COMPONENTS OF AN IEP
Let us know about your experience on our site. Use the link below to submit your thoughts.
Components of Individual 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 an IEP consists of five phases:
- Identify present levels of academic achievement and functional performance.
- Develop well-written goals and determine effective progress monitoring strategies.
- Determine and describe all special education services, activities, and supports.
- Determine the least restrictive environment (LRE) and additional considerations.
- 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.
- “Present levels of functional performance” refers to how the student applies his/her 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 the goals are established.
Additionally, the PLAAFP:
- Explains the needs of the learner and states how the learner’s disability affects his/her 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.
- Consider the following special factors:
- Accessible Educational Materials (AEM): Consider if a learner requires AEM to independently access print-based and digitally-based text.
- Assistive Technology: Consider if a learner needs devices and/or services and supports to access their right to FAPE in the least restrictive environment.
- Communication: Consider the communication needs of the learner and, in the case of a learner who is deaf or hard of hearing or with profound speech difficulties.
- English Learner: In the case of a learner with limited English proficiency (ELL), consider the language needs of the learner as the needs relate to the learner’s IEP. Consider whether the learner’s needs require collaboration between general and special education as well as ESL and bilingual education teachers.
- Social Emotional / Behavior: In the case of a learner whose behavior impedes the learner’s learning or that of others, consider the use of positive behavioral interventions and supports, and other strategies, to address that behavior. Consider and document whether a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) or Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) is needed.
- Vision: In the case of a learner who is blind or visually impaired, provide instruction in braille and the use of braille, unless the IEP team determines otherwise. Consider whether a visually impaired learner needs to access the Expanded Core Curriculum for needs not met by the general education curriculum.
- Hearing: For learners with hearing loss, consider the impact of their primary communication mode, and whether supports in the area of communication are needed, including possible access to the Expanded Core Curriculum.
- Health: Consider the health needs of the learner and if a health plan is needed.
- For secondary IEPs (for learners age 13yrs+), the PLAAFP must address a learner's transition needs. This includes assessment that leads to post-secondary expectations and services/supports needed in the areas of living, learning and working. For complete information on addressing transition needs, click here.
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:
- The conditions (when and how the student will perform),
- Behavior (what the learner will do), and
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
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:
- Counseling services
- 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:
- Are there goal areas of concern that need to be acquired or maintained without interruption for the learner to meaningfully benefit from FAPE?
- Has there been (or is there a potential for) significant regression during periods of interruption that would require significant recoupment?
- Are there rare and unusual circumstances that are a factor?
- 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.
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 Core 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:
- If the assessments are not given to all learners at the individual’s grade level
- If an eligible individual is not enrolled in a district program (e.g., a preschooler who receives only an AEA support service)
- If the individual is incarcerated in an adult correctional facility
English learners (EL), including EL students with disabilities, who have not been enrolled for a full academic year in United States schools may be exempted from one administration of the reading assessment used for AYP reporting (i.e., the Statewide Assessments in Reading). All EL students are required to take the math portion of the statewide assessments.
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:
- Can participate without accommodations
- Can participate with accommodations
- Will need to participate in Iowa’s Alternate Assessments (Dynamic Learning Maps and Early Literacy Alternate Assessment)
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.
Contingency Learning Plan
A required component of Iowa IEPs is a plan that addresses how a learner will receive FAPE, and how the IEP will be addressed in the event of short or long term disruption in the school of attendance. Such situations could be due to natural disasters or pandemics 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. Individual situations such as severe student illness or hospitalization, may result in an IEP team decision to provide home-bound instruction. But such actions 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, or other formats during a time of school disruption).
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.
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.
Iowa Administrative Rules of Special Education
- 281—41.30 (256B,34CFR300) Parent
- 281—41.5(256B,34CFR300) Assistive technology device
- 281—41.11(256B,34CFR300) Day; business day; school day
- 281—41.34 (256B,34CFR300) Related services
- 281—41.39 (256B,34CFR300) Special education
- 281—41.51 (256B,34CFR300) Other definitions applicable to this chapter
- 281—41.105 (256B,34CFR300) Assistive technology
- 281—41.106 (256B,34CFR300) Extended school year services
- 281—41.107(256B,34CFR300) Nonacademic services
- 281—41.108(256B,34CFR300) Physical education
- 281—41.114 (256B,34CFR300) Least restrictive environment (LRE)
- 281—41.115 (256B,34CFR300) Continuum of alternative services and placements
- 281—41.116 (256B,34CFR300) Placements
- 281—41.117(256B,34CFR300) Nonacademic settings
- 281—41.176(256B) Special school provisions
- 281—41.210 (256B,34CFR300) Purchase of instructional materials
- 281—41.320 (256B,34CFR300) Definition of individualized education program
- 281—41.321 (256B,34CFR300) IEP team
- 281—41.324 (256B,34CFR300) Development, review, and revision of IEP
- 281—41.403(256B) Paraprofessionals
- 281—41.412(256B,34CFR300) Transportation
- 281—41.504(256B,34CFR300) Procedural safeguards notice