eligibility IEPs Special Education

Back to Basics – What is an IEP? 

As a parent of a child with a disability, it can be overwhelming to navigate the education system and ensure your child is receiving the necessary support and accommodations to succeed. One critical tool in this process is the Individualized Education Program (IEP), which is written after students are found eligible for special education. In this blog post, we will provide a comprehensive guide to understanding what an IEP is, its components, and tips for developing your child’s IEP during an “IEP meeting.”

There are two primary aspects to developing your child’s special education program:

  • IEP Meetings
  • IEP Document

IEP Document 

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a legal document that outlines a student’s educational goals, services, and accommodations. It is designed to meet the unique, individual(!) needs of students with disabilities, ensuring that they receive an appropriate education in the least restrictive environment.

The IEP is a legally binding document, and the school district is required to provide the services and accommodations outlined in the plan. It must be reviewed annually, or more often if necessary, to ensure that the student’s needs are being met and to make any necessary changes. We have found that many families need more than one IEP meeting per year to stay on top of their child’s needs and progress. 

The IEP document typically includes several key components: 

  1. Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance– This provides a starting point for setting goals and determining the services and accommodations needed. It is critical that this section include all of the data available about the student’s performance (both standardized testing and school performance), as well as weaknesses that need to be addressed. This information should be objective and obtained from multiple sources. 
  2. Special Considerations and Accommodations– The IEP includes accommodations and modifications to the curriculum, instruction, or environment that will allow the student to access the general education curriculum. These accommodations may include things like extra time on tests, preferential seating, or assistive technology. Hint: ask to see drop down menus in the Maryland online IEP if you’d like to see some options. 
  3. Goals– Goals should be specific (detailed descriptions of what the student will achieve), measurable (meaning that objective data can be collected), and include challenging objectives. These goals are designed to help the student make “meaningful” progress in areas where they may be struggling, such as reading, writing, behavior, or social skills. Developing strong IEP goals is a difficult skill to master– some IEP teams are good at it, and with some teams parents will need to advocate to get good goals. Consider getting outside help– remember – if the data collection system in the goal is not objective, or does not make sense to YOU– it does not make sense and will not help document progress! If you have doubts, trust yourself. 
  4. Services– Services includes a list of services that the student will receive, such as speech therapy, reading intervention, or occupational therapy. These services are tailored to the student’s individual needs (yes, that word again– individual– what does YOUR student need– not what does the school have available) and may be provided in a variety of settings, such as a general education classroom, a special education classroom, or in a specialized program. The IEP services section should be very specific – can you determine where and when the service will be provided? Can you tell what provider will provide the service? Can you tell how many minutes per week or month? If not, the IEP document needs to be more specific. Ask yourself whether a stranger could pick up the document and understand what the student should receive. 
  5. Placement. This outlines where a student with a disability will receive their educational services. The placement data section of an IEP typically includes information about the type of educational setting, such as a general education classroom or a specialized program.

IEP Meeting

An IEP meeting is a gathering of the “IEP team” including teachers, administrators, parents, and sometimes the student, to discuss and develop the IEP for a student with a disability or special needs. Parents are critical members of the IEP team and should be listened to, taken seriously, and respected. Parents are the true experts about their children! Hint: parents should be respected in the scheduling of meetings. You may ask that meetings be scheduled at times that work for your family and work schedule. It is required that a meeting be held once a year, but additional meetings can be scheduled if necessary. Parents can request a meeting at any point during the year. It is not uncommon for there to be more than one meeting per year if the details of a child’s program are being worked out, or if there are any concerns, so feel free to request that your team meet any time. 

During the IEP meeting, the team reviews the student’s progress and goals, determines if the current services and accommodations are working, and decides if any changes need to be made to the IEP. The team discusses any concerns or questions and makes decisions about any new goals, services, or accommodations that may be needed.

An IEP is a critical tool for ensuring that students with disabilities receive a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), which is required under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA). It is important for parents to understand the components of the IEP and how to effectively participate in the IEP meeting. By working collaboratively with the school district and advocating for their child’s needs, parents can help ensure that their child receives the support and accommodations they need to succeed academically and socially. 

If you feel that you are not being heard by the IEP team, have concerns about your child’s IEP or eligibility for an IEP, a non-attorney parent advocate or special education attorney can provide guidance and support. 

Want to work with someone on your child’s special education program, but not ready or inclined to hire an attorney? We can help you identify a highly trained non-attorney advocate! 

This blog post is for informational purposes only. It is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship.