What is an IEP


Page Index: IEP Definition; Disabilities types; Effective Process definition; Articles, Not eligible; IEP contains; References

What is the Individualized Education Program (IEP)?

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) describes the educational program that has been designed to meet that child's unique needs.  Each child who receives special education and related services must have an IEP.  Each IEP must be designed for one student and must be a truly individualized document.  The IEP creates an opportunity for teachers, parents, school administrators, related services personnel, and students (when age appropriate) to work together to improve educational results for children with disabilities. The IEP is the cornerstone of a quality education for each child with a disability.

The Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a legally binding document.  It establishes a plan for an individual student who meets the following eligibility criteria :

1) Is identified as having one or more of the 13 disabilities (you can count Sensory disability as 1 or as 3 separate: Hearing, Vision, Deaf-Blind) defined in state and Federal laws.
 (Which ever law provides the most coverage, is law that is applied.)

For the state definition, refer to: Special Education regulation - 28.02(7)
"Disability shall mean 1 or more of the following impairments."
This link will take you to an on-line copy of the regulation.
Our Massachusetts 10 Disability Categories:
Includes Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD, PDD/NOS), Asperger's Disorder, Rett's Disorder,
Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD), etc.
(state regs defines as "Emotional Impairment", federal regs uses the term "Emotional disturbance")
Includes pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression; or a tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems, over a long period of time and to a marked degree.
Developmentally Delayed
Learning capacity of a young child (ages 3-9)  is significantly limited)
(state regs defines as "Communication Impairment")
Use of expressive or receptive language is significantly limited (Includes speech, articulation, stuttering, language impairment, or voice impairment, etc.)
(state regs defines as "Intellectual Impairment", federal regs uses the term "Mental retardation")
Limited cognitive functioning
(state regs defines as "Physical Impairment")
Includes severe orthopedic impairments or impairments caused by congenital anomaly, cerebral palsy (CP), amputations, and fractures.
(state regs defines as "Sensory Impairment")
Includes Hearing, Vision, Deaf-Blind
Specific Learning Disability
In read, write, spell, or to do math, listening, think speak (federal regs includes Dyslexic).
(state regs defines as "Neurological Impairment", federal regs uses the term Traumatic brain injury (TBI) )
Includes the use of memory, information processing,
organizational skills, social skills, speech, language, etc.
Other Health issue
(state regs defines as "Health Impairment")
Includes ADHD, asthma, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, and sickle cell anemia.

For the Federal definition (IDEA - 04), refer to: Federal Register "300.8- Child with a disability."

This link will take you to an on-line copy of the Register,  for federal definitions of a disability.

The following is from the Mass. DOE manual, page 19:

     Is Special Education the Right Service, A Technical Assistive Guide

"Naming a type of disability has common characteristics with the process of making a diagnosis. However, it is important to stress that identification of type of disability is not a medical diagnosis, but a more general agreement among Team members that the assessed characteristics of the student are consistent with the regulatory definition for that type of disability (ies). The definitions in regulation are general definitions. Each one is comprised of many subgroups with specific associated diagnostic criteria, often medical in nature. It is not the intention of the special education law to require a specific diagnosis such as “Asperger's Syndrome” or “Cerebral Palsy.” Those specific diagnoses will generally only be provided by medical personnel using criteria that include educational impact as only one aspect of the diagnostic process. Special education eligibility is both more specific and more general. The use of the disability label is more general, but the consideration of educational impact is very specific.

Some of the assessors who provide information to the Team may be in a position to make a medical diagnosis and the diagnosis may, therefore, be part of the Team discussion. However, although a Team may use a diagnosis made available to them as part of the assessment information, it is not the responsibility of the Team to confirm or deny a diagnosis made by an assessor. Teams should not spend time, therefore, attempting to agree on an exact diagnosis as long as the assessment information is sufficient to make the more general assertion that the student has a certain type of disability.

Conversely, Teams may often have conflicting information provided by assessors, including medical professionals, who have made a diagnosis naming a specific disability or disorder. Teams are not obligated to resolve such conflicts nor to accept such diagnoses as sufficient to require provision of special education services. In fact, the special education law explicitly requires that a Team of people, including educators and the parent(s), make a determination of eligibility.  Although medical personnel may be members of a Team, they cannot be the only voice of the Team since a determination of eligibility for special education is an educational decision and not a medical one.

Related articles:
IDEA Eligibility:  Categories of Disabilities under IDEA 

The 13 Conditions Covered Under IDEA

Massachusetts Specific Learning Disability (SLD) Eligibility Requirements Instructions

2) The student is unable to progress effectively in regular education as a result of the disability.

"Progress effectively" means - making documented growth in the acquisition of knowledge and skills.  Including social/emotional development in the general education program according to the following:

Refer to: Special Education regulation - 28.02(17) - Progress effectively in the general education program.
This link will take you to an on-line copy of the regulation.

