What is an IEP?

An IEP stands for an Individualized Education Program.

What is an IEP?

An IEP stands for an Individualized Education Program.  We have joked that it stands for Incredibly Enormous Paperwork because of 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 time-bound specific steps to be accomplished. Also, a program has a focus on the outcome and 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 a 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, that 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 ideal IEP would be one where a team ensures that what was written on the paper was happening in the day-to-day program of the student in the classroom. 

One of the most important legal factors to know about an IEP is this:

  • Goals drive the services.  
  • Teams must develop goals before making decisions on services and placements.

S.M.A.R.T.E.R. Steps to IEP Goals is designed to help guide you through this process.