View our Covid-19 Response Learn More- Click to Dismiss


Let us know about your experience on our site. Use the link below to submit your thoughts.

Components of Individualized Education Programs

At least annually, the IEP team for an eligible learner develops an IEP. When the IEP team meets, they review the available assessment information, review the learner’s progress, and then design an educational program to address the learner’s educational needs.

The process of developing, reviewing and revising an IEP includes five phases:

  1. Identify present levels of academic achievement and functional performance.
  2. Develop measurable annual goals and determine effective progress monitoring strategies.
  3. Determine and describe all special education services, activities, and supports.
  4. Determine the least restrictive environment (LRE) and additional considerations.
  5. Determine how progress will be reported to parents.


Identify a Learner's Present Levels of Performance

The Present Levels of Academic Achievement & Functional Performance (PLAAFP) summarize all aspects of a learner’s present levels of performance and provide the foundation upon which all other decisions in the IEP will be made.

  • “Present levels of academic achievement” refers to learner progress in the general curriculum or appropriate activities for preschool.
  • “Present levels of functional performance” refers to how the learner applies their skills.

The PLAAFP is developed collaboratively to assure the involvement of the family, the learner, and educators in the development of the IEP. The IEP team uses data in the PLAAFP to identify and prioritize the specific needs of the learner and establish goals, services, activities, and supports.

Additionally, the PLAAFP:

  • Explains the needs of the learner and states how the learner’s disability affects their involvement and progress in the general curriculum.
    • For preschool children, the PLAAFP summarizes how the disability affects the child’s participation in age-appropriate activities.
  • Summarizes and translates evaluation results in clear, understandable language.
  • Considers the following special factors:
    • Accessible Educational Materials (AEM): Consider if a learner requires AEM to independently access print-based and digitally-based content.
    • Assistive Technology: Consider if a learner needs devices and/or assistive technology service(s) and support(s).
    • Communication: Consider the expressive and receptive language and the communication need(s) of the learner.
    • English Learner: Consider the language need(s) and the service(s) and/or activities required to support the learner with limited English proficiency.
    • Health: Consider the health need(s) of the learner and if an individual health plan is needed.
    • Hearing: Consider the needs of a learner who is deaf or hard of hearing and the impact this has on their communication and access to the curriculum.
    • Social Emotional Behavior: Consider if a learner requires  support or strategies to address social emotional and/or behavioral need(s).  Document  whether a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and/or Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) is needed.
    • Vision: Consider the needs of a learner who is blind or visually impaired and the impact this has on their instructional need(s) and access to the curriculum.

Secondary Transition: For secondary IEPs (learners who are 13-21 years), the PLAAFP must address a learner's transition needs. This includes assessing post-secondary expectations and determining service(s) and support(s) needed in the areas of living, learning and working.

Establish Annual Goals

IEP teams need to establish measurable annual goal(s) to meet the learner’s individual needs which result from the learner’s disability and enable the learner to be involved and progress in the general curriculum.

Annual goals should:

  • Outline what a learner can reasonably be expected to accomplish within a 12-month period with the provision of special education services and supports.
  • Be meaningful, measurable, monitorable, and useful in instructional decision-making.
  • Guide the specially designed instruction for the learner.
  • Align with the information in the PLAAFP.
  • Address the postsecondary needs identified in the PLAAFP and link to a postsecondary expectation for transition-age learners (beginning the year the learner turns 14 years old). A goal may link to more than one of the postsecondary expectations for living, learning, and working.

All annual IEP goals must include:

  1. The conditions (when and how the student will perform),
  2. Behavior (what the learner will do), and
  3. Criterion (acceptable level of performance).

Annual goals may include intermediate steps to increase successful participation in the general curriculum, appropriate activities, and the general education environment.

For learners using alternate achievement standards (Iowa Core Essential Elements - English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science) and Iowa Alternate Assessments, annual goal design must incorporate:

  1. Major Milestones: general statements of the content to be learned or the skills to be performed in order for the learner to attain the annual goals which are measurable.
  2. Short-Term Objectives: measurable, intermediate steps between a learner’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance and the annual goals. More than one short-term objective should accompany each annual goal.

