The IEP Process: Everything You Need to Know

As a parent, you are entitled to play a major role in the educational planning process for your child with a language disability or dyslexia.

This is an exciting journey and one that allows you to have a meaningful impact on how the schools address the needs of your son or daughter. If you think of yourself as a member of the Individual Education Plan (IEP) team, versus an outsider, your voice will be heard and a truly collaborative process will be the outcome.

The IEP process is time consuming and complex, but it represents the legal document that will hold your school accountable for the delivery of a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), to which your child is entitled. You are your child’s best advocate! The more time and consideration that you give to the IEP process, the more likely your child is to benefit from its provisions. As your child gets older, you will want to include him or her into the IEP process.

Below we cover the IEP from soup to nuts. Take special notice of the tips we’ve provided! With some planning and forethought, you can ensure that your child’s IEP meeting is a success!

Tip: Before your first meeting, purchase a 3-ring binder to keep all of the documents related to your child’s school program.






The Initial IEP Meeting

Your very first IEP will most likely feel overwhelming. A team of five to seven members will be talking about your child, over several hours. No matter how knowledgeable or confident you may feel in advance, it may be an exhausting and emotional experience. (See the checklists we’ve provided to help you prepare before and during the meeting.)

Tip: Consider bringing a family advocate with you to these meetings. It could be a family member, babysitter, neighbor, or an outside agency consultant. The role of this advocate is to take notes and “hear” things that you may not be able to process during the meeting.

  • Teams are usually made up of district staff (psychologist, speech-language therapist, social worker, teaching consultant, general education teacher, principal, district administrator, etc).
  • Parents may bring any outside therapists or consultants to the IEP meeting. This facilitates communication, consistency, and collaboration among members of the team. Outside therapists help to advocate for your child’s needs regarding goals, accommodations, and services.
  • You are also a key member of this team and therefore all efforts should be made to schedule a meeting around your availability.

Tip: Write a parent report for all IEP team meetings (need template). Your input is critical because along with receiving input from staff related to your child’s weaknesses, you may be able to identify strengths and skills that are only seen in your home. If possible, write this report and distribute it before the date of your scheduled IEP.

It is not uncommon for IEP teams to start a discussion about “student placement” even before educational goals and objectives have been addressed. It is important that you slow down this kind of conversation, because a student’s educational needs should be clearly outlined first. Your school district should be encouraged to provide special services and curricular accommodations within your neighborhood school, in the least restricted environment (LRE). This is the fundamental premise of the IDEA.

At the first (and all subsequent meetings) someone will be designated to take notes and run the meeting. In addition, someone from the district should be present to approve decisions that relate to placement (classroom or building changes) and/or support services that are considered above and beyond the normal standard of protocol.

Tip: If a district representative (who is able to approve major decisions) is not present, and a discussion about placement is anticipated, then consider rescheduling the IEP meeting.

The goal of an IEP is to

  • identify your child’s individualized educational needs,
  • set specific goals and objectives, and
  • determine other educational needs.

The IEP itself is a legal contract and once it has been signed by you, it becomes the basis of your child’s educational programming. You have the right to review the contents of your child’s file, including test results, data collection, reports etc. at any time. We recommend that you do a file review at least once each school year.

The IEP Form: Basic Information

Tip: At this point in time, you should set up a loose-leaf notebook to organize all correspondence and IEP documents by date. In order to monitor your child’s annual progress, keep a different binder for each year.

Please visit your district’s website now and download the current IEP form used by all public schools in your area. This will help you as you read through the following sections.

The first page records information about you and your entire team, as well as the purpose of the meeting.

The new IDEA offers the opportunity for certain members of your IEP team to be excused from time to time. Make sure that you read this section (at the bottom of the first page) and agree to the steps required for a staff member to be absent at any given time. If speech-language services are the focus of your IEP, then allowing the speech-language therapist (SLP) to be absent may not be ideal, unless the SLP submits a report (input) prior to the IEP meeting.

The IEP Form: Free and Appropriate Public Education

The next section includes a checklist of factors considered when providing a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Each box that is checked requires that the team elaborate in the “comments” section. One omission in this section is the possible need for a student to receive curriculum accommodations or modifications, in order to perform in the general education setting. This is a specific “need” that should be considered in this section. If this is a concern for your child, ask that it be added to both the checklist and comments sections. An example might be the recommendation that the child needs a keyboarding device to take notes during class, because of physical limitations.

The IEP Form: Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance

The section, “Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP)” is a broad statement describing how your child’s disability affects his or her involvement and progress in the general education curriculum. This is the section that should include parent input, in addition to the school team’s information. In this section, you might include information about safety concerns, sensory issues, behavioral problems, etc. This page should be broad in scope, but at the same time, specific. The important aspect to address is how your child’s “functional performance” may hinder learning in the general education setting.

