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Individualized Education Program (IEP)

The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is the cornerstone of special education. It contains a description of your child’s unique educational needs and it is a commitment in writing of the resources the school will provide to help him or her.


The IEP serves as a means of cooperative decision-making by parents and school staff in the best interest of the student. A well-thought out, comprehensive IEP will be a road map for the professionals providing services to your child and it will provide you with a means of evaluating your child’s progress. As parents you have a unique role on the IEP team. You know your child best and are the only ones who interact regularly with both the school staff and the child.

The IEP Meeting

The IEP meeting is where the actual IEP is written. A school administrator, teachers, and other school staff involved with your child, you, and your child, if appropriate, develop the IEP. You may bring along outside consultants such as your child’s therapist, tutor, etc. Others may attend the meeting at the discretion of the school and/or parent. One of the best ways to ensure a successful IEP meeting is to prepare ahead of time.


Visit the classroom.

  • If it’s not too distracting for your child, make an appointment to visit and observe him/her in class. Spend some time just sitting and watching.

Review your child’s evaluation in advance.

  • If the school has recently completed an evaluation of your child's strengths and challenges, you should review and fully understand the evaluation results prior to the IEP meeting.​

Review your child’s other records.

  • Re-familiarize yourself with any past evaluations, assessments and/or reports. You may also want to review his/her records at the local school district office, asking for an explanation of anything you don’t understand. If you already have an IEP, be sure to take another look over the existing goals, objectives, and progress updates.

Set your priorities.

  • The IEP meeting can be more productive if you prioritize your issues BEFORE the meeting. Try to narrow down the major considerations that you feel are most critical to your child’s progress. Having a priority list can help avoid spending too much time on secondary issues and can keep the meeting focused on what’s really important for your child.

Make a list of what you want to discuss.

  • It’s easy to forget a question or concern during the give-and-take of an IEP meeting. A list of questions, ideas, and suggestions developed ahead of time will help you focus your time and energies and ensure you don’t forget any important issues.

  • Feel free to provide any of this information to the school team in advance of the meeting, so they can incorporate your ideas and concerns into their preliminary goals.


Request a rough draft of preliminary goals and draft your own. 

  • By reviewing rough, preliminary goals ahead of time you can think about them in a non-pressured environment as well as discuss them with any private providers. Many individual team members may also be willing to meet with you to develop preliminary goals together. This can go along way in fostering a spirit of collaboration and shared responsibility for your child’s success. Additionally, it helps reduce the possibility of being surprised by an unexpected change and allows time to try and resolve any differences before the IEP meeting.

Share what you know about your child and his/her disability.

  • As the parent, you are the expert on your child. Your knowledge and input are invaluable. Share information about his/her behavior at home, hobbies, interests and the progress you’ve seen. Include a short list of tasks your child does well and those that are difficult.

  • Also share the expertise of any outside providers (i.e. psychologist, therapist, and tutor) involved with your child. Provide the school with copies of reports or evaluations conducted privately and consider having private providers attend the meeting to offer additional input.

  • It is difficult for everyone to be an expert in all areas of special education and the staff may not be knowledgeable about your child’s specific disability. Do what ever you can—share articles, suggest books, mention new therapies, bring in private providers—to enhance the team’s overall understanding.


Talk with your child.

  • Ask your child about classes, friends, and activities. Try to determine what is going well or what he/she would like to see changed.


Know all the players ahead of time.

  • The parent notification of the conference lists all the individuals invited to attend the IEP meeting. Be sure you know all the team members and the role they play in your child’s education.

  • Don’t hesitate to call any team members you haven’t met. If you are bringing someone to the meeting (i.e. friend, outside provider, advocate) notify the school ahead of time.

  • If next year’s teacher has been determined, ask that he/she attend the meeting. This will provide an early opportunity for the new teacher to learn about your child and you can start to build a relationship with each other.

During the actual IEP meeting, you may find it helpful to remember these Parent-to-Parent Tips:

  • Bring someone with you. Ideally, it’s best for both parents to attend IEP meetings. If that’s not possible, you may want to have a friend, relative or other person come to the meeting with you. They can pick up on comments you may have missed and provide important moral support. Private providers can also play an important role at the IEP meetings offering valuable insight as well as specific recommendations for your child.

  • Greet everyone at the meeting. It’s always more pleasant for everyone to begin by exchanging greetings and introducing those persons who don’t know each other. If there is someone there that you were not notified was attending, you do have the right to postpone the meeting. Conversely, if there is someone absent who should be there, you may ask to have the meeting rescheduled.

  • Set a positive tone with positive comments. Everyone likes to hear positive feedback on the job they’re doing. Be sure to compliment the team on what they’re doing well and let them know you appreciate their efforts.

  • Choose your battles. Refer to your priority list of issues to determine what things you can give on and what things you can’t. When the team sees that you can be flexible about some things, it strengthens your position on matters that you think, with good reason, should not be compromised.

  • Speak up if you have questions, or don’t understand something. Education has a language all its own. If something comes up that is not clear to you, don’t hesitate to ask for an explanation. Your questions are not an interruption; they are an important part of the process.

  • Make sure the IEP, as it is written, reflects what the team agrees to. The team may need to have critical portions of the IEP read back during the meeting just to confirm that everyone understands and is in agreement. It is impossible to remember everything that’s said at an IEP meeting. You will need to take notes on key agreements reached and areas for follow-up. If it isn’t in writing and in the IEP, it doesn’t exist.

  • Capitalize on the team’s collective experience. Every member of the team—special ed teachers, general ed teachers, therapists, social workers, principal, private providers and parents—everyone brings a unique and valuable perspective to the process. Regardless of his or her role on the team, everyone has the potential to offer an idea or suggestion that might benefit your child.