The ACHIEVE system includes goal types that facilitate the incorporation of major milestones and short term objectives into the data collection and instructional decision making process.

Additional information on progress monitoring can be found in the 'Determining Learner Progress' and ‘Progress Monitoring’ sections of Completing an Initial Evaluation

Determine Services, Supports, and Activities

Based on the needs identified in the PLAAFP and the annual goals, the IEP team determines what services, activities, and/or supports will be provided to the learner or on behalf of the learner. The IEP team must include a clear and comprehensive description of each service, support, and/or activity to ensure all team members know what services, support, and/or activity will be provided, including when they will be provided, and by whom.

Special education services, related services, and supplementary aids and services may be provided to the learner, parent/family, and/or school personnel.  For example, parents/family members may need training and counseling to understanding the special needs of their child and/or helping parents to acquire the necessary skills that will allow them to support the implementation of their child’s IEP.  Also, the IEP team may identify target training necessary for school personnel to meet the unique and specific needs of the student rather than a general training program available within the district or AEA.

Differences Between Services, Supports, and Activities


Services are a regular, purposeful, ongoing set of actions delivered to, or on behalf of, a learner over time. The systematic nature of the described service is reflected in the number of minutes and frequency, the setting where services are provided and the persons responsible.

For each service, the IEP team will need to:

  • Identify the start date,
  • Identify service provider,
  • Specify the number of minutes of service per day, week or month,
  • Indicate if the learner will be removed from education with non-disabled peers to receive any of the services, and
    • If there is direct removal, specify the amount of removal per day, week, or month
  • Describe the service in a manner that passes the "Stranger Test." The "Stranger Test" means if the child enrolled at a new school, would teachers and/or support professionals there understand the learner's needs and know what to do?

For additional information, refer to Special Education Services and Activities.

Activities and Supports

Activities and supports are events, tasks, or things provided to or on behalf of an eligible individual in order for the individual to take advantage of, or respond to, educational programs and opportunities. Activities and supports are less regular or systematic than services and, in describing these in the IEP, teams do not require an ongoing designation of minutes in settings or monitoring of progress towards goal attainment.

For each Activity/Support, the IEP team will need to:

  • Specify the time and frequency of the activity or support. Both “time” (e.g., minutes, hours, etc.) or the condition under which the activity or support will occur (“All timed tests”) are permissible. Terms such as episodic or intermittent may be used only if the description of the activity or support makes clear the commitment to, or on behalf of, the individual.
  • Describe the activity or support in a manner that passes the “Stranger Test.” The "Stranger Test" means if the child enrolled at a new school, would teachers and/or support professionals there understand the learner's needs and know what to do?

For additional information, refer to Special Education Services and Activities

Identifying the Least Restrictive Environment

The least restrictive environment (LRE) is the educational environment that enables learners with disabilities, including those in public and private institutions and care facilities, to receive appropriate education and provides the learners with maximum opportunities for interaction with peers without disabilities.

LRE is grounded in the idea that while the general education environment is the most ideal setting for learners, some learners may need different settings in order to receive an appropriate education. Removal from the general education environment may occur only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes (with the use of supplementary aids and services) cannot be achieved satisfactorily.

Supplementary aids and services are aids, services, and supports that enable learners with disabilities to be educated with nondisabled learners to the maximum extent appropriate which may be provided in:

  • General education environments
  • Education-related settings (field trips, work experience sites)
  • Nonacademic settings (school dances, school-sponsored activities, etc.)
  • Extracurricular settings (athletics, clubs, school plays, etc.)

Supplementary aids and services may include educational interpreters, paraprofessionals, and health services.

All districts must ensure that a continuum of alternative services and placements is available to meet the special education and related services needs of eligible individuals. A district's continuum of services and placements includes the implementation of special education services in:

  • General education setting
  • Special classes
  • Special schools
  • Home instruction
  • Instruction in hospitals and institutions
    NOTE: When some or all of a learner’s special education is to be provided in a special school, the IEP team must address and document the rationale for the placement on the Justification for Special School Placement form. 

