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An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is the written description of an appropriate instructional program for a student with special needs. In the United States, writing an IEP is a mandated requirement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The IEP helps everyone involved in the education of the child to plan for the special services the child may need to be an active learner during the school year. The plan is also a legal document, setting out the expectations and requirements for the school. It's not a set of suggestions for how the child might be educated; the school district is legally responsible to follow the plan.

Components of an IEP[]

An IEP typically outlines the following items for each student:

  • Current Performance Level
  • Accommodations necessary in class
  • Subject areas impacted by the student's disability
  • Goals and objectives to be achieved during the course of the IEP (1 year or less)
  • Standardized testing accommodations
  • Transportation services
  • Schedule modifications
  • Service delivery with necessary personnel
  • Parental or guardian concerns
  • Team's vision statement

The IEP will also include other pertinent information found necessary by the team, such as a health plan or a behavior plan for some students.

Creation of an IEP[]

An IEP is the written description of an appropriate instructional program for a student with special needs. The use of an IEP in the classroom is made up of seven steps to be followed, these are: pre-referral, referral, evaluation, eligibility, development of an IEP, implementation of an IEP, and an annual review.


The first step in creating an IEP is pre-referral. A pre-referral intervention is an informal, problem solving process; it can be used to examine the problems that the child is exhibiting and looking for solutions for those problems. Pre-referral interventions helps reduce the chances of over-identifying children for special education. This also increases the chances of identifying children for special education that do in fact need it.


The next step in creating an IEP is referral. In the step of referral the student is officially referred for special education services, this can only happen if all parties agree that the child exhibits behaviors or disabilities that may inhibit his or her learning experience. Only those with academic performance extensively behind that of their classmates and/or those who express learning, emotional, and behavioral difficulties can be officially referred, otherwise school officials should not refer students to special education programs because of the consequences that this act would have on the student’s future education.

An IEP is created by the IEP team, consisting of the student's parent(s)/guardian(s), special education teacher, one general education teacher, and school psychologist. The IEP team may also include a school counselor, school administrators, school nurse, and advocates brought in by the school district or parent. Other school personnel necessary to provide service to the student are also a part of the IEP team. This may include a speech therapist, occupational therapist, and all other service providers. Students may also join the IEP team if they have the mental capacity to understand the process.

During the IEP meeting it is important that the parent(s)/guardian(s) understand every component of the IEP. The IEP meeting is not to be confused as being a Parent/Teacher conference where the parent sits and listens as the teacher reports the student's status. As a member of the IEP team, the parent(s)/guardian(s) are on equal ground with all members of the IEP team and considered expert contributors to their child's IEP. The parent has the right to dispute points, add or modify details, etc.


After the student is referred for special education services, the step of evaluation takes place. Evaluation helps determine many factors, including: whether a child has a disability, whether special education is required and consequently if the child does have a disability, what types of special or related services are needed. The evaluation the student is subjected to should measure different aspects using a variety of measurement methods to determine if the student has any emotional, learning or any other type of disability that impedes him or her from performing as well, or to the capacity of most of their peers, the IEP team should not, under any circumstances make decisions based solely on a single method of evaluation. Furthermore, evaluation should also take place in the native language of the student.

Once the results for the evaluations are ready the step of eligibility takes place. It is during the step of eligibility that the IEP team examines the results from the evaluations and decides as a whole whether the child needs special education.

Development of an IEP[]

Following eligibility, the next step in the process of an IEP is the development of an IEP. The IEP team, using the assessment results decides on appropriate education, services and placement—preferably in the least restrictive environment. A matrix is then drafted containing the student’s present level of performance, indicators about ways the student’s disability influences participation and progress in the general curriculum, a statement of measurable goals; including benchmarks or short-terms objectives, the specific educational services to be provided; including program modifications or supports, an explanation of the extent that the child will not participate in general education, a description of all modifications in statewide or district-wide assessments, the projected date for initiation of the services and the expected duration of those services, the annual statement of transition service needs (beginning at age 14), and a statement of interagency responsibilities to ensure continuity of services when the student leaves school (by age 16), a statement regarding how the student’s progress will be measured and how the parents will be informed in the process, also the least restrictive environment that the student will be placed at.

Subsequently, the general education teacher proceeds to implement all educational services, program modifications or supports as indicated by the individual education plan in the step of implementation of the IEP.

Annual Review[]

Lastly, the step of annual review is to occur. The IEP team is responsible for conducting an annual review to ensure that the student is meeting goals and/or making progress on the benchmarks specified for each objective. The annual review is to take place on a yearly basis. However, if the present IEP is not effectively helping the student in the classroom, an immediate revision is to occur. This is something all teachers should have in mind because of the consequences that not doing this would have, not only from a legal point of view, but also because if an immediate revision of the IEP is not requested the child will struggle through the rest of the year.

Acceptance/Amendments of an IEP[]

An IEP must be accepted and signed by a parent or guardian before any of the outlined services may begin. The IEP is never set in stone; any member of the team may call a meeting at any time to edit the IEP. Many things may be added or subtracted and the parent/guardian must again accept and sign any amendments in order for them to take effect. Parents/guardians need not sign any paper work when it is initially proposed. They have 30 calendar days to take the paper work home for their consideration.


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  • Katsiyannis, A., & Maag, J. W. (2001). Educational methodologies: Legal and practical considerations. Preventing School Failure, 46(1), 31-36.
  • Lewis, A. C. (2005). The old, new IDEA. The Education Digest, 70(5), 68-70.
  • Patterson, K. (2005). What classroom teachers need to know about IDEA '97. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 41(2), 62-67.
  • Weishaar, M. K. (2001). The regular educator's role in the individual education plan process. The Clearing House, 75(2), 96-98.
  • Ormrod, Jeanne Ellis. Educational Psychology: Developing Learners (fifth edition). Pearson, Merrill Prentice Hall, 2006.

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