Here, we break down the primary components of an IEP.


Goal Review

Every IEP includes a report of progress on the prior year’s IEP goals. This might also be referred to as last year’s goals, goal progress, or goal review. This portion of the IEP determines whether the student met their goals from the prior year. Any unmet goals should include an explanation of why the student did not meet the goal. Note that sometimes the space allocated for the explanation on the IEP document is limited to 5 to 10 words, so practitioners are limited on how much they can write; therefore, parents might need to ask for a longer explanation.


Present Levels of Performance (PLOP)

The present levels of performance (PLOP, also sometimes called PLAAFP or PLP) describe the child’s current abilities, strengths, and needs or challenges, and are a key component of progress reporting. The IEP team uses a variety of information when composing PLOPs for a student, such as recent assessment data, achievement testing scores, academic testing scores, teacher input/interview data, student work samples, observation data, psychological/socioemotional assessment data, parent input, and behavior data. PLOPs are an important component of the IEP, as they are used to develop a student’s goals and objectives as well as determine their services and supports, and may be used to aid in determining a student’s educational placement. They include academic achievement as well as functional skills such as behavior, communication, social skills, emotional well-being, and life skills. PLOPs should include strengths (what the student can do), areas of need (what the student should learn to do), and impact of disability (how the disability affects the child’s access to the curriculum/environment).

Well-written PLOPs ensure that each area of the IEP is developmentally appropriate and adequately addresses the student’s strengths and needs. The IEP team is responsible for updating a student’s PLOPs annually for every new IEP and any time an IEP is amended. This is especially important if the amendment involves changing goals, services, placement, curriculum track, or the state test the student is planning to take.


Progress Reporting

The IEP is required to include an explanation of how the student will make progress toward their annual goals. The IEP must include how the progress will be measured (student work samples, teacher-charted data, etc.), and how this information will be shared with parents.


Annual Goals and STOs

An IEP must include clear and measurable annual goals (academic and/or functional) that are designed to enable the student to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum. The purpose is to set clear and measurable goals for the student to work on in the upcoming year in each domain with a demonstrated need. A student has a demonstrated need in an area if the student is not meeting the grade-level expectations or standards. For example, if Jose has needs in the areas of writing and reading but is meeting grade-level expectations/standards in math, Jose should have IEP goals in reading and writing only. IEP goals should be aligned with the general education curriculum and should use the SMART design: be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely.

  • Short-Term Objectives (STOs): STOs and/or benchmarks are steps that measure the student’s progress toward the annual goals in their IEP. When written correctly, short-term objectives provide teachers with a roadmap and a clear mechanism to evaluate the child’s progress. Note that in California, only those students who qualify for alternate assessments are legally required to have STOs. Otherwise, only progress reports are required. Although STOs are no longer federally mandated, you can ask that they be included in your IEP.

Special Education and Related Services

This section specifies what special education services the child will receive and for how long. If a child needs special education support throughout the school day for all activities, the IEP will cover all of these. If the child doesn’t need special education services in one or more areas (such as PE or science), the IEP will not include these subjects.

Related services are specialized supports that are designed to help students meet their educational goals and make progress in the general education curriculum. Based on the student’s needs, common related services that IEP teams may consider include but are not limited to: transportation, counseling and psychological services, interpreting services, social skills groups, and physical, occupational, and speech therapy (see below for more information about non-academic parts of the IEP). The IEP must provide details on the frequency, duration, and location of each service.

Related services should also include any services outside the school year, like Extended School Year (ESY), and once the student turns 16, any transition planning supports and services to prepare the student for life after high school.

  • Extended School Year (ESY): ESY services are special education and/or related services provided beyond the usual school year. ESY is a team decision, not a unilateral decision by the school. Although ESY services are typically held while school is not in session, such as during summer break, it is not the same as summer school. Students receive ESY when an interruption of their regular program may cause regression and a limited recoupment capacity. Decisions about whether a student should receive ESY are made at an IEP team meeting. ESY comes in many forms, but some examples are summer school, individual remediation, mental health counseling, or attendance at a nonpublic school summer program.
    • The criteria for evaluating if a student should receive ESY are whether your child will lose critical skills over the summer that were just gained during the recent school year, and whether it will take longer than typically expected for your child to regain those skills. Schools do not need to provide the same amount of services during ESY that are provided during the school year as long as the benefits the student gained during the school year are not significantly jeopardized. If you believe your child should receive ESY and the district denies your request, you can ask for prior written notice.
  • Non-academic parts of an IEP: These are school activities that fall outside the general curriculum. Non-academic activities are typically voluntary, and are more social than academic activities. According to Section 300.107 of the IDEA, if an IEP team determines that supplementary aid and services are necessary to ensure equitable access to nonacademic activities and services, then the state must ensure the provision of the resources (the resources need to be provided by the school). For example, if the student has an interest in pursuing track and field, the school must support the student in the pursuit. Support can manifest differently depending on the student’s interest, the resources available at the school, and the IEP team. The following services may be considered non-academic parts of an IEP:
    • Counseling services
    • Athletics
    • Transportation
    • Health services
    • Recreational activities
    • Special interest groups or clubs sponsored by the public agency (school)
    • Referrals to agencies that aid individuals with disabilities including both employment by the public agency and assistance in making outside employment available