Procedures for Determining the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

When making placement decisions the IEP team must take into account:

  • The accommodations, modifications, and adaptations an individual may require to be successful in a general education environment
  • Potential barriers to providing these accommodations, modifications, and adaptations within the general education environment
  • The supports needed to assist the teacher and other personnel in providing accommodations, modifications, and adaptations
  • The impact on the individual provided special education services and activities in the general education environment
  • The impact on other learners when providing special education services and activities in the general education environment

The LRE for a learner is documented by describing participation in special education, general education, and community settings and identifying the students’ attendance center.

Defining the General Education Environment

The general education environment includes academic and non-academic settings and all of the opportunities and experiences made available to all learners.

Examples of the general education environment for school-age learners include:

  • Classroom settings in elementary and secondary schools
  • School-sponsored field trips
  • Assemblies, performances, and activities made available by an agency to all learners

Participating with Non-Academic and Extracurricular Activities

IEP teams must consider all steps necessary, including the provision of supplementary aids and services, to ensure that the learner with a disability will participate with nondisabled children in non-academic and extracurricular services and activities to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of that learner.

Non-academic and extracurricular services and activities include:

  • Meals
  • Recess
  • Counseling services
  • Athletics
  • Transportation
  • Health services
  • Recreational activities
  • Special interest groups
  • Clubs sponsored by the school
  • Other activities also include referrals to agencies that provide assistance to individuals with disabilities and employment of students, including both employment by the school and assistance in making outside employment available

For information on placement consideration and defining general education for preschoolers, click here.

Extended School Year Services

Extended School Year Services (ESYS) are special education and related services which may be provided to eligible individuals beyond the normal school year in accordance with the IEP and at no cost to the parents of the child. ESYS must be made available if it is necessary in order for a learner to receive a FAPE.

Extended School Year Services must:

  • Be provided in the LRE that is appropriate and meet the individually identified needs
  • Match the purpose (e.g., to prevent regression) identified by the IEP team

ESYS does not necessarily have to be a program that duplicates the program provided during the regular school year and may be provided by community resources. However, monitoring and supervision of ESYS, even if directly delivered by other community resources, are still the responsibility of qualified special education personnel.

Eligibility for ESYS may not be limited to particular categories of disability or unilaterally limited to particular types, amounts, or duration of service, including learners receiving only support services (e.g., occupational therapy, etc.).

Determining Eligibility for ESYS

At each annual review and/or reevaluation IEP meeting, the IEP team must determine and document eligibility for ESYS using multiple data sources. Additionally, the IEP team may address a learner’s eligibility for ESYS with an amendment to the current IEP if the data warrants it.

To determine the need for ESYS, the IEP team needs to address these four questions:

  1. Are there goal areas of concern that need to be acquired or maintained without interruption for the learner to meaningfully benefit from FAPE?
  2. Has there been (or is there a potential for) significant regression during periods of interruption that would require significant recoupment?
  3. Are there rare and unusual circumstances that are a factor?
  4. Are there other factors to be considered in determining the learner’s need for ESYS?

For children transitioning from early intervention (Early ACCESS) to preschool services, the IEP can use the data collected by Early ACCESS service providers to inform ESYS decisions.

To provide parents time to consider the IEP and to allow parents, schools, and AEA time to plan for the delivery of ESYS, the IEP team are advised to finalize and document decisions regarding eligibility for ESYS at least 60 calendar days before the end of the school year, and before any other school breaks for which ESYS would be a consideration.

The Iowa Department of Education Page may be referenced for additional guidance, as well as the Extended School Year Services brochure and FAQ document.

Physical Education

Each learner with a disability must be provided the opportunity to participate in the regular physical education program available to learners without disabilities. The two exceptions to this would be if the learner is enrolled full-time in a separate facility or the school does not provide physical education to learners without disabilities in the same grades (e.g., preschool programs).

