Special Education is a service provided to children with a disability to ensure their right to receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). It provides students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) designed to meet their unique learning needs. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law that ensures children with disabilities have access to education. It mandates schools provide special education services and supports to these children in the least restrictive environment possible. Meaning, whenever possible, children with disabilities will be taught in general education classrooms. However, there are times when the necessary special education services are more easily obtained in the special education classroom. In such cases, students received educational services and supports in a resource or separate special education setting. Though rare, another option for a special education setting is the student’s home or in a community-based setting (ex: preschool or daycare). Many students who receive education services via an IEP spend at least a portion of their day in a special education setting as part of their individualized instruction plan. The IEP is essentially a script or prescription for how a student receives special education services.

Each student evaluated for special education eligibility must meet IDEA criteria for at least one of these categories to qualify for an IEP:

IDEA Disability categories (34 CFR § 300.8): 

  1. Autism
  2. Deafness
  3. Deafness/Blindness
  4. Emotional Disturbance
  5. Visual Impairment
  6. Speech/Language Impairment
  7. Orthopedic Impairments
  8. Hearing Impairment
  9. Intellectual Disability
  10. Multiple Disabilities
  11. Traumatic Brain Injury
  12. Other Health Impairment
  13. Specific Learning Disability
  14. Developmental Delay*


The IEP is the cornerstone of the student’s special education services. Every child is different and therefore has different needs, so the IEP is tailored accordingly. There are many parts to an IEP, and most educators agree the plan must meet these basic requirements for the student to benefit educationally:

A.     Present Levels: This section is a data summary. It includes the results of the comprehensive educational evaluation, the student’s current functional performance. It lists the student strengths and points of weakness. (Note: Functional performance includes academic, social/behavioral/emotional, adaptive, motor, and communication skills.)

B.      Goals and Objectives: G/O uses the information regarding the student’s strengths and weaknesses to make a list of learning targets for the student. The team agrees to select the weaknesses or needs to target, based on which will provide the most educational benefit. The team creates benchmarks (based on the targeted goals) and focuses special education services on supports in these areas. Goals and Objectives are specific, measurable, and times so the service providers, parents, and students can track educational progress.

C.      Services: This is the heart of the special education prescription or plan. It includes the types and settings for the delivery of special education services and supports. This section details the services and supports’ specifics, including how much, how often, and how long.

D.     Accommodations: Per LRE, students with disabilities can receive services across the entire educational environment (ex: transportation, cafeteria, recess). Accommodations are a list of changes the staff can make to the environment, curriculum, and assessment to allow the student better educational access. The student’s accommodations follow them in general and special education settings because the accommodations also ensure inclusion and equity.

IDEA requires an annual review of the student’s IEP. An IEP team must meet at least once a year to review the student’s progress and develop a new plan for the next upcoming year. The IEP team includes the parents, a local representative, teachers, other services providers, and the student, if appropriate. The team measures student performance to assess how well the plan is working. The team discusses the student’s performance on the goals, areas where the student is doing well, and areas where the student needs improvement. The team will consider appropriate placement and services for the child based on his performance and achievement. If the student’s goals are met, the IEP team will set higher expectations for next year. On the contrary, if the student did not achieve the goals in the IEP, the team will reconsider the placements, goals, services. After reviewing the data, the team will agree on more appropriate goals, services, supports, and accommodations.  The team will monitor the student’s progress; IEP meetings and plan changes will continue as needed until student performance improves.

During an IEP meeting, a person from the team will take notes or minutes of the meeting. The minutes will include a summary of the team’s discussions and decisions. Copies of the notes are attached to the IEP, and the district gives the parent a full revised copy new document. The parents will closely review the new IEP for accuracy and sign it if the information is captured correctly.  If the information is not correct, the parents can still sign the paper but with an exception. The parents would attach a letter to the original signed IEP or write corrections through the original document. The IEP is a legal and binding document, so the local representative will store signed or marked copies in a secured location. The child’s information is kept confidential and made available only to those who need to know what is in the IEP. The team will use the IEP in the cycle of meeting the student’s needs and tracking progress.

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