The following statements are from the 'IEP Process Guide', By Massachusetts Department of Education / June 2001
Page 9, 2nd paragraph:

"Teams sometime struggle in trying to decide if a student is making effective progress and look for specific guidelines to assist in making this important decision. Effective progress, however, is not easily translated to test scores, academic achievement, social skills or other individual or specific variables, but rather is an interrelated measure.
Teams, therefore, should carefully review evaluation data and make student-centered decisions on this important issue."

The DOE has a Flowchart to be used in the Team meeting as an aide for determining if your child meets the criteria of the two question asked above.
It's called the '
Special Education Eligibility Determination' form (ED 1) .

Related articles:
What does ‘Effective Progress’ really mean? 

Passing Grades, IQ Scores & Evaluations of Students with Learning Disabilities: Letter to Lillie/Felton

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What happens if my child is not found to be eligible?

"If your child is found not eligible, your child may still receive help, although not special education services.

If your child is not eligible for special education services, you will receive a letter from the school stating that your child is not eligible, detailing why the student was found not eligible, along with information about your rights. Read the notice carefully to decide if you agree or disagree with this decision. You have the right to appeal a finding of no eligibility."

The above statement is from 'A Parent's Guide to Special Education book', page 15-16
A Joint Publication of the Federation for Children with Special Needs and the Massachusetts Department of Education

Parents can reject the finding of 'no finding of eligibility', and request an Independent Evaluation (IEE) or
use their insurance to cover the cost of Independent Evaluation.  Parents can request a re-determination of eligibility based on new information for the Team to consider.

The following statements are from the 'IEP Process Guide', By Massachusetts Department of Education / June 2001

Page 10, 3rd paragraph:
"Parent also have the right to appeal any eligibility determination to the Bureau of Special education Appeals, including a finding of no eligibility.  Parent may contact the Bureau directly or request district assistance in contacting this agency."

Page 10, 4th paragraph:
Parent should be asked if they agree with the evaluation findings.

"Team members should check a parent's understanding of the evaluation data and their agreement with it.  If the parent disagrees with a particular school assessment, parents may have a right to an Independent Evaluation (IEE)."

According to Special Education Regulations:
The Team Process and Development of the IEP

"The student is not eligible. If the Team determines that the student is not eligible, the Team chairperson shall record the reason for such finding, list the meeting participants, and provide written notice to the parent of their rights in accordance with federal requirements within ten (10) days of the Team meeting."

The notice the school will send you is the Narrative Description of School District Proposal (the first paragraph has the Directions to School Staff and list 6 questions that the school district is required to respond to). 

The first question is "What action is the school district proposing to take?"  If the school district has proposed a Finding of No Eligibility for your child, it should be stated in response to this question. 

If you are not in agreement with the Finding of No Eligibility for your child, you need to reject the finding in writing to the school, within 30 days of receiving this notice.  In your letter state that you are calling your Stayput rights and all of your child's accommodations and services are to stay in force until the dispute is settled.  You can also request that school writes back to you confirming the receipt your letter and the continuation of your child's last signed IEP.

(No longer is an IEP signature page be sent to the parent with "Finding of No Eligibility" box check off and required the parent signature, as back in 2001.)

Next call the Bureau of Special education Appeals (BSEA) to request mediation or a hearing.  Your child's IEP remain in effect (Stayput) until an agreement can be reach at mediation or a hearing officer makes a decision.


(For more information about laws and regulations regarding evaluation requirements, please view our Change in Eligibility webpage.)

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Students between ages of 3 - 21 are eligible for an IEP.
Refer to: Special Education regulation - 28.02(9) - Eligible students mean a person age 3 - 21.
This link will take you to an on-line copy of the regulation, Section 28.02,
scroll down to number (9). 

For children who are ages 0 to age 3 are eligible for IFSP = Individual Family Service Plan.

"The major difference between an IFSP and an IEP is that an IFSP focuses on the child and family and the services that a family needs to help them enhance the development of their child.

The IEP focuses on the educational needs of the child."

Click here to view an article for more information about IFSP and the difference between IFSP and IEP.

For the Federal definition:

Federal Register, 34 CFR Part 303, Early Intervention Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities (Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).

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The following is a summary of what is contain in the IEP:

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IEP References:

View the Federation for Children with Special Needs, IEP For My Child slide presentation, from their workshop.

Actual IEP Forms (IEP 1-8 ) This is a link to DOE forms (available in two formats, WP and PDF).

IEP Process Guide (June 2001), is a manual that was publication by ESE, that describes each page of the IEP.
Click here to view/print your own copy,(PDF format).
 You can call an order your own copy of this guide from DESE, Special Education Policy and Planning Department  (781) 338-3375.




One of our original web pages, created July 2001, by Melody Orfei
Webpage last modified on May 14, 2014 - V20, by Melody Orfei