Supplementary Aids and Services (Accommodations and Modifications)

The IEP specifies what accommodations and modifications the child will receive at school. Although they are not defined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), accommodations change the classroom environment or academic setting to fit a student’s needs, but do not significantly alter the content of the required work. Allowing a student extended time to complete assignments or providing a student with assistive technology are two examples of accommodations.

Unlike modifications, which change what students are expected to learn based on their abilities, accommodations are designed to allow a student to complete the same assignments as their fellow classmates. Examples include modifying the reading level of an assignment (if a 5th grade class completes reading comprehension for text at the 5th grade reading level, a student with modifications for reading might have a reading passage at the 2nd grade reading level), and altering the learning objectives for math (if a class is working on adding fractions with unlike denominators, a student receiving modifications for math might be working on adding fractions with like denominators, or adding whole numbers). Accommodations are meant to remove barriers to full participation in school activities.

The Supplementary Aids and Services section of the IEP will also include information about any assistive technology the child might need. In addition, this portion includes any parent (or teacher) training needed to assist parents in understanding the needs of their child to help them acquire the necessary skills to support the implementation of the IEP.


Extent of Non-Participation in General Education

IDEA requires that IEPs include “an explanation of the extent, if any, to which the child will not participate with nondisabled children in the regular class and . . . activities (P.L. 108-44 20 USC 1414 (D) (1) (a) (V)). For example, if a student is receiving services from the speech pathologist to work on articulation, and counseling services to work on emotion regulation, the student may leave the general education classroom to receive those services. The IEP team would then calculate the number of minutes the student is pulled out of the general education classroom each week. The total number of minutes a student is not in general education per week is then calculated into a percentage of time per day. This amount of time outside of general education must be justified and based on the individual student’s needs. The reason for removal should not be based on disability label, availability of services or settings, tradition, or preference alone.


Statewide Assessments

Each year, students in grades 3 through 12 take statewide assessments in the spring. This section outlines which statewide assessment the student will take and any accommodations a student will need during statewide testing. There are typically two options for students: (1) the traditional statewide assessment and (2) the alternate state assessment. Determining which assessment a student should take is a very important decision that carries a great deal of weight. Students taking the alternate state assessment are on the certificate (non-diploma) track and are set to earn a Certificate of Completion from high school, rather than a high school diploma.

If a school recommends that the student takes the alternate assessment, parents should always be a part of that conversation.The IEP must include a statement of why the child cannot participate in the regular assessment and why the alternate assessment is appropriate for the child. It’s important to note that a student can move from one track to another at any point, so if a student has been placed on the certificate track and is set to take the alternate assessment, but a family feels it’s not appropriate, the family can request that the student take the traditional statewide assessment instead. Similarly, if a student is set to take the statewide assessment but is struggling significantly to meet grade-level expectations (far below grade level), then the family may request a switch as well.

It is also important to note that students are not required to take the statewide assessments. If a parent wants to opt their child out of state testing, they may do so by writing an email or letter to the school and simply stating that they would like to opt their child out of state testing for that academic school year. This request must be in writing and it’s important to retain a copy of the request in your records. Schools must grant this request, but will not present this as an option to you because they are only permitted to have a certain percentage of students opt out. This process takes place outside of the IEP, so even if you opt out, you will still need to have a testing section on the IEP as though your child were planning to take it.

Service Delivery (Offer of FAPE)

The service delivery section is usually the last section in the IEP. In some IEP documents, this section lists the placement options (the least restrictive environment, or LRE) that were considered by the IEP team, and the reason the team chose the placement they did. Other IEP documents have an entire section dedicated to the LRE analysis/determination. This section also details the number of service minutes a child will receive in the classroom(s) chosen by the team, such as how much time a child will spend in a general education classroom and how much time the student will spend in a special day classroom (SDC) as well as the frequency, duration, and location of any related services, such as any therapies (physical, occupational, speech, etc.). It’s important to note that Specialized Academic Instruction (SAI) can be provided anywhere (including within the general education classroom). The “offer of FAPE” also includes transportation services, assistive technology, paraprofessional support, and other components of the student’s IEP. While “offer of FAPE” is mentioned in the title, other details included in the offer of FAPE such as accommodations, modifications, and other supports may appear in the Supplementary Aids and Services section depending on the format of the IEP document.

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