What Is An IEP, And Why Is It So Important For Your Disabled Child?

Under the law, each public school child who receives special education and related services must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The IEP guides the delivery of special education supports and services to the student with a disability. The importance of IEP is to insure that a child with a disability who attends a public school receives effective teaching, resulting in an appropriate and effective learning experience. Under the law, parents, teachers, other school staff and the special needs student must work together to develop the IEP. The IEP is the cornerstone of a quality education for each child with a disability. Simply stated, the whole purpose of the IEP is to ensure that disabled student  is taught the skills necessary to achieve success in life.

The law requires each child’s IEP to contain 8 specific elements:

  1. Present level of educational performance. The IEP must state how the child is currently doing in school. The focus is on the student’s academic achievements and functional performance as well. The inquiry is designed to answer the questions: Where is this child right now? What are his / her needs? It could measure daily living skills, social skills, etc.
  2. Measurable annual goals. These are measurable goals that the child can realistically achieve in one year. This element requires a description of how the goals and objectives are going to be measured, and how often they are going to be measured.
  3. Special education and related services. These are the special education and related services as well as supplementary aids that must be provided in order for the disabled child to receive an appropriate public education. This is the most important element in the IEP, and will provoke the most disputes with the administrators and teachers.  An attorney is often brought into the case in order to secure special education and related services.
  4. Participation with non-disabled children. The IEP must set forth the extent to which the child will participate with non-disabled peers. Further, the IEP must contain a statement describing how much time the student will not be in the regular classroom environment. This element gets at the heart of the issue of inclusion.
  5. Participation in state and district-wide tests. The IEP must set forth the extent to which the disabled student will participate in the district-wide, standardized testing. If the child is not participating because he/she needs accommodations in order to participate, the IEP must describe the nature of the required accommodations.
  6. Dates and places. The IEP must state the projected date for the services to begin, where the services are going to be provided and the duration of the services.
  7. Transition service needs. Transition services are those necessary to get students to the next level of life. The services could be college, vocation skills, daily living skills and the like. Transition services are required under federal law. For all students with disabilities,  their IEPs must include transition goals and services for any IEP that is in effect before their 16th birthday.
  8. Measuring progress. The IEP must state how the disabled child’s progress will be measured and how parents will be informed of that progress.

Advocacy Tip: By law, parents are equal partners in the IEP process. No part of the IEP can be implemented without the parents’ approval. Parents are entitled to an IEP meeting whenever they believe one is needed, such as when the parents have concerns about the child’s progress, or they believe that the services provided to the child by the public school or the educational placement is not working.

Advocacy Tip: Once signed by the parent and school system, the IEP is binding on the parties and the school system must provide every service included in the IEP.