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Individualized Education Programs (IEP) and Academic Success

Individualized Education Programs (IEP) and Academic Success

Make sure your child gets the help he or she needs to succeed in school.

What is in an Individualized Education Program?

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a written document outlining your child's specific education path. You and your school's IEP team set annual goals and short-term objectives for your child in the IEP. Annual goals describe what your child can be expected to do within a 12-month period. Short term objectives set out the steps by which your child will reach those goals.

IEPs are required by federal law. The Individuals with Disabilities Acts and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 guarantee children with special needs a free public education designed to address their unique needs. The IEP is the vehicle through which this guarantee is realized.

Under IDEA, the following items must be included in every child's IEP:
  • His or her present levels of educational performance;
  • Annual goals and short-term objectives;
  • How his or her progress will be measured;
  • Specific special education services;
  • Supplementary aids and services, if required;
  • Any modifications he or she will need when taking state or district-wide tests;
  • Amount of services and how and when they will take place; and
  • A plan for keeping you informed, as a parent, of your child's progress.
How is an IEP Developed?

Your school may request a meeting to plan your child's IEP, or you can request the meeting yourself. Federal law specifies that the school must inform you and your child about:
  • The purpose of the IEP meeting;
  • Time and place of the meeting;
  • Who will be attending; and
  • The fact that you may invite other people who have special knowledge or experience with your child to the meeting.
All of the following may attend the IEP meeting, depending on your child's needs, and level of involvement required from various school and specialist staff. Remember that you can invite others to attend your child's IEP meeting.
  • Parent(s);
  • Your child's school administrator;
  • Your child's general education teacher;
  • Special education teacher or specialist on disabilities (understands how and when to use different teaching styles and instructional methods to meet your child's needs);
  • Evaluation personnel (people who have conducted an evaluation of your child's learning and disability needs);
  • School psychologist;
  • School administrator;
  • Translators or interpreters;
  • Therapists or other professionals; and
  • Your child.
Schools must ensure that:
  • IEP meetings are held no more than 30 calendar days from the date your child is found eligible for special education services.
  • You, the parent, have agreed in writing to the first IEP designed for your child before the school begins to implement it.
  • The IEP is reviewed at least once every 12 months.
Your child may have specific needs you and the IEP team will need to consider when developing the final IEP. These include:
  • Behavioral needs (strategies and supports that address any behavioral concerns).
  • Limited proficiency in English needs (your child's language skills and needs will be addressed in his or her IEP).
  • Blind or visually impaired needs (instruction in Braille or the use of Braille must be provided to your child).
  • Deaf or hard of hearing needs (your child's language and communication needs will be tested, and any necessary support services, such as instruction in sign language, provided).

What Supplementary Aids and Service Are Available through My Child's IEP?

Your child's IEP includes supplemental aids and services he or she may need to attend school and work well in the classroom.

Supplementary Aids include such things as:

  • a pencil grip, special seat or cut out cup for drinking;
  • assistive technology, word processor, special software or communication system;
  • training for staff, student or parents;
  • peer tutors;
  • a one-on-one aide; and
  • adapted materials (books on tape, large print, or highlighted notes).
Services include:
  • Speech therapists
  • Counseling services
  • Medical services
  • Occupational therapy
  • Orientation and mobility services
  • Parent counseling or training
  • Psychological services
  • Rehabilitation counseling
  • School health services
  • Social work services in schools
  • Speech-language pathology
  • Transportation

How Can an IEP Ensure My Child's Academic Success?

Your child's IEP must be reviewed at least once a year. This means that you and the IEP team can continually monitor your child's progress through school.

At the annual IEP meeting, school staff and specialists will talk about your child's progress, his or her strengths and weaknesses, and how the IEP could be adjusted to better meet your child's academic and social needs. Your involvement in and contributions to this meeting ensure that the IEP is tailored to your child's needs so he or she can attain a higher level of academic achievement.

Among the items addressed at the annual review are:

  • Your child's progress or lack of progress toward his or her annual goals and in his or her general curriculum;
  • Any additional information gathered from your child's reevaluation (if applicable);
  • Information about your child that you would like to share;
  • Information about your child that your child's school shares (insights from your child's teacher on class work, etc); and
  • Your child's anticipated needs and other concerns.
The annual IEP meeting is a good way for you and school staff to communicate as equal partners and make joint, informed decisions about your child's needs and goals. It also allows you to work with school staff to determine:
  • how involved your child will be in the general curriculum;
  • whether he or she will be able to participate in the regular education environment;
  • what state and district-wide tests your child will need to take; and
  • the level of services needed to support your child's involvement and participation in school and enable him or her to achieve the IEP goals.
If your child attends the annual IEP meeting, he or she can express his or her own needs, educational desires, and goals for education, work and the future. This will help your child focus on what he or she must accomplish in school to be prepared for the future.

Every three years, your child must be reevaluated. This evaluation is called a "triennial", and determines if your child still needs special education services, as defined by IDEA. Your child may be reevaluated more frequently if you or your child's teacher feels that a new evaluation is necessary.

How Can I Help Ensure My Child's Academic Success?
  • Be aware of your child's rights under IDEA.
  • Know your child's strengths and weaknesses. Communicate these to your child's IEP team, teachers, and other school staff.
  • Give insights about your child's interests, likes and dislikes, and preferred learning styles.
  • Keep track of what has/has not been working with your child's education. Share this record with your child's teachers, school staff, specialists, and the IEP team.
  • Request a written copy of your child's evaluation results, and meet with school staff to talk about any issues that are highlighted. If you want a second opinion, submit a request in writing for an independent educational evaluation. There is no additional cost to your or your child.
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions, because asking questions will be your first step in understanding more abut your child's disability and needs.
  • Do not be intimidated by the educational backgrounds of school administrators, counselors, and teachers. This is your child, and his or her education has a profound effect on both your life and your child's future. Therefore, it is important that you learn as much as you can about helping your child attain the highest level of academic success possible.

For more information:


Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Policy Resources (Council for Exceptional Children)

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

U.S. Department of Education:

Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services
Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP)

State Offices:

State Departments of Rehabilitation

State Departments of Education

State Departments of Labor and Youth Services

Social Security Administration Regional and Field Offices

National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities--State Resources (NICHCY)

National Organizations:

Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind
Family Center on Technology and Disability
LD Pride (for youth and adults with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders)


Developing Your Child's IEP (NICHY, 2002) PDF

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