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Do you understand your child's IEP?

First of all, what does IEP stand for? IEP stands for Individualized Education Plan and/or Program. Once a child has gone through the special education process and has been identified with a learning disability, the special education team creates the IEP (the plan) together. This plan is a legal document and will be followed for one year minus one day. Each year the team will come together and update the plan accordingly.

Most special education teachers do a thorough job of explaining the different parts of an IEP, and some parents are so used to it that they could write it themselves. However, if your child has only recently been identified or you feel like you are still confused, this post is for you. I have written hundreds of IEPs for all kinds of eligibilities so I will do my best to be detailed (based on the structure of Florida IEPs)

The Team

First of all, the LEA or ESE coordinator (as called in Florida), special education/inclusion teacher in other states, will facilitate the meeting and introduce the team. So who is a part of the IEP team?

For every initial IEP meeting, the psychometrist or the professional who did the testing, comes to the meeting to explain the findings to the team. In both states that I have taught, the student is generally not invited to the meetings until middle or high school (12-14). This is when the IEP changes to a "transition" IEP, but we can get into that in another post.

A parent or guardian that has legal authority to sign for the child must be in attendance. Nothing can be added or taken away from the IEP without the written consent of the parent. At least one of the child's teachers also must be in attendance. This is because they are the person who works with them the most and knows them the best within the school setting. Then, we have the specialists/interventionists. This was my job as the ESE teacher. I worked with them specifically on their IEP goals and then wrote the IEPs; also, if a child has any type of therapy, that person would also need to be in attendance. Only some schools require administrators to join. These are usually special or difficult cases.

Special Considerations

This is usually the 2nd page of the IEP which gives a quick overview of the student such as: are they blind or visually impaired? Do they have a behavior plan? Do they have healthcare needs? etc. Parents are usually asked to share if the student takes any medications or anything else they think is important for teachers to know regarding their child.

Present Levels of Academic Achievement

Now this is the meat of an IEP. The first section is a parent input box. The meeting facilitator will ask the parents for strengths and weaknesses of their child, and any concerns they may have about their academics.

The rest of this section can be multiple pages. It includes how they are doing academically according to their teachers, how they are doing socially/emotionally, as well as their independent functioning. All of these areas include their strengths and weaknesses and are followed by very specific goals that the teachers will work on throughout the school year. These goals are determined by their current level, not which grade they are in. I have worked with 4th graders who had specific phonics goals. The goal as the special education teacher is to meet the child where they are at, and try to bridge the academic gap little by little. These goals can be tweaked throughout the year depending on student progress.


This section is very important and is given to every single person the child sees throughout the day (P.E teacher, music, gen ed, special ed, art, etc.) Accommodations do not change what the student is expected to do in the classroom, but gives them the tools to be able to succeed. A few examples of accommodations that I see most often are:

-extended time to complete tests/assignments

-preferential seating near point of instruction to limit distractions

-All allowable items read aloud (questions and items, instructions, math word problems etc)

-use of manipulatives

-frequent breaks

The next section of the IEP explains whether or not the student will be taking regular state tests, or if there is a significant cognitive disability to where they will need to take an alternate assessment. This section will also include the accommodations that they will be able to receive on the state and district assessments.


Extended School Year. This section at the end of the IEP is usually completed towards the end of the school year. The special education teacher will review data from the year and check for any regression over the breaks (Christmas & Thanksgiving). The special education team will then recommend or not recommend the optional summer program for the student. The main question that is asked is if the student will significantly regress over the summer months without continuous instruction. The parents can then make the decision to send them or not. The IEP is used to guide the summer teachers.

There is a lot that goes into a well written IEP, as it is individualized specifically for each student and their specific needs. I hope this was helpful!

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