- Under the federal special education law, a student must be re-evaluated at least every three years. The purpose of the triennial evaluation is to find out: (a) if the student continues to be a "student with a disability," as defined within the law, and (b) the student's educational needs. Although the law requires that students with disabilities be re-evaluated at least every three years, the student may be re-evaluated more often if the parent/guardians or their student's teacher(s) request it.