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Creating an Educational Program [IEP]

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) as defined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 (IDEA'97), is your child's roadmap through the public education system.  The IEP is created specifically for YOUR child, and will guide his or her curriculum, education strategies, and supplemental services (occupational, physical, speech, music therapy etc.).  If your child qualifies for special education, this document is critical to his or her success. 

The IEP is re-defined annually during meetings with your child's edcuational "team" - teachers, therapists, school administration representatives and, most importantly, YOU.  You know your child better than anyone else on the team, and will be his or her best advocate for securing the programs and services that will help your child achieve success at every grade level.  The IEP process is not always easy, and in fact, can be a very frustrating experience for parents. The articles and links below will provide an overview of the IEP process and resources to help you make decisions with regard to you child's IEP in general, and in regard to important transition periods in your child's school career as well as when requesting special services such as assistive technology to help your child access the curriculum.


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The Federal law defining your child's educational rights is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 (IDEA'97). This law defines the responsibilities of the public school system as well as the processes to be undertaken to ensure that a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) be provided to your child. One of the most critical processes defined in IDEA '97 is the IEP, which is to be developed annually for your child.

Each state also has its own implementation/process guide defining the processes put in place to comply with IDEA'97.

If you are not yet familiar with IDEA'97, you may want to review the following important websites before continuing with learning about IEPs.

  • The official IDEA'97 site
    This is the official federal government site. 
  • IDEA Practices
    The IDEA Practices Web site provides useful and timely information to help professionals and families understand and implement IDEA'97. IDEA Practices is a service of the ASPIIRE and ILIAD IDEA Partnership Projects. 
  • IDEA Partnerships
    This Web site is brought to you by the IDEA Partnerships, who are four national projects funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (Office of Special Education Programs) to deliver a common message about the 1997 landmark reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

What is an IEP? 

Per the Department of Education:

"Each public school child who receives special education and related services must have an Individualized Education Program (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."

    An IEP is an official written document that must be signed by all members of the IEP team for your child. While the data contained within an IEP is regulated by guidelines, the form of the IEP may vary from location to location.

    To view the Department of Education's explanation of the IEP, visit:

    Many states, and even some school districts, have their own guidelines for preparing IEPs. Contact your school to find out what guidelines they use.

    Common terms 

    • IEP 
      Individualized Education Program (IEP) - A unique plan, developed specifically for the educational goals of your child for the current school year.
    • LRE 
      Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) - Generally, a child with a disability should be served in the regular classroom with as much interaction with his or her non-handicapped classmates as possible. A child with a disability may only be removed from the regular classroom when the nature or severity of the disability is such that the education in regular classes cannot be achieved satisfactorily, even with the use of supplementary aids and services.
    • MFE 
      Multi-Factored Evaluation (MFE) - A requirement of IDEA'97, a child with a disability should be evaluated using a Multi-Factored Evaluation to determine qualification for services. Generally, an MFE is performed by a psychologist.

    How is an IEP created? 

    The IEP is written by the IEP team, which can consist of many people. Most IEP processes state that an IEP meeting is scheduled with the IEP team and the IEP is created during this meeting. In reality, it is neither efficient nor desireable to wait until your IEP meeting to first address the IEP.

    In most instances, it is perfectly acceptable that you be provided with a preliminary copy of the IEP ten days prior to the IEP meeting. This will allow you time to review the school's proposed goals and either have an efficient meeting because you agree with the IEP as written, or provide you time to prepare adequately with additional information on points where you disagree.

    You can also submit recommendations prior to the IEP meeting asking that they be included in your child's IEP.

    The bottom line is that YOU are a member of the IEP team and should have adequate opportunity to participate in the planning of the IEP!

    Once you and the rest of the team agree on the IEP, you will sign it. It is then up to the service providers to implement the IEP effectively.

    Common IEP mistakes 

    There are several common mistakes parents make when creating an IEP (usually their first), or going through the IEP process. They are:

    No preliminary IEP 
    Without a preliminary look at what is being proposed for your child, your first opportunity to see the IEP is in the IEP meeting - where you are expected to agree to and sign the IEP. This puts you in a disadvantageous position, and you can feel pressured to agree to items without having time to really think through their implications. Always ask for a preliminary copy prior to the IEP meeting, and never feel like you have to sign at the meeting.

      IEP does not contain specific/measurable achievement goals 
      This is the most common mistake made when creating IEPs. It is easy to make, and accept, overly generalized goals and acievement markers and believe they are acceptable. Many IEPs contain goals and achievements such as "...will improve letter recognition." This is an unmeasureable goal which can be claimed as "achieved" with very little progress actually having been made. A better goal would be "...will recognize 9 out of 10 random letters shown, 4 out of 5 times." This is specific and measureable.

        Short term goals will not meet long term goals 
        If a specific long term goal is agreed upon, make sure that the short term goals adequately support progress towards the long term goal.

          Sign when you don't agree 
          Never sign an IEP at the meeting, especially if you don't agree with it. A verbal committment that "we'll work that out later" is not binding - but your signature is. Remember that you have 3 days to review the IEP before signing and its always a good idea to take the IEP home and review it one more time - even if you think that everything is fine.  Never feel pressured into signing an IEP.

            What if we can't agree? 

            IDEA'97 and the IEP process have anticipated that there may be times when you will not agree with an IEP. All schools have a Due Process procedure you can follow that will progressively escalate your complaint through the appeals process. If you cannot agree on your IEP, the school will provide you the information and steps you need to begin the Due Process procedure.

            Should I have an Advocate or attorney? 

            Many parents find the assistance of an advocate or attorney, familiar with IDEA'97, to be an invaluable tool in their dealings with IEPs and education issues. The decision to utilize an advocate or attorney is a personal decision, but one that has many merits.

            You can find a wealth of further information regarding advocacy and legal issues pertaining to special education at Wrights Law at the following link: