School-aged children who qualify for special education have an IEP. Learn ‘what is an IEP,’ how it is administered, and more.

What is an IEP?

What is an IEP?An IEP is a plan for your child’s special education. It outlines how the school will address your child’s learning needs. IEP stands for Individualized Education Program.

An IEP includes:

  • Learning goals for your child.
  • An outline of the services and support your child will receive.

A federal law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, requires schools to provide special instruction to eligible children who have a disability.


How do I know if my child needs an IEP?

There are two requirements for an IEP:

  • A child has one or more of the specific disabilities listed in the IDEA. These can include:
    1. Learning disabilities
    2. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
    3. Emotional disorders
    4. Cognitive challenges
    5. Autism
    6. Deaf and hard of hearing
    7. Speech or language impairment
    8. Developmental delay
    9. Physical disabilities
    10. Partial sight or blindness
    11. Traumatic brain injury
  • The disability must also affect your child’s ability to learn in the general education curriculum. They will need special instruction in and/or outside of their general classroom.


How can I get my child evaluated for an IEP?

You can ask for your child to be evaluated. You will need to make your request in writing to your school and ask that they evaluate whether or not your child has a disability and needs accommodations, aids, and services.

How is an IEP developed for my child?

  • After your child has been evaluated, and if they qualify for special education and related services, you and school staff will hold an IEP meeting.
  • An IEP meeting must be held within 30 days after your child’s evaluation..


What’s in an IEP?

Each child’s IEP must contain:

  • A description of how your child is doing in school and how their disability affects their learning and progress in their classroom.
  • Your child’s goals for the year.
  • The special education and related services your child will receive.
  • How (and if) your child will take part in state testing and what modifications to tests they’ll need.
  • When services and modifications will begin, how often they will be provided, where they will be provided, and how long they will last.
  • How school personnel will measure your child’s progress toward their annual goals.

For more details about what the law requires be included in an IEP, visit IEP Contents page.


What happens during an IEP meeting?

  • The IEP meeting is somewhat formal. By law, certain people must attend.
  • People sign in to show who is there.
  • A large number of papers are looked at and passed around.
  • School staff will talk with you about any tests or evaluations that have been done on your child.
  • People will talk about your child, their needs and strengths, and what type of educational program would be appropriate.
  • The team will work with you to set yearly learning and behavior goals for your child. They will suggest ways to measure to see if the goals are being met.
  • You are an important member of your child’s IEP team. Feel free to speak up and ask questions or offer suggestions.
  • A child’s IEP must be reviewed each year to check whether their annual goals are being met and if there needs to be any changes. IEP’s can be updated at any time.


Who attends an IEP meeting?

Usually IEP meetings include:

  • Parents or caregivers
  • A school administrator
  • General and special education teachers
  • School psychologist
  • Speech therapist (if needed)
  • Occupational or physical therapist (if needed)
  • School nurse (if needed)
  • Interpreter (if needed)

In addition to these people, you and the school can invite others to the meeting. This can include others who have knowledge or special expertise about your child or who will help support you during the meeting.

Want more information on who might be on the IEP team? Read the IEP Team page.

What can I do to prepare for an IEP meeting?

  • Ask for a draft of the IEP a few days before the meeting. This gives you time to read it and write down questions or concerns. It can be very hard to read the document during the meeting.
  • Review information on your child—from home, school, or private sources (such as doctors, therapists, or tutors). Bring your records to the meeting or send them ahead of time. You can also bring examples of your child’s work to show specific concerns or insights you may have.
  • Are there any areas where you and the school might disagree? Plan how you want to handle these differences. List any information that might support your position. Think of alternatives to offer if the school is not willing to accept your first suggestion and think about what you can compromise on and what you can’t.
Getting To Know Me (PDF)
Download: 'Getting To Know Me' (PDF)

Want more information?

IEP information from Parent Center
IDEA Resources for Parents and Families
Special Education Resources from Disability Rights Washington
Building Partnerships – working with your child’s education team.
Dispute Resolution & Your Child’s Legal Rights

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