What is an IEP?

An IEP stands for "Individualized Education Program". If a student qualifies for special educations services, the IEP team will create a document that defines a unique educational plan for a specific student with a disability. 

The plan is specific to this student’s disability-related needs and defines how the school district will provide that student with a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), including student’s present level of functioning, disability related needs, specific goals the IEP team will help the student work towards (typically over the course of a year), and specially designed instruction and supplementary aids and services that the student will have access to in order to support their progress.

Who might benefit from an IEP?

An IEP may be useful for a student with a disability if their disability is impacting their ability to make progress in school. If your child has a diagnosed learning disability, intellectual or developmental disability, a physical disability, or experiences mental health difficulties AND they are struggling to learn and keep up in school, you may want to learn more about an IEP. If your child does not have a diagnosed disability but the way they are being educated is not meeting their needs, it may still be worthwhile to look further into an IEP. A child or youth is not required to have a medical diagnosis in order to qualify for special education services.

Who is eligible for an IEP?

Wisconsin identifies eleven eligibility categories under which a child can be determined eligible for an IEP. These categories are Wisconsin’s interpretation of the thirteen eligibility categories listed in IDEA 2004. The categories are:

  • educational autism
  • intellectual disabilities
  • emotional behavioral disabilities
  • hearing impairment
  • other health impairment
  • significant developmental delay
  • speech/language impairments
  • specific learning disabilities
  • traumatic brain injury
  • visual impairments. 

A child only needs to meet criteria for one of these categories in order to be eligible for an IEP, but it is also possible for a child to meet criteria for more than one category.

What are the sections of the IEP document?

The IEP is a legal document, and has very specific forms that must be completed to create it. (See all of the forms here.) Spending some time reviewing these forms can be helpful in order to more confidently move through the document, which can sometimes be very long.

Form I-4

Form I-4 makes up a significant portion of the IEP document.

The first portion of this form asks very specific questions about:

  • the student’s strengths
  • their current performance in academic and other classes (this is called the “Present Level” - see more information here)
  • the specific ways their disability impacts their learning
  • and the concerns of the parent and family. 

There is also a section entitled “Family Engagement”, which should list the ways that you as the parent/caregiver will receive information and communication from the school district. If there are particular ways you would like the school to communicate with you, make these known during the IEP meeting and request that they be listed in this section. 

The second portion of this form directs the IEP team to create measurable goals that the IEP team will support the student in meeting over the course of the IEP term (one year). Each goal must be linked to at least one of the disability-related needs listed in the earlier part of the form, and should include information about where the student is at currently in regard to this goal, as well as how the school will measure the student’s progress toward this goal.

The final portion of this form is the Program Summary, which contains the following sections:

  • Supplementary Aids and Services: These are accommodations that will be implemented to enable the child to receive their education and maximize the amount of  time they are able to be educated with their peers and in general education settings. Supplementary Aids and Services can include things like movement or regulation breaks, use of noise-cancelling headphones, or certain tools like graphic organizers to help them complete assignments. 

  • Special Education/Specially Designed Instruction: This section lists the areas in which your child will receive individualized instruction outside of what the general education curriculum would include.

  • Related Services: This section lists the services besides special education that are required for your child to benefit from their education. This can include services such as transportation (if your child’s disability impacts their ability to ride the bus they would otherwise take to school), school social work services (if your child’s disability impacts their mental health and they need individual time with the social worker), and a wide variety of other services. See additional information about Related Services here.

  • Program Modifications or Supports for School Personnel: This can include specific trainings that a teacher will receive, or consultation between different staff supporting the student.

  • Student Participation: This is where the IEP will document the level of participation your child will have in the general (regular) education environment. If your child receives any specialized instruction, this means that they are not in the general education environment full time, and the percentage of time they are out of the regular classroom should be documented in this section.

  • Placement: After developing (or reviewing/revising) the IEP, the team should agree on the placement, which is the school where the student’s IEP will be implemented. If a specialized school is being considered or paid for by the district, then it should be documented on this section (form P-1 or P-2, depending on whether it is the initial IEP or not).

Additional Resources

Additional information and resources about IEPs: