What is an Individual Education Plan (IEP)?

How this document helps special needs children

Professor talking to students in classroom. Credit: Credit: CaiaImage / Gettim Images

What is the definition of an Individualized Education Program (IEP)? With this overview, learn more about what these plans are and how they help students with learning disabilities and other challenges succeed in school.

How IEPs Help Students With Learning Disabilities

The acronym IEP stands for slightly different words. In addition to Individualized Education Program, it is also known as an Individualized Education Plan, Individual Education Plan or Individual Education Program.

While the names for this document vary, it performs the same function.

An IEP is the legal document that defines a child's special education program. An IEP includes the disability under which the child qualifies for special education services (also known as his classification), the services the team has determined the school will provide, his yearly goals and objectives and any accommodations that must be made to assist his learning.

IEPs are typically reviewed and updated at least once a year but may be revisited more frequently if the need arises due to an unforeseen circumstance or concerns from parents, teachers or other school personnel.

Who Makes Up the IEP Team?

IEP teams may include teachers--both in the special education or the general education program--as well as counselors, therapists, parents and students themselves. As students age, they might have more say about their own learning goals and plans.

The members of the IEP team attend meetings to discuss what goals the students should reach. The goals included on the plan are usually settled upon after the student is evaluated. In addition to tests, portfolios of student work, observations from parents, teachers and other faculty members may all play a role in the goals outlined for the student on the IEP.

To establish these goals and ensure that the student meets them, the IEP must first determine the student's present level of performance, known as PLP or PLOP. Identifying how well a student is doing currently can give the IEP team a reference point to draw from while establishing student goals on the plan.

The IEP will also outline the services your child requires to function optimally in school. If your child has a language disorder, for example, one service he needs might be a few 20-minute sessions of speech therapy per week.

Remember that the input of parents is just as important as the input of the school faculty members on the IEP. If there are certain goals you'd like your child to achieve or services you think your child needs, don't hesitate to advocate for your child. If you and the faculty disagree, a special education advocate, lawyer or other professional with special ed expertise can walk you through the next steps.

Wrapping Up

If you think your child has a learning disability and needs an IEP, talk to your child's teacher or school administrator about having her evaluated.

Let the school faculty know the problems or behaviors you've observed that have led you to believe your child has a learning disorder.

The school is obligated to investigate your concerns. You can kick off the process by first consulting your child's pediatrician about your concerns, but the school will need to be involved as well.

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