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What is an IEP?

IEP stands for Individualized Education Program. We have joked that it stands for “Incredibly Enormous Paperwork” because of all the forms and documents required to develop the IEP, but it’s so much more than a piece of paper. The IEP is the learning program developed for students with disabilities who are eligible under state and federal criteria. School districts conduct evaluations to determine who is eligible for an IEP.

People may think that the “P” in IEP stands for plan, but the legal definition is Program. The reason for the word “program” relates to the fact that there are specific, time-bound steps to be accomplished. Also, a program typically focuses on getting an outcome and seeing results.

An IEP is created through collaborative teamwork between school staff, parents, students, and supporting agencies. It is represented in a legal document format but it is a dynamic process, not just a file folder. The IEP is made of goals, services, accommodations, and modifications that students need to achieve their optimal outcomes.

There are federal and state legal requirements that should be represented in all IEPs. However, understanding those requirements can be challenging. Often, these mandates are not clear. The confusion leads to misunderstandings between school staff and families. Parents can access their rights through pursuing a variety of options outlined in their Procedural Safeguards and Parent Bill of Rights.

The optimal IEP would be one where a team ensures that what is written on the paper is happening in the day-to-day program of the student in the classroom.

Some of the most important legal factors to know about an IEP are:
     • Goals drive the services.
     • Teams must develop goals before making decisions on services and placements.

SMARTER Steps to IEP goals is designed to help guide you through this process. 

Useful Links

Discover more IEP resources and common questions by clicking on the following links.
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