For those who are new to the special education process, understanding what an IEP is and why it is important can take a bit of time… some research, and sometimes a little bit of deciphering.

There are a lot of acronyms in special education and unless you are using the terminology as part of your everyday vocabulary, it can be easy to forget what something means or need clarification. For parents, those acronyms are even more confusing and it is not uncommon to have families ask, “What is an IEP?

As special educators, it is our responsibility to help families understand what it is and why it is a vital part of their child’s education.

What Does IEP Mean?

IEP stands for Individualized Education Program. Any time that a child enters into the special education system, they must have an IEP. This legal document describes how the school will help your child improve his or her skills.

What is in an IEP?

There are many different forms in an IEP. You will find everything from evaluation reports to present levels of learning to academic goals to accommodations and modifications. All of those things help to make up the program that is individualized for your child’s success. By law, an IEP must include:

  • Present levels and current performance – this describes how the child is doing right now.
    • Annual goals – year-long measurable goals that the student can reasonably accomplish. Those goals are broken down into objectives or benchmarks so that progress can be monitored throughout the duration of the IEP.
      • Services provided – this section of the IEP talks about the special education services that the child will receive. Any related services will also be put into this section.
        • Participation in the general education setting – this section will describe the amount of time that the student will be present in the general ed classroom and not receiving special education services.
          • Information about testing – the IEP will also address how, where, and if the student will participate in state and district testing.
            When and where services will occur – the days and locations of special ed services will also be included in the IEP so that it is very clearly laid out as to how often the student will be receiving services.
            • Transition services – when a child reaches 14 years old, the IEP must begin to include any courses the student should take to prepare for transitioning out of high school. Once he reaches 16 years old, language about the need for and any transition services that will be provided is included. These are services that he will need to successfully navigate life beyond high school graduation.
              • Progress measurement – the IEP will also state how and how often progress towards the goals will be measured and reported.

              What is an IEP?