IEP Process – The Basics

An IEP is the individual education process that provides services, accommodations and/or modifications to students with disabilities.  The IEP is the end result of a long process that starts by identifying students with needs and through the negotiation process of determining what services that student should receive.


  • The IEP process is a team effort that first determines if a student is eligible for special education, and then works to provide an appropriate education plan for that specific child.

  • The school’s job is to determine if a disability impacts the student’s learning.

  • As a parent, you are an equal participant in the IEP team, and should act accordingly.



The first step in determining what the child’s IEP looks like is actually determining if the child is ELIGIBLE for special education services.  Under IDEA, a student must fall into at least one of 13 pre-determined categories of disability.

Your local public school is tasked with evaluating children over the age of 3 to determine if they have one of the 13 disabilities.  If you think your child should have special education services (which include OT, PT as well as speech therapies), then all you need to do is REQUEST AN EVALUATION from your teacher or administrator.  A team will then be assembled to determine IF an evaluation should be performed, and which tests are most appropriate.  As a parent, you are an EQUAL participant in this team.


Once it has been determined that your student should undergo testing, the school has 60 days from the date of approval to perform the evaluation and meet with the IEP team.  Note, the school must not test the student until explicit approval from the parent is given with regards to the specific tests that will be performed.

The goal of the comprehensive testing is to determine whether or not the child qualified for one of the 13 protected disabilities under IDEA.

It is interesting to note that the qualification for a “specific learning disability” is determined by a significant discrepancy between achievement and ability (as measured by the difference between IQ and academic test results).  This determination is not only subjective, but also difficult to identify in children below 3rd grade.

Also of note is that the school is not able to diagnose disabilities like autism, ADHD and most other physical delays or disabilities.  The school’s job is to determine if a disability impairs learning.  In cases where a diagnosis is available, it is always a good idea to include a medical professional or the current therapist in the IEP evaluation process.  As an advocate, I advise my clients to bring in private testing results whenever possible.

3. IEP Meeting

After your student has been tested, the school will schedule a meeting to review the results of the testing and to determine eligibility under the law.   If your child has a medical diagnosis, it’s a good idea to bring in a report from the medical practitioner, or have the doctor there.

Team members that are required to be there include a district administrator, the special education teacher, the school psychologist (or someone else to interpret the data), the general education teacher.  The parents are encouraged to attend and, if appropriate, the student is encouraged to attend as well (although the student is required to attend after the age of 16).  Finally, any adaptive service providers – including OT, PT and/or speech will most likely be there if the IEP deals with these functional areas.

In all cases, we recommend bringing someone (other than a parent) in the room to help hear what is said, to take notes, and to advocate for the student and the parents.  This person can be a grandparent, an aunt, a friend or a hired advocate.  But you want someone who is not emotionally tied to the outcome of the IEP document.


4. IEP Plan Development

During the IEP meeting, if your student has been deemed eligible for special education, the team will then begin working on the actual IEP plan.  The school will propose some services, accommodations and modifications that they think will help your student better succeed.  Remember, that you are a vital part of the team and you are really the best advocate for your student.

The IEP is a legal document that documents what services the district will be providing the student and the goals of those services will be addressing.

In later articles we will explain what elements are required in the IEP and how to ensure that the IEP is followed.



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