Special Education: Development of the Individualized Education Program (IEP)

Writing the Individualized Education Program (IEP) is the second step in the process.  After finding a student eligible for special education services, the Team develops the IEP.  All IEP sections need to be considered by all IEP Teams.  No section should be skipped.  

IEP development is a student driven process.

The IEP must be tailored to the individual student needs as determined through the evaluation process.  Good IEPs will be responsive to parent concerns and the student’s vision and will assist the student as much as possible in moving towards independence.

The IEP helps educators and parents to understand the student and how best to work with that student.  The IEP should describe how the student learns, how the student best demonstrates that learning, and how the school staff and student will work together to help the student learn better.

The IEP is not intended to be a lesson plan but should provide a clear picture of the student’s current abilities and needs, and should identify key goals and objectives that provide a direction and focus for the student’s learning over the next IEP period.  

Although IEP development is a student driven, individualized process, there are some central concepts that should be adhered to during a well-managed Team meeting.  A well-managed Team meeting will:

  • Obtain parent/student input.
  • Think about the student’s future dreams and goals.
  • Understand how the student’s disability affects the student’s learning.
  • Know how the student performs today.
  • Address only the areas that are affected by the disability.
  • Provide a focus for the student’s learning during this year.
  • Reflect high expectations for the student. 
  • Stay as close as appropriate to what the student’s peers are learning and doing.
  • Identify supports and services the student needs for success.
  • Ensure that the recommended services contain, at a minimum, some specially designed instruction

Team meeting should be used as a communication vehicle.

During an IEP Meeting, Team members share information and discuss the needs of the student in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the student.  The discussion should connect one IEP element to the next and ensure internal consistency within the produced document.

A Team meeting works best if:

  • the meeting remains focused on the student.
  • its members are knowledgeable about the District, special education law, and the student.  
  • parents are respected participants, giving and receiving information.

Sending evaluation reports to parents in advance of a meeting should ensure that the Team discussion is more focused and can immediately start with a common base of information rather than a lengthy recitation of evaluation results. This strategy allows for more time to brainstorm and write the IEP itself enabling parents to leave the meeting with a more solid understanding of their child and how the school system plans to help their child improve.

The IEP should reflect the decisions made at the Team meeting and should serve as a contract between the school system and parent(s) which clearly communicates to parents the needs of their child, the steps the District will take to address these needs and the progress their child is expected to make during the IEP period.  

The IEP does not serve as a guarantee of progress.  However, IDEIA-2004 clearly states that a District must make a good faith effort to assist the student in making progress towards the IEP goals.

The IEP should serve to focus the special education services.

The IEP will better serve the student if it focuses on what will make the biggest difference for that student and not on every aspect of every school day.  The IEP should concentrate on offsetting or reducing the problems resulting from the student’s disability that interferes with learning and educational performance.  

Parents and/or students need to give input into IEP development.

Parent and/or student input becomes the first indicator for defining the IEP focus.  The placement of this item as the first order of business is deliberate and in keeping with the importance given to parent input in IDEIA-2004.

The parent perspective is unique and important to the Team’s work as they have a view of the student that cannot be duplicated by even experienced evaluators. 

Teams should keep a whole child perspective.

The Team must next review the student’s strengths, interests, personal attributes, and personal accomplishments as well as key evaluation results to enable Team members to keep a whole child perspective when writing the IEP.  Teams should avoid a segmented look at the student where individual skills or problems are identified in isolation.  The Team should keep the big picture in mind and plan to use the student’s strengths in planning steps for the next IEP period.

When developing an IEP for a student with an existing IEP, the Team should always review the content of the existing IEP as they begin developing a new IEP.  The new IEP should be revised and updated as needed to shift goals and services and to demonstrate a progression of learning.  Each year’s measurable annual goals should clearly show a step-by-step increase in a student’s learning outcomes.  Also, if necessary, any lack of expected progress needs to be discussed and addressed.

The general curriculum must be addressed in all students’ IEPs.

The IEP should be considered a primary tool for enhancing a student’s involvement and progress in the general curriculum.  As defined by federal regulation, the general curriculum is the curriculum used with non-disabled children.  All students, regardless of the nature or severity of the disability or their educational setting, must have access to and progress in the general curriculum.

Within Massachusetts, the general curriculum is defined as the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks in the following areas: English Language Arts, Mathematics, History and Social Sciences and Science and Technology.  Other curriculum areas can and should be discussed if the student’s disability affects progress in those areas.

School districts must maintain high standards for children with disabilities.  These standards should be consistent with the expectations for all students in the educational system.  

General educators play a critical role in the Team process as the experts on the general   education curriculum and classroom environment.  Their participation in the Team process is required under Federal Regulation.

The IEP must also address areas of other educational need.

The Team must also look at the student’s overall involvement within the school including participation in extracurricular and other nonacademic activities. The Team may consider how students communicate with others, how the students’ behavior affects their learning or the learning of others, how assistive technology could support effective progress or how the students’ disabilities effect transition to post-secondary activities.