The next section addresses post-secondary transition to adulthood. Districts have the capacity to omit this entire section, if students are not at least 14 years of age. This is a very important section as your child prepares for college and work life. This is also the time that your child should become actively involved in his or her educational planning. You’ll want to consider what skills are necessary to succeed in college and work and be sure the IEP addresses ways to address these skills.

The IEP Form: Annual Goals and Short-term Objectives

The next section on the IEP form is called “Annual Goals and Short-term Objectives.”

  • For each individual goal that is identified for the IEP, the staff will need to provide data in order to establish a baseline for the specific objectives identified to reach each goal. Again, you will see the use of PLAAFP’s which should drive each goal statement.
  • More importantly, the list of objectives must be measurable and educational strategies should be implemented over the course of one entire school year. PLAAFP’s in this section should be data-driven, using test scores, observation, or concrete examples.
  • In addition, each IEP should include a process for evaluating these objectives in order to measure growth and success. This section is important because it will outline how often you will receive progress reports relating to the IEP.
  • Detailed notes about the frequency and duration of support services and/or personnel support is another part of the IEP document that should be discussed and agreed upon. These discussions will consume a large part of your IEP meeting.

In the end, your IEP document should be adequately descriptive, dated, and include initializing by participating staff, in order to monitor progress.

If you would like daily records of how your child behaved or performed at school, then consider requesting that a Daily Behavior Log be created and sent home each day from school. Remember to put this request in writing, in the IEP.

Sample Goals

Here are some sample (hypothetical) IEP goals for a 12 year-old student, named Ben, with difficulties with spelling and reading comprehension.

The key for the evaluation section is:
Evaluation Criterion Schedule
S   Student’s Daily Work
D   Documented Observation
R   Rating Scale
T   Standardized Test
O   Other (specify)
Accuracy (80% etc.) 4 out of 5 times
Achievement Level
W   Weekly
D   Daily
M   Monthly
G   Grading Period
O   Other (specify)
Reading Comprehension

PLAAFP: Ben scored in the average range for the Accuracy and Fluency subtests (50th and 63rd percentile respectively) on the Gray Oral Reading Test-4 (GORT-4). Ben reported that he has trouble reading out loud; however, his mother reported that Ben is an exceptional speed reader for silent reading. Ben’s score for Reading Comprehension subtest was in the low-average (in the 25th percentile). It was clear that Ben had difficulty answering inferential questions about the character’s motivations, personality traits, and feelings. In addition, negatively stated questions and figurative language were sometimes difficult for Ben.

Annual Goal: Increase Ben’s reading comprehension for narratives. These objectives may be achieved through the following strategies: story prediction, mapping, and connecting the information to personal experiences.

Short-term Objectives Evaluation Criterion Schedule
1) Ben will answer inferential questions such as: the character’s motivations, personality traits, and feelings. S 4 out of 5 correct W
2) Ben will answer negatively stated questions. S 4 out of 5 correct W
3) Ben will answer questions containing figurative language. S 4 out of 5 correct W
Spelling and Written Expression

PLAAFP: On the Test of Written Language (TOWL), Ben composed a story in response to a stimulus picture, given a 15-minute time limit. His narrative was in the high-average range for Story Construction (75th percentile) and above-average for the Contextual Language (>99th percentile). The content of the story related to the picture and included vivid language such as: “As everybody was swarming around me, the next thing I knew was the artifact was gone, and I was out cold!” Ben exhibited strong grammar with a variety of sentence types including five compound sentences and three complex sentences. His organization was adequate with three well-developed paragraphs, and a logical sequence to the story.

Ben scored in the low-average range on the Contextual Conventions subtest, and his spelling and punctuation were weak. Ben used capitalization appropriately, but he did not use punctuation when necessary. Ben also misspelled 7% of the words in his story. He demonstrated weaknesses in metal orthographic images (remembering how words look) and orthographic knowledge (phonics). Further testing for spelling is recommended, to obtain a larger sample, and determine exactly with spelling rules Ben knows and doesn’t know. The Spelling Performance Evaluation for Language and Literacy (SPELL) is a comprehensive and prescriptive computerized test, which would serve as a guide for spelling therapy.

Annual Goal: Ben will improve the quality of his written work.

Short-term Objectives Evaluation Criterion Schedule
Ben will improve his spelling in essays and papers by increasing knowledge of orthographic knowledge (phonics), phonological awareness (blending and segmenting sounds in words), and semantic knowledge (for spelling homophones). S At least 95% words spelled correctly M
Ben will improve editing for the order of words and punctuation. Ben will learn to use assistive technology such as software for word processing and text-to-speech. An electronic speller and mnemonic strategies will also benefit Ben. S 3 or fewer errors. M

The more measurable your objectives are, the easier it will be to track success. When you discuss evaluation, criteria, and schedule, make sure that these activities are agreed upon and that data recording mechanisms are developed and implemented. It is equally important for you as a parent/caregiver to carry many or all of these goals over into the home environment.

