Dr. Caitlin Solone, education advocate, teacher educator, and faculty at UCLA, gives us an overview of individualized education programs (IEPs).


Definition

An IEP outlines services and supports that the school or district will provide, at no cost to the student’s family, to ensure that the student has access to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and that their individual needs are met. Every child who receives special education services must have an IEP.


Who is eligible for an IEP?

A child is eligible for an IEP if they meet the criteria for one of 13 eligibility categories, and if they cannot make adequate progress in school without special education services. See our breakdown of each category here.


Who develops an IEP?

After a formal assessment has been conducted by the school or district, the IEP team is created. This is a group of individuals that includes key school staff and the child’s parent(s). The team meets and reviews the assessment information available about the child. If it is determined that the student is eligible for special educational services, the team designs a program to address the child’s educational needs that result from their disability. Read about the IEP team’s key players and their roles here.

 

How are students assessed for an IEP?

In order to qualify for an IEP, a student must receive an initial full assessment. A full assessment is a multidisciplinary set of assessments conducted by a school psychologist, special education teacher, and any additional related service providers that are relevant to the student’s disability (these can include speech, occupational, behavioral, vision, and physical therapists, and more). A parent can request an assessment of their child at any time. If a student qualifies for special education services, a full reassessment must be conducted every three years (called a triennial assessment) to ensure that they still qualify for special education services. A child’s IEP must also be reviewed once a year at minimum to determine whether the annual goals are being achieved or must be revised as appropriate. Read more about assessments here.


When is the IEP developed?

An IEP meeting must be held within 30 calendar days after it is determined through an assessment that a child has one of the qualifying diagnoses listed in IDEA and needs special education and related services. For a detailed explanation of IEP timelines, see our article here. We’ve also gathered several tips to help you prepare for the IEP meeting.


How do I review the IEP?

Before you leave the meeting or shortly after, the district will provide you with the completed IEP document for your review and signature. While reviewing the document, make a note of anything that is inaccurate or doesn’t match your understanding. Read our article on how to review your IEP and what you can do if you disagree with all or parts of it. 


How do I make sure the IEP is being followed?

There are several steps you can take to make sure your child’s IEP is being followed and that your child is getting the services, accommodations, and focus on goals that the team agreed to. Review the documentation, speak with service providers and teachers (and your child), visit your child’s classroom, and know what you can do to take action if you discover the IEP isn’t being followed. Read our article on how to follow up on your IEP for more information. 

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