Understanding Individual Education Programs (IEPs)

Written by Rebecca Bardenhagen, M.Ed. and Lakshmi Mahadevan, Ph.D.

Individual Education Programs, or IEPs, are plans written by educational professionals for children with disabilities in public school.  Parents/guardians of these children may have questions about what an IEP is and how the plan is implemented. If service providers have a basic understanding of this process, they will be able to aid parents/guardians in addressing IEP concerns and questions.

The IEP Meeting

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates that parents have the right to participate in IEP meetings regarding their child’s evaluation for special education eligibility and education placement (Center for Parent Information & Resources, 2010).  When parents/guardians attend an IEP meeting, writing and/or reviewing goals for their child with disabilities will encompass a substantial portion of the meeting.  These goals are written as positive statements that describe the gains that the child will make in the coming year.  Below are descriptions of items in an IEP.  Being familiar with them will allow parents/guardians to better understand the special education services their child will be provided.

Present Levels and Annual Goals

The main objective of an IEP goal is to assist the child in progressing in the general education curriculum (Texas Project First, n.d.).  Writing annual goals stems from the child’s present level of academic and functional performance or PLAAFP, with functional performance meaning skills that are not related to academic performance but impact education attainment (Center for Parent Information & Resources, 2017), for e.g. communication, following directions, working independently, etc.  Present levels of performance are based on assessment reports from teachers, therapists, and parent/guardian reflections and concerns (Special Education Parent Advisory Committee [SEPAC], 2012).  Keep in mind that evaluations from outside specialists can also be used during the goal writing.  Usually school staff will write what needs to be in the IEP before the meeting occurs, but parents/guardians should write down important information and thoughts to share (Center for Parent Information & Resources, 2017).  Goals express what the child should achieve by the end of the school year by positively stating a skill that can be clearly observed and measured (Center for Parent Information & Resources, 2017).

Four Components of Goals

Each goal will contain the following information (SEPAC, 2012):

  •  Timeframe: States when the child will achieve the goal
  • Content: Describes the learning that will be mastered
  • Behavior: Explains what the student will do to demonstrate learning of the goal
  • Criterion: Defines the criteria and method for measuring the goals

Understanding how goals are crafted will allow parents/guardians to a take a more active role in the IEP process and allow for them to advocate for the needs of their child (SEPAC, 2012).

Other Important Terms

There are several terms that may be used during the IEP writing process.  If parents/guardians are familiar with these terms, they may feel more comfortable in proactively participating in the process (SEPAC, 2012).

  • Program Placement: States where the child will be placed to achieve the goals (i.e. a special class or a general education classroom)
  • Services and Supports:  Considerations that will help the child in attaining goals (i.e. speech therapy, physical therapy)
  • Accommodations:  Ways to help a child develop skills when receiving the general education curriculum (i.e. more time for assignments or having material read to them)
  • Modifications:  Changing the skills that are being taught (i.e. shorter reading passages, 10-item test as opposed to 15 items, writing a short answer instead of a long essay etc.)

***Download the IEP Cheat Sheet for more info and assistance. 

Conclusion

The IEP process can be daunting and a source of stress for parents/guardians and students with disabilities. Being armed with information beforehand, knowing what is coming, and preparing ahead can help ease the path and ensure that the student receives appropriate special education services in a safe and positive learning environment.


References:

Center for Parent Information & Resources (2017).  Annual Goals.  Retrieved on March 20, 2018.

Center for Parent Information & Resources (2010).  Questions and Answers about IDEA: Parent Participation. Retrieved on May 9, 2018.

Special Education Parent Advisory Committee, [SEPAC] (2012). Goal Writing at Your Child’s IEP.  Retrieved on March 20, 2018.

Texas Project First (n.d.).  Writing Goals and Objectives.  Retrieved on March 20, 2018.

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