Determining Student Placement in Physical Education

To determine if the learner needs specially designed physical education, the IEP team must consider the information in the PLAAFP, goals, and other services, activities, and supports.

Additional data the IEP team may consider would be:

  • Input from the physical educator, nurse and/or physician (if there are safety/medical issues), physical therapist, occupational therapist, other IEP team members
  • Comparison of student performance with grade-level learner expectations in physical education
  • Observations in physical education
  • Physical fitness assessments used by the school (e.g., BMI (body mass index), motor tests, rubrics, curriculum-based assessments)

Using the data, the IEP team must determine and document if the learner will receive:

General physical education: The learner attends physical education with age peers. No changes to the curriculum, instruction, equipment, assessment methods, or support are required for the learner to participate, be successful, and make progress in the general curriculum.

Modified physical education: The learner attends physical education with age peers, but needs additional support to participate and make progress in the general curriculum. Modifications may include:

  • Individualized warm-up routine prescribed by a Physical Therapist
  • Adapted equipment
  • Instructional accommodations
  • Mobility aide (e.g., crutches, walker, mobile stander)
  • Safety or other health needs
  • Attending PE more frequently than other learners to support progress in the PE curriculum
  • Attending PE with older peers or peer partner PE class

Specially-designed physical education: Requires substantial adaptation of the curriculum or special curriculum development, individualization of instructional strategies, substantial equipment modifications and set up, collaboration with related service providers. The individual’s PE program and environment are tailored to the learner's needs in the areas of motor development, play, fitness, recreation, and lifetime leisure. When physical education is specially designed, an IEP goal and documentation on the services page of the IEP are required.

Districtwide Assessments/Alternate Assessment

IDEA requires the involvement of all students with IEPs in the general curriculum and in districtwide assessments (DWA). This requirement reflects the belief that learners with disabilities are more likely to benefit from high expectations when their performance is included in districtwide decision-making processes.

Districtwide assessments are achievement or performance measures that are required by the local school district and are given to all learners in a district in a particular grade. 

Achievement or performance measures are those measures that assess learner status or progress in skill areas defined in the Iowa Academic Standards, including the Iowa Core Essential Elements and the Iowa Early Learning Standards.

All learners who are considered English Learners must participate in the English Language Proficiency Assessment for 21st Century (ELPA21). The assessment is based on the Iowa English Language Proficiency Standards and corresponds to the Iowa English Language Arts Standards of the Iowa Core.  Additional information on English Learners can be found on the Iowa Department of Education website.

School districts may administer additional districtwide assessments. However, an end of unit test or similar classroom assessment is not considered a districtwide assessment, even if administered to all learners in a district in a particular grade, unless the specific assessment is required by the local district.

Districtwide assessments for eligible individuals are not required:

  1. If the assessments are not given to all learners at the individual’s grade level
  2. If an eligible individual is not enrolled in a district program (e.g., a preschooler who receives only an AEA support service)
  3. If the individual is incarcerated in an adult correctional facility

Determining How Learners Participate in Districtwide Assessments

The IEP team must determine and document how the learner (except individuals incarcerated in an adult correctional facility) will participate in districtwide assessments.

The IEP team must decide whether the learner:

In order to determine this, the team must consider the characteristics of the learner, the nature and purpose of the assessment, and the participation option that is most appropriate. If a particular districtwide assessment is not appropriate, the IEP team must explain why the learner cannot participate in the regular assessment, and why the alternate assessment is appropriate.

Determining Reasonable Accommodations

When considering the reasonable accommodations a learner requires, several factors need to be addressed. These factors are:

  • The use of accommodations in a similar fashion in the classroom and their demonstrated benefit.
  • The relationship of accommodations to an identified special education need.
  • The consideration of whether the accommodation will provide an accurate picture of the knowledge of the individual.
  • Accommodations can not negate the intent of the assessment.