  • Understand the support services your child will be receiving. Services are delivered in a variety of different ways. How they are provided depends upon the type and severity of your child’s disability, the age or grade level, and the curriculum. It is important to understand whether your child is receiving remediation to address the underlying skill deficit or accommodations and/or modifications. Often a combination of services is the most appropriate. Factors to be considered are 1) whether remediation exists that can improve the child’s underlying deficit, 2) whether it’s desirable to pull the child out of the regular classroom to receive services and 3) what the priorities are for the child. (Note that the IEP should include a clear description of the services to be provided, the person responsible for providing them, as well as the frequency and duration of the service.)

  • Discuss the learning environment in which your child is successful. Each child responds differently to different learning environments. Some children thrive in a structured classroom, others in a more informal environment. Whatever your child’s learning style, be sure to discuss it especially when determining the type of teacher that would be appropriate for your child in the coming year. Also discuss the environments and settings in which your child has difficulty performing.

  • Know that your child’s placement is determined by goals, not the other way around. Schools cannot decide placement (i.e. select a classroom or program) before goals are written and agreed upon. The goals dictate how the school should address your child’s educational needs.

  • Establish an effective form of communication between school and home. Parents and schools working together leads to greater benefits for your child. Whether it’s a daily notebook, weekly phone calls or a monthly note home, reach an agreement on what types of communication will take place and include it in the IEP.

  • Focus on the problem, not the person. If you have disagreements or concerns, be clear and specific as to what those issues are and how they are adversely affecting your child. Be constructive with your comments and avoid making accusations. Use child-focused language, e.g. “Drew works best when…”

  • Ask about related services. Given the complexity of many IEP meetings, it’s easy to overlook other services that might benefit your child. For example, your child may qualify for an extended school year or may be entitled to assisitive technology or other specialized equipment. Be sure it’s discussed and considered at the meeting if you think it’s appropriate for your child.

  • Don’t feel pressure to end the meeting. If you are running out of time but do not feel all the issues have been adequately addressed, ask to reconvene the meeting for another date and time.

  • Your signature on the IEP form does not indicate your agreement to the IEP. It only is a record of your attendance. The only time your signature indicates your consent on the IEP is on the initial or very first IEP document.

The IEP Document


The actual IEP document will follow a written format, which varies from school to school and district to district. The particular format is not important as long as the document provides clear guidelines for moving your child closer to meeting his/her educational objectives.


Key IEP content areas include:

  • Present level of educational performance (PLOPS)

  • Annual goals and short-term instructional objectives/benchmarks

  • Progress toward annual goals and how parents will be informed

  • Specific special education, related services, supplementary aids and services and a statement of program modifications or supports for school personnel

  • Beginning date, amount, frequency, location and anticipated duration of services and modifications

  • Extent of participation in regular education programs

  • Placement

Although there is no formal requirement for parents to describe their child, remember that you know your child best. Consider writing a brief introduction about your child. Share your hopes and dreams for your child. Think about your own long-term goals and short-term objectives. You and the school team can translate your hopes for your child in to appropriate, understandable, and measurable goals.​


After the IEP Meeting

The IEP document is referred to year round and provides guidance for the professionals in the schools who work with your child. Once the IEP has been agreed upon consider the following:

Review the completed IEP.

  • Make sure the completed document reflects what you agreed to in the meeting. Review your notes. Be sure you understand your role in your child’s education and what the school plans to do. If appropriate, discuss the IEP with your child.


Put it in writing.

  • Many agreements are reached that aren’t necessarily written into the formal IEP. Sending a written note to the meeting’s participants to confirm what was agreed upon is essential. Documenting what has been said or done is easier than trying to reconstruct the information later and avoids misunderstandings.

  • Compliments and expressions of appreciation should also be put in writing, including copies to the appropriate supervisors.


Maintain communication with the school.

  • The basis of any positive relationship is good communication and it’s no different with the parent/school relationship. Talk to your child’s teacher and other members of the team.

  • Read the progress notes you receive.

  • Attend all parent-teacher conferences and annual reviews.

  • Keep the lines of communication open by sharing both the good and the not so good about your child.

Review your child’s IEP every grading period.

  • You will be receiving progress reports on your child’s IEP goals’ coinciding with your school’s marking periods. Consider if the plan is working as intended, if your child is happy and progress is being made.

  • The IEP is not set in stone for an entire school year exempt from any changes or modifications. If changes need to be discussed, ask for a team meeting.


Schedule regular check in meetings.

  • It can be very helpful to have regularly scheduled check in meetings to track progress or discuss issues or concerns that may arise. It’s not always necessary that the entire team attend; just those directly affected.

  • If your child is entering a new program or has a new teacher, ask when an observation or meeting would be appropriate.


Plan home activities that reinforce what your child is learning at school.

  • His/her teacher and other special education staff will be happy to suggest home activities that will help your child make progress.


Pursue issues you feel strongly about.

  • If you strongly disagree with the team’s decisions about your child, you have the right to pursue it further. Follow-up in writing with your special education administrator reiterating your concerns.

  • If you are still dissatisfied, contact your local district administrator (e.g. assistant superintendent, superintendent, etc.). Be sure to save this type of action for major issues of critical concern for your child.


Network with other parents.

  • Other parents are a great source of information, advice and support. Ask them about their experiences and how they faced particular challenges.


Give yourself a break.

  • Parenting a child with special needs can be extremely difficult and emotionally draining. Be sure to take care of yourself and allow time for rest and rejuvenation. Do something nice for yourself.

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