Parents who are participating in their child’s first Individualized Education Plan (IEP) may not know what all of the components of an IEP are, or how the areas of an IEP work together to form a comprehensive individualized education plan for their child. When receiving their first copy of their student’s IEP, parents can often be overwhelmed and confused by the length of the document, the individual sections of the document and the manner in which their child’s services will be implemented. This blog will review the general purpose of the IEP and the parts of an IEP.

An Individualized Education Plan is meant to be a guide for the IEP team to use to measure a student’s progress. The IEP guide is one that is flexible and can be altered according to a student’s changing needs and parental and teacher concerns.

The initial page of any Individualized Education Plan contains basic student and parent information. It is on the first page that you will find your child’s name, date of birth, age and grade level. In addition, the page will list the names and addresses of both parents or the child’s legal guardian. The balance of the information usually indicates the school the child attends and the school district’s name. Sometimes this first page will also include the date of the student’s initial eligibility for special education services, the date of their last set of assessments, the date for the next set of assessments and the date of the IEP, itself. This page is important and parents should always review the information to make sure it is correct.

The balance of any Individualized Education Program document will then go on to describe the following; the student’s present skill levels, called the present levels of performance [PLOP]. These areas include academics, communication, motor skills, vocational skills, adaptive skills of daily living and health information. This section is very important because it tells the parents where the student’s current skill levels are in each of these areas. The present levels of performance often only contain data regarding the student’s skills in school, but if parents have information regarding a student’s skills in any of these areas from home observation or outside services, parents should ask for this information to be included in its appropriate section.

The next section of an Individualized Education Plan will contain the students baseline skills information and their goals for the upcoming IEP year. The student should have baseline information and goals in all areas of need. The baseline information should accurately reflect the skill level the student currently is capable of. The goal should build on the same skill by increasing the skill level of the student by the end of the IEP year. It is important to remember that your child’s goals should be reasonably challenging. 

In addition to the present levels of performance and new baseline information and new goals, the IEP or a separate addendum, should provide parents with progress on the goals from the previous IEP. If this is your student’s first IEP, this part of the document will be foregone. However, once you are working on your child’s second IEP, information or a document pertaining to whether your child met their previous goals, should be presented to you as part of the new IEP.

The Individualized Education Program will also contain a page called the Special Factors page. This page will identify and describe any special factors that relate to meeting your child’s needs. For example, if you child needs assistive technology or a behavior support plan, these needs will be indicated on this page. Some student’s do not have any special factors listed on this page and that is alright as long as none are needed. 

All Individualized Education Plans also contain pages that identify and define any accommodations a student might need to better participate in their classroom or testing or learning, in general. A student might need more time to complete a test or fewer questions on their math homework. Other students might require more time to verbally respond to questions asked in class or a token reward system to help them meet their daily goals. The accommodations page is different for every student and allows for a great deal of flexibility and creativity when providing the student with the tools they need to be successful in their classroom. 

One of the most important pages in an Individualized Education Program is known as the Offer of FAPE (Free and Appropriate Education) and the Services page. Oftentimes, these two pages are combined. The offer of FAPE indicates what classroom type your child will be placed in and the various services your child will receive. One of the most common offers of FAPE is for a child to be placed in a general education classroom with the service of specialized academic instruction. This means that the student will, most likely, spend the majority of their day with their peers in the regular classroom setting, but also receive additional instruction in a specialized academic instruction classroom, which provides additional assistance for reading, writing and math learning. Other services that a parent might see on their child’s service page include; speech and language, occupational therapy, adaptive physical education, physical therapy or counseling services. Any service that your child will be receiving in school will appear on this page. In addition, the IEP will inform the parent of how much time the child will receive this service over the course of the year or per month or even per week. These are called service minutes. Service minutes are determined based upon the information from the assessments, a child’s overall progress and the thoughts and opinions of all people, including parents, who are part of the IEP team. Service minutes can be changed, added, removed or altered in the IEP according to the student’s needs. 

It is important for the Individualized Education Plan to clearly state when the student’s services will start and when they will end. Most commonly, parents will see that the start date and the finish date coincide. The end date of the IEP will almost always be one year, minus one day, from the start date. For example, if your student’s IEP start date is 2/3/2021, the end date for services will be 2/2/2022. This is necessary because the law requires a student receive a new IEP every year. In this example, the new services would be legally required to start on February 3, 2022 and continue until February 2, 2023. 

The last two areas covered by an Individualized Education Program are Transition Services and the Transfer of Rights at the age of majority. Both of these requirements are for high school students. All students must have a Transition Services plan in the IEP that is in effect at the time the student turns 16 years of age. Therefore, if your student is 15 years old and by the time the next IEP is generated, your child will turn 16, then the IEP must contain a statement of Transition Services. A student’s transition services will vary depending upon what their plans are after high school. But the basic areas covered in all transition plans include: a plan for employment, a plan for higher education and a plan for independent living. 

The requirement of Transfer of Rights or the age of majority, requires the school to inform the student, at least one year in advance of turning 18 years of age, that upon turning 18 years old they are the legal rights holder for their Individualized Education Plan. The most common change that occurs once a child turns 18 years of age, is that they have the right to sign their own IEP. There are exceptions to the transfer of this legal right in the event that the student is not legally competent to make such decisions or hold these rights on their own. In cases such as these, parents can apply for conservatorship of their child and continue to hold the legal rights pertaining to their IEP needs. 

While an initial Independent Education Plan can be overwhelming for parents, if parents take the time to slowly read each page of the document, it will become more familiar to them. As the format of the IEP document becomes more commonplace, their comfort level in reviewing and providing input for their child’s IEP will increase.