An English learner (EL) with a disability may, due to language needs, require assessment accommodations that are different from or in addition to accommodations required by reason of disability. The IEP team may work with EL professionals to identify accommodations. However, if the same accommodation is needed by reason of language status and disability and has conflicting guidance for EL and students with disabilities, the guidance for students with disabilities provided in IDEA takes precedence. Additional information on English Learners can be found on the Iowa Department of Education website.

The accommodations guidelines from one assessment (e.g., ISASP) does not generalize to other assessments, including district and teacher-developed assessments. Also, the accommodations outlined in an IEP can not override the accommodations that an assessment has established to ensure the validity of the construct being measured.

For more information regarding testing accommodations, please refer to the Statewide Assessment System Accessibility Manual on the Iowa Department of Education website.

Using Iowa's Alternate Assessments

An IEP team must determine if a learner meets the criteria to be eligible to participate in Iowa’s Alternate Assessment (IAA) due to the pervasive nature of the student’s cognitive disability. If the IEP team determines the learner will participate in IAA, the learner will be assessed in all subject content areas. Learners who participate in Iowa’s Alternate Assessments will not participate in the other statewide assessments. Any special education teacher administering Iowa’s Alternate Assessments must receive the appropriate training and have appropriate certification.

For additional information please refer to:

Responsibility for Administering Assessments

All federally mandated assessments (ISASP, DLM, ELPA21, and Alt ELPA21) are required to be administered by the district/entity providing instruction.  This means that learners served in out of state programs would participate in the state testing programs that align with their instruction.

The resident district is responsible for communicating the participation and proficiency information to the Iowa Department of Education after assessment results are received by the resident district.


Contingency Learning Plan

A required component of Iowa IEPs is a plan for immediate actions regarding the delivery of IEP services and supports, should there be a disruption in educational services.  Disruptions may be due to a district’s choice to implement a virtual snow day, a natural disaster event or large-scale health event, that cause schools to close for all students, or for face-to-face instruction to be significantly altered.  

Note: A Contingency Learning Plan (CLP) is not designed for individual student situations where school attendance is not possible.  There are periodically instances where the IEP team alters the learner’s IEP (e.g. homebound or hospital services).  These situations result in amended or review IEPs, and are not documented in a CLP.

The CLP is completed as a component of the IEP process, and will address how goals, special education services, supports, activities and accommodations will be addressed if disruptions in school occur.

The CLP will address the frequency of services and supports, and whether they will continue during a disruption as listed in the IEP, or be adjusted/paused.  The plan will also address the delivery format of services and supports (e.g. whether they would be face to face, real time virtual instruction, recorded, electronic activities, print learning materials/packets, or other formats during a time of school disruption). The CLP will also document possible needs for parent training/support or family support for technology use, should instruction be interrupted, and services are provided remotely.

It is intended that the CLP communicates what changes, if any, might occur to the delivery of services and supports so there will be no lapse in services. The CLP represents the IEP team's best thoughts at the time of planning. Since it is impossible to predict for every possible disruption, it may be necessary to amend the CLP to adjust to the specifics of an actual disruption.

A CLP Guidance Document for IEP Teams is available in the resources section, to provide additional considerations and discussion points for teams developing individual student plans.

Reporting Progress to Parents

Student progress and growth must be monitored and communicated to IEP team members. Progress monitoring and reporting assist the IEP team to decide whether adjustments in services, teaching strategies, environments, et cetera, are needed to help a learner achieve his/her goals.

The special education teacher and/or service provider responsible for each IEP goal must regularly monitor progress toward meeting the annual goal. Parents must be informed of their learner’s progress on IEP goals at least as often as parents are informed of the progress of learners without disabilities.

The progress report to parents must describe progress on the learner's annual goals and identify the extent to which that progress is sufficient to enable the learner to achieve their goals by the end of the year.

IEP teams may report progress to parents via:

  • An IEP report with report cards and progress reports;
  • Updated copies of the IEP goal pages (which may include copies of the graph for each goal); or
  • Another method which should be described in the IEP.

Components of an IEP Resources

Additional information on the IEPs can be found in our Resources.