The IEP Form: Supplemental Aids/Services/Personnel Support

After your goals and objectives have been written, the team will want to address the issue or need for “adult assistance.” The identification of this type of assistance will be included in the next section titled, “Supplementary Aids/Services/Personnel Support.” This is often a lengthy discussion within the IEP meeting. There are two points to remember about this conversation.

  • There should never be a discussion about budgets or cut-backs during an IEP meeting, especially as it relates to supplementary services and personnel support; instead, the focus should be on providing an individualized education program in the least restrictive environment (LRE).
  • In order to be considered for adult assistance, the Team needs to write a clear description (present level of functional performance) of your child’s needs related to safety, medical-based issues, behavior management, and communication. For example, if your student is not successfully recording his assignments in his planner, you could specify that a teacher will check his planner before he leaves the class or will print out/email assignments.

Tip: Districts are beginning to request that IEP goals directly work on all or any of the concerns that might be accommodated by adult assistance. In other words, requesting an adult to watch over a child who might escape from school is not enough. There must be a goal that directly works on teaching the child to not leave the school, even if it means creating a positive behavioral plan or behavior-based objectives. Goals and objectives must work to remediate the problem, so that the adult assistance can be minimized over time.

Also in this section on supplementary aids and services, is the description of special education services to be provided by ancillary staff, including SLPs, physical and occupational therapists, reading specialists, teaching consultants, etc. The team will most likely use codes to these identify services. The time/frequency and conditions column is important to note. Make sure that support staff are specific about their time commitments, and try not to state a broad range of time such as “one to four times” per week but instead state three to four times per week, for 30 minutes each session.

Tip: If possible, try to get a firm commitment of direct contact time, like two to three times per week, 30–40 minutes each. Clarify that the therapist will have two direct contact sessions each week, with a third time reserved for parent/teacher meetings, or group work. A range of one to four times each week most likely will result in sporadic service delivery.

The IEP Form: Extended School Year Services

The next IEP section is the Extended School Year (ESY) section. This refers to services covered over the summer season (beyond the required 180 days). Again, this is especially important for young students, who most likely will regress (lose skills) during the summer season, without intervention.

Many districts handle this process differently, often looking at how quickly a student “recoups” skills lost over a winter vacation, for instance. Often, such evidence forms the basis by which a student is judged to qualify for summer services. It might be worthwhile to connect with a Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) in your district in order to make sure your school handles this assessment process in a logical manner.

Tip: Often times, ESY becomes available when certain services outlined in the IEP have not been implemented in a timely or consistent fashion, especially if one member of the IEPT has been absent over an extended period of time. This points to the critical need of a parent to monitor daily activities, in terms of ancillary services, in order to see if the child is getting services as outlined in the IEP. The best way to do this is by using a daily log (need template), which should be filled out by a school staff member every day, and returned home. If, for instance, a speech therapist is out sick for three months during the year, then you should request make-up sessions, which might happen over the summer.

The following checklist may be helpful as you prepare for your IEP meeting.

Initial IEP Meeting Checklist

Prior to the Meeting
  • You have reviewed special education law and vocabulary.
  • A friend or family member has been identified and invited to the IEP meeting, and you have communicated their participation to the Team, in advance.
  • Your notes and key points are typed to help you communicate your thoughts to the IEP Team.
  • A Parent Report has been copied for all members of the IEP Team.
  • A key district representative has been invited and you are aware of their attendance.
  • A loose-leaf notebook has been set up and you have downloaded the IEP form.
  • If safety is an issue for your child, you have addressed these concerns in your Parent Report and have drafted some goals.
  • Copies of all medical and school-based diagnostic reports are in your possession, and you have reviewed them prior to the meeting.
  • You are appreciative of the time involved in developing an IEP for your child, so you have decided to bring refreshments to this meeting.
During the Meeting
  • The time commitment (direct contact) by ancillary staff is important, and you are prepared to state that this be itemized in your IEP document.
  • Considerations for an Extended School Year (ESY) program will be discussed at this team meeting.
  • Goals and objectives are to be based on the PLAAFP and should be both behavioral and measurable.
  • Progress reports by the team will be sent home according to the IEP Specifications.
  • Follow-up meetings for this IEP will be scheduled prior to adjournment.

Once your child has an IEP, you should always make sure it's being carried out.


As a parent, you are entitled to play a major role in the educational planning process for your child with a language disability.
The IEP Process: Everything You Need to Know