8 Basic Components of an Individualized Education Program

An individualized education program (IEP) is a plan that teachers and parents develop to help a child with learning disorders and other types of disabilities succeed in school. Think of it like a road map: It establishes where your child is in their learning journey, where you'd like them to end up at the end of a school year, and steps to help them get there.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal law governing special education, ensures that every child receives an evaluation of whether they qualify for extra school support, and if they do, entitles them to an IEP specially designed just for them. This federal law also requires that an IEP contains a minimum set of components, or parts, that convey key information about your child and details about when and how the plan will be implemented. You can familiarize yourself with the eight key components of an IEP here.


Current Skill Level

Student with raised hand in classroom
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Every IEP must include a description of your child's current performance and skills in all areas of concern. It should explain how their disability affects their progress in the general education curriculum. It will also assess their "functional performance" in non-academic areas like motor skills, behavior, and interpersonal relationships.

IEP teams typically use formal assessments to determine how your child is doing and establish a baseline of performance. The team may also use anecdotal information and feedback from teachers to further describe their skills.


Annual Goals

The IEP must contain information about your child's goals, which need to be updated at least once a year. Depending on what challenges your child faces, goals can relate to academic performance, behavior, improving their physical mobility in navigating between classes, and more.

Each objective should be measurable. With the help of regular evaluations, teachers and parents should be able to see how close a child has come to reaching their goals by the end of a school year.


Progress Tracking

The IEP must explain exactly how progress toward your child's goals will be measured, whether it's regular testing or feedback reports from teachers. This gives you a clear idea of how your child is being evaluated throughout the year, and also provides reassurance that you will be kept in the loop about your child's achievements and setbacks.


Special Education Services

The IEP must clearly describe the student's special education program and how it's been designed to suit their particular needs. This provides details like separate instruction time, the use of one-on-one aides, and even special faculty training to help teachers learn more about how to best support your child.


Duration of Services

The IEP must include a projected beginning and end date of any services the IEP team proposes. This includes details on the frequency of the services and where they will be delivered. The intent is to ensure that everyone understands exactly when and where your child's individual program will take place.


Participation in Mainstream Classrooms

This section ensures that supportive staff and faculty are doing all they can to keep your child in the "least restrictive environment" as possible. With an aim of inclusion, this part of the IEP will detail how the child can join the general, mainstream classroom environment whenever it's appropriate.

The IEP must specify the amount of time a student will participate in these mainstream classes. It will also explain the rationale for that decision.

An IEP is a team effort: Several people need to collaborate to write it and then implement it. The team includes teachers, the specialist who evaluated your child, a representative of the school system (usually a special education coordinator or a principal), and you and your co-parent (if applicable).


Testing Adaptations

The IEP must explain if your child will participate in state and local achievement tests that other kids at their school take. If they will, it's important that the IEP specifies what types of testing accommodations will be used for them. Testing accommodations might include extra time, distraction-free rooms, and wheelchair-accessible tests.

If you and teachers decide it's best that your child take modified or different tests to assess achievement, the rationale for that decision must be included in the IEP.


Transitional Goals and Services

An IEP is designed to help your child succeed in the here and now, but also prepare them for the next phase of their education. For that reason, starting around a child's 14th birthday, an IEP must include plans for transitioning a child beyond grade school.

Transitional goals and services focus on instruction and support services needed to help your child move from the school environment and into a job, vocational program, or another program designed to promote independent living. If your child aspires to go to college, the IEP should also include steps to help prepare them for advocating themselves in that environment.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a 504 plan and an IEP?

For kids with mental or physical impairments, a 504 plan provides modifications that allow them to learn in mainstream classroom settings. For example, a child with vision or hearing problems might receive preferential seating closer to the front of the classroom. An IEP plan grants accommodations for children both in the general classroom as well as special services beyond it, such as extra tutoring. By law, parents or legal guardians need to be involved in creating an IEP but their input is not necessary for a 504 plan.

How are IEP goals written?

IEP goals are discussed and set during a collaborative planning meeting between parents, teachers, a specialist who has evaluated the child, and a representative of the school system (usually a special education coordinator or a principal).

What is the purpose of an IEP?

An IEP gives a child with a learning disorder or other disability the tools they need to succeed at school. The plan is different for every child and may include one-on-one classroom aides, individualized tutoring sessions, special classroom materials, or a modified schedule.

Who writes an IEP?

While deciding on the details of an IEP is a collaborative effort between parents and school personnel, your child's main special education teacher is usually the one to put the plan in writing. Parents sign off on the final draft of the IEP before it's implemented.

How long is an IEP good for?

IEP plans are typically reviewed once a year. Parents who believe their child's IEP needs to be changed can request a special meeting before the annual review, which may lead to an IEP being revised.

What are the legal requirements of an IEP?

By law, an IEP needs to contain the following: a current assessment of your child; annual goals; special services your child needs; mainstream classroom participation targets; and any testing plans. It will detail when and where your child will receive special services, a system for charting progress, and any transition support they might need when they age out of the public grade school system.

A Word From Verywell

For a child who learns differently or has a disability, navigating just a single school day, much less an entire year, can be overwhelming. But a well-designed IEP can identify manageable goals that can reassure and motivate a child.

An IEP is an integral part of the special education process and should be written with care. If an IEP is required for your child, be sure you understand what it should include and why. Ask questions of the IEP team and don't be afraid to hold educators accountable for closely monitoring your child's progress and keeping you posted about it. In many ways, you captain the IEP process, and your attention to detail can be key to the plan's—and your child's—success.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Education. A guide to the individualized education program.

  2. KidsHealth. 504 education plans.

Additional Reading

By Ann Logsdon
Ann Logsdon is a school psychologist specializing in helping parents and teachers support students with a range of educational and developmental disabilities.