What is an IEP?

IEP stands for Individualized Education Program, which is a legal document personalized to your child that outlines goals and supports they need to be successful in a classroom environment. An IEP can include specific accommodations and modifications that allow curriculum, testing, teacher and peer interactions, etc. to be more accessible to your student. The IEP is developed by the IEP team and is typically revised every year to account for goal mastery or additional needs the student displays over the course of a school year. IEPs are legally required to be reviewed annually, but the document can be revised at any time before or after an annual IEP meeting.

How do you get an IEP?

An IEP is put into place to address concerns about the child’s progress in any area at school – academic, physical, speech/language, or social/emotional. To get an IEP for your student, you can talk to your child’s teacher at school about your concerns. The teacher may be able to request an evaluation, or they will be able to assist you in requesting an evaluation by the -appropriate school personnel. A permission to evaluate form (PTR) must be signed by the parent in order to move forward with testing. After the form is signed and returned, the school staff have 90 days to complete the appropriate tests with your student based on your concern, which could include cognitive testing, behavior scales, adaptive skill testing, occupational or physical therapy and speech and language skills. If the test results indicate that your child is in need of special education services in order to meet curricular goals, then the IEP will be created by the child’s IEP team.

Who is on an IEP team?

An IEP team is made up of a student’s parents, classroom teacher(s), a special education teacher, any therapists for services your child is receiving in school (such as a speech therapist, physical therapist etc.), and a school leader, such as a principal. After your child turns 13, they are required to participate in their IEP meeting and become an official member of the IEP team. However, they may be involved in the process as soon as the parent/team feel that it is appropriate. Parents may also invite an educational advocate or other person to these meetings to act as another level of support for the family and the student.

What is an IEP Meeting?

An IEP meeting is a meeting where the IEP team gathers to create an IEP for your student. During the meeting, the team will discuss your student’s performance in the classroom and/or in their school-based therapy sessions, focusing both on their strengths and their needs. Then, based on your student’s strengths and needs, the team will decide on specific goals that will be most beneficial for the student to focus on in the upcoming year. These goals can be academic, behavioral, or related to specific services, such as speech therapy, physical therapy, or occupational therapy. In addition to goals, the team will decide on specific accommodations and modifications that can be made in the classroom and will be executed by the student’s teachers and therapists. These accommodations will be designed with the student’s needs in mind and will help them have greater success in the school environment. A schedule of services will be developed as well to specify the length of time a child will be in each service to achieve the goals.

  • Anyone who can’t attend in person can participate by conference call or video chat. Be sure to tell the IEP team leader in advance if you or a guest will need a phone or video connection.
  • A team member can be excused if both you and the school agree to it. Otherwise, the team should reschedule the meeting for a time when everyone can be present.
  • The IEP developed during the meeting is considered a draft IEP. Some schools create this in advance and then share it at the IEP meeting. If your child’s school creates the draft ahead of time, ask them to send it to you well before the meeting. The draft is a work in progress. You have the right to suggest changes during the meeting.

What is the difference between an IEP and a 504 plan?

Both an IEP and a 504 Plan can offer formal help for K-12 students, but do have notable differences. An IEP is a specific and detailed plan for a child’s special education experience during school. A 504 Plan is a plan for how the school will provide support and remove barriers for a student with a disability. Additionally, a 504 Plan has a broader definition of “disability,” stating that a disability must substantially limit one or more basic life activities, such as learning. Because of this, a child who has needs, but doesn’t qualify for an IEP, will likely still be able to get a 504 Plan so that they can still be supported in school.

What are accommodations and modifications, and what is the difference between the two?

Accommodations are changes made to the way a child accesses the material being learned. They are still learning the same material as their peers, but accommodations allow the student to learn the material in different ways. For example, if the class is learning about parts of a flower, the class may be writing in the blanks of a diagram, but a student might be placing stickers of the words in the blanks instead of writing them out.
Modifications are changes made to the material itself. This means that a child with a modified curriculum may be learning something different than the rest of the class, but it should still be related to the same subject area or topic. For example, a social studies class may be reading a book on-grade level about the three branches of government, and a student in that class may be reading a book at a lower reading level about the presidents.

What does the re-evaluation process look like in special education?

If your child has had an IEP for 2-3 years, then it is legally required for them to be re-evaluated to determine if they still have a need for special education, or if these needs have changed. Most children need a re-evaluation every 3 years, but children with certain disabilities need a re-evaluation every 2 years. The re-evaluation is done through a re-evaluation report (RR). This document reviews all of the data and progress the student has made since their initial evaluation and IEP, or since their last evaluation. Sometimes, this may involve additional testing by a therapist or a school psychologist or diagnostician to determine whether your child requires additional services or can be removed from services. After this document is completed, a new IEP must be created based on the new data and information in the RR.

What happens after an IEP Meeting?

The IEP team leader will read a written summary of all services included in the IEP that the team has discussed during the meeting. This will become a draft version of the new IEP that requires signatures from the whole team to finalize. You can also ask when the new IEP will go into effect. Once everyone has signed the IEP, the parent is given a copy of the entire document. When the meeting is over (or when you agree to the new IEP), don’t simply file it and forget it. The IEP will guide your child’s day-to-day education for the next year. Get ready to monitor how it plays out.

What are my rights as a parent of a student in special education?

The biggest resource for your rights as a parent is located in the procedural safeguards packet that is typically given to parents after their first IEP meeting. It is important to remember as a parent that you have a right to communicate with your child’s IEP team whenever the need arises. You do not have to wait until the annual IEP meeting or until your student needs re-evaluated. If you have a concern that you believe needs addressed in the IEP, you have the right to request an IEP revision at any time. If you want additional testing for your student because you feel they have another disability, or you want them removed from special education services, you can request to do so at any time. You also have the right to refuse services. If you do not sign the initial evaluation form, attend the first IEP meeting, or sign the NOREP (Notice of Recommended Educational Placement)/PWR (Prior Written Notice) the school cannot test your child or begin administering services to them. Additionally, you may bring an educational advocate to IEP meetings with you. Educational advocates are available to be an extra resource to parents and can be helpful, especially in an initial meeting. Finally, do not be afraid to ask members of the IEP team to explain terms, services, or programs. Each member of the team has a specific area of expertise and will be able to break down information for you.

What do I do if I disagree with the recommendations/evaluations of the IEP team?

If you do not agree with the recommended services as outlined in the IEP, you do not have to sign the IEP at the meeting. You can take it home to review and think about it. You can request an additional meeting to continue to discuss any issues you have with the recommendations and try to come to an agreement. If you cannot come to an agreement with the IEP team, you can also file a due process complaint, which can lead to a hearing with the school district where the complaint should be resolved in court. Due process procedures may vary from state to state.
If you do not agree with an evaluation, you can obtain an individual educational evaluation (IEE). The school district must provide you with information on how to obtain an IEE, and they should be required to cover the expense.

What if my child’s teacher isn’t following the IEP?

It’s a good idea to meet with the teacher as soon as possible, and make the meeting conversational rather than confrontational. If your meeting with the teacher is unsuccessful, you should document what has happened and raise your concerns to the school administrators. Since an IEP is a legal document that staff must follow, there is some accountability for those who do not follow it. If the teacher, IEP team, and administrators continue not to follow your child’s IEP, there are further steps you can take.

By Jaimie Barca
February 1, 2022