What is an IEP?

In the United States an Individualized Education Program, commonly known as an IEP, is mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In Canada and the United Kingdom, the same document is termed an Individual Education Plan.

An IEP is designed to satisfy the unique educational needs of one child, who could have a disability, as outlined by federal regulations. The IEP is intended to help children reach educational goals more easily than they otherwise would. 34 CFR 300.320 In all cases the IEP must be tailored to the individual student’s needs as identified by the IEP evaluation process, and must especially help teachers and related service providers (such as paraprofessional educators) understand the student’s disability and how the disability affects the learning process.

The IEP should describe how the student learns, how the student best demonstrates that learning and what teachers and service providers will do to help the student learn more effectively. Key considerations in developing an IEP include assessing students in all areas related to the known disabilities, simultaneously considering ability to access the overall curriculum, considering how the disability affects the students learning, developing goals and objectives that correspond to the requirements of the student, and ultimately choosing a placement in the least restrictive setting attainable for the student.

As long as a student qualifies for special education, the IEP should be frequently maintained and updated over the student’s primary academic years (i.e. up to the point of high college graduation, or prior to the 22nd birthday). If a student in special education attends college upon graduation, the university’s own system and procedures take over. Placements usually occur in “general education”, mainstream classes, and specialized categories or sub-specialties taught by a specifically trained individual, such as a special education teacher, typically within a resource area or room.

An IEP is supposed to ensure that students receive an applicable placement, not “only” special education school classrooms or special schools. It is supposed to give the student a likelihood to participate in “normal” school culture and academics as much as possible for that individual student. In this way, the student is in a position to obtain specialized assistance when such assistance is absolutely necessary, and otherwise maintains the liberty to interact with and participate within the activities of his or her more general college peers.