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What Is Contained In A School-Age IEP?


An Individualized Education Program (IEP) sets out the services and supports necessary for your child to learn. Yet it contains much more than a list of services that will be delivered to your child. It is designed to be the go-to document for educators working with your child to learn about your child's abilities and needs and how to help. It provides a roadmap for teachers and staff working with your child and also holds them accountable for your child's progress.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that certain information be included in every school-age child's IEP. To help IEP teams include all the required information, most states have developed a model IEP form.

The beginning of the IEP specifies the name of the student and contact information for the student's family. Generally, a list of the IEP team members is also included at the beginning of the document. The following additional information must also be included somewhere in the IEP:

Present levels of performance (PLOP) (also known in some areas as present levels of educational performance or "PLEP"):

The present levels of performance section is the foundation for the IEP. It states where your child is in terms of academic, social, and emotional development. Your child's strengths and weaknesses should be detailed using direct and observable measures of academic achievement and functional performance based on grades, test scores, and other data. In addition to academic data, information about self-care abilities and behavior should be included. This section should include a summary of the information contained in your child's Evaluation Report, making that information available to all teachers and staff who work with your child, not just those who were part of the evaluation team. If your child has had private evaluations, those results should be included in this section.

Annual goals and objectives:

This section includes academic and functional skills, activities, and behaviors, which have been prioritized for your child to work on during the school year. Goals should be set for each area of need as determined by your child's Evaluation Report, for example social, behavioral, self-help, and communication goals, in addition to academic ones. The goals should be written to be completed in one year. For some children, short term objectives and benchmarks, which are designed to track short-term achievements, are also included in this section. They are required if your child will be taking alternate state and local assessments. The goals should be measureable. You and the IEP team must be able to know when your child has reached the goal.

Description of how progress will be measured and reported:

The IEP must always include a description of how your child's progress toward meeting the annual goals will be measured, for example, through observation, standardized testing, or informal assessments. The IEP must also specify when you will be given periodic reports on progress towards annual goals. For example, the team may require periodic progress reports on IEP goals to be given when report cards are provided. The process of tracking a student's performance to see if the student is on track to meet IEP goals is called "progress monitoring."

Determination of participation in state and local assessments:

Federal and state laws require that schools periodically conduct educational assessments of all students. Students receiving special education are not exempt from general state and district-wide assessment programs. However, students receiving special education are entitled to have appropriate accommodations and alternate assessments where necessary and as indicated in the IEP. If the IEP team determines that your child needs to take alternative assessments, the annual goals and objectives section of the IEP must include benchmarks or short term objectives to gauge progress.

Description of services and accommodations:

This section contains a description of services needed by your child and accommodations necessary for your child to be successful at school. Services may include specialized services delivered by experts in a particular field, such as speech-language services, occupational therapy, physical therapy, or behavioral support, or services needed for your child to access the curriculum, for example transportation. Accommodations are designed to minimize obstacles to learning or participating in the educational environment. They are always individualized according to each student's needs. Examples include preferential seating, use of a squeeze toy to minimize fidgeting, a picture schedule, use of a tape recorder, use of a teacher's outline, a communication book to go between home and school, or extra time to take tests. Supports for school personnel may also be included. These are supports given to teachers or other professionals at the school to help them work with your child, and may include additional training or an extra block of free time to prepare alternate materials or assessments or to hold co-planning or team meetings. The IEP must also state when services will begin and must specifically describe the anticipated frequency, location, and duration of each.

Extended School Year determination:

Special education services are suspended during weekends and school holidays and breaks, unless the IEP team determines that they are needed at these times. The provision of services during weekends and breaks is called Extended School Year or ESY. The IEP team must consider if your child needs services outside the normal school year at each IEP meeting. Each state has its own regulations for how a student qualifies for ESY services, but in general, students who are at risk for losing skills may qualify if data suggests that breaks from educational services have led to behavior or academic problems. Your child's IEP must specify whether or not your child qualifies for ESY, and if so, the goals to be worked on and the services and supports which will be provided.


As your child nears the end of his or high school career, his or her IEP must include a plan to help with transition to adulthood. The plan must include goals for after high school related to training, education, employment, and, where appropriate, independent living skills. IDEA requires that this plan begin no later than the first IEP to be in effect when your child turns 16. Some states, including Pennsylvania, require that transition begin earlier. In Pennsylvania, transition must begin when your child turns 14.

Placement decisions:

Placement decisions can be some of the most emotionally charged ones in the IEP process. IEP team members frequently come to the IEP team meeting with already formed ideas about where the child should be educated. Some team members may feel very strongly that all children with disabilities should be educated in a regular education classroom. Others believe that specialized schools are better equipped to provide for students with disabilities. IDEA is clear that students should be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) in which the student can make progress towards the goals set in the IEP. Your child's IEP will specify where your child will receive services, the reason for this placement, and the extent to which your child will participate with children who do not have disabilities.

In addition to the sections above, your child's IEP may also include a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP). FBAs and BIPs are not mandatory for all students receiving special education, but they are very common for children on the autism spectrum. If the IEP team decides that your child exhibits behaviors that impede his or her own learning or that of other children, a Behavior Intervention Plan (sometimes called a Positive Behavior Support – "PBS" – plan) will be a part of your child's IEP. Prior to developing the plan, a trained professional (sometimes a behavior analyst, but often a teacher or guidance counselor who has received training) will conduct a Functional Behavioral Assessment. The FBA involves the collection of data, observations, and information to develop a clear understanding of the relationship of events and circumstances that trigger and maintain problem behavior. Based on the information collected, a BIP will be designed which will include recommendations for how to change the problem behavior and replace it with more acceptable behavior.

Additional Resources:

The Center for Autism Research and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia do not endorse or recommend any specific person or organization or form of treatment. The information included within the CAR Autism Roadmap™ and CAR Resource Directory™ should not be considered medical advice and should serve only as a guide to resources publicly and privately available. Choosing a treatment, course of action, and/or a resource is a personal decision, which should take into account each individual's and family's particular circumstances.