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Individualized Education Programs: What are they and how do I get one for my child? by Caroline Gould: Home


All information provided by this guide is for instructional purposes only and should not be construed or considered to be legal advice.  You should always consult an attorney to determine your legal rights.


Having a child with physical or developmental disabilities brings special joys and challenges to a parent's life. One of the most crucial things any parent can facilitate for their child is a quality education. Our public education system provides a special pathway for those children with different and more complex educational needs. With 6.4 million students with documented disabilities in the United States, a comprehensive body of law has developed around providing education to those with special needs in the classroom. 

This research guide will help parents of special needs children develop an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to help their particular child get the education they need while utilizing the resources afforded to them as part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) & Individualized Education Plans (IEP)

What is an IEP?


Each public school child who receives special education and related services must have an IEP. Each IEP must be designed for one student and must be a truly individualized document. The IEP creates an opportunity for teachers, parents, school administrators, related services personnel and students (when appropriate) to work together to improve educational results for children with disabilities. The IEP is the cornerstone of a quality education for each child with a disability.

To create an effective IEP, parents, teachers, other school staff and often the student must come together to look closely at the student’s unique needs. These individuals pool knowledge, experience and commitment to design an educational program that will help the student be involved in, and progress in, the general curriculum. The IEP guides the delivery of special education supports and services for the student with a disability.

General Steps In the Special Education Process

  • Child is identified as possibly needing special education and related services.
  • Child is evaluated. 
  • Eligibility is decided.
  • Child is found eligible for services.
  • IEP meeting is scheduled.
  • IEP meeting is held and the IEP is written.
  • Services are provided.
  • Progress is measured and reported to parents.
  • IEP is reviewed.
  • Child is reevaluated.

Contents of the IEP

By law, the IEP must include certain information about the child and the educational program designed to meet his or her unique needs. This information covers topics such as current performance, annual goals, special education and related services, accommodations, participation in state and district-wide tests, needed transition services and measured progress.

Source: National Center for Learning Disabilities

Statutory Requirements for an IEP:

(a) General. As used in this part, the term individualized education program or IEP means a written statement for each child with a disability that is developed, reviewed, and revised in a meeting in accordance with Sec. Sec. 300.320 through 300.324, and that must include--

(1) A statement of the child's present levels of academic achievement and functional performance, including--

(i) How the child's disability affects the child's involvement and progress in the general education curriculum (i.e., the same curriculum as for nondisabled children); or

(ii) For preschool children, as appropriate, how the disability affects the child's participation in appropriate activities;


(i) A statement of measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals designed to--

(A) Meet the child's needs that result from the child's disability to enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum; and

(B) Meet each of the child's other educational needs that result from the child's disability;

(ii) For children with disabilities who take alternate assessments aligned to alternate achievement standards, a description of benchmarks or short-term objectives;

(3) A description of--

(i) How the child's progress toward meeting the annual goals described in paragraph (2) of this section will be measured; and

(ii) When periodic reports on the progress the child is making toward meeting the annual goals (such as through the use of quarterly or other periodic reports, concurrent with the issuance of report cards) will be provided;

(4) A statement of the special education and related services and supplementary aids and services, based on peer-reviewed research to the extent practicable, to be provided to the child, or on behalf of the child, and a statement of the program modifications or supports for school personnel that will be provided to enable the child--

(i) To advance appropriately toward attaining the annual goals;

(ii) To be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum in accordance with paragraph (a)(1) of this section, and to participate in extracurricular and other nonacademic activities; and

(iii) To be educated and participate with other children with disabilities and nondisabled children in the activities described in this section;

(5) An explanation of the extent, if any, to which the child will not participate with nondisabled children in the regular class and in the activities described in paragraph (a)(4) of this section;


(i) A statement of any individual appropriate accommodations that are necessary to measure the academic achievement and functional performance of the child on State and districtwide assessments consistent with section 612(a)(16) of the Act; and

(ii) If the IEP Team determines that the child must take an alternate assessment instead of a particular regular State or districtwide assessment of student achievement, a statement of why--

(A) The child cannot participate in the regular assessment; and

(B) The particular alternate assessment selected is appropriate for the child; and

(7) The projected date for the beginning of the services and modifications described in paragraph (a)(4) of this section, and the anticipated frequency, location, and duration of those services and modifications.

(b) Transition services. Beginning not later than the first IEP to be in effect when the child turns 16, or younger if determined appropriate by the IEP Team, and updated annually, thereafter, the IEP must include--

(1) Appropriate measurable postsecondary goals based upon age appropriate transition assessments related to training, education, employment, and, where appropriate, independent living skills; and

(2) The transition services (including courses of study) needed to assist the child in reaching those goals.

(c) Transfer of rights at age of majority. Beginning not later than one year before the child reaches the age of majority under State law, the IEP must include a statement that the child has been informed of the child's rights under Part B of the Act, if any, that will transfer to the child on reaching the age of majority under Sec. 300.520.

(d) Construction. Nothing in this section shall be construed to require--

(1) That additional information be included in a child's IEP beyond what is explicitly required in section 614 of the Act; or

(2) The IEP Team to include information under one component of a child's IEP that is already contained under another component of the child's IEP.

(Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(1)(A) and (d)(6) )

Source: Department of Education

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