Writing an Individualized Education Plan The Logical Steps

The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is a document that must be written in a careful, thoughtful, rational manner. The Individuals with Disabilities Act, or IDEA, is the law that oversees how an IEP is written. Often the team sits down and very quickly is talking about possible placements for a child. This is like deciding who won the race before it was run. I think of the process this way.

The first thing that should happen is to draw a starting line that is measurable and visible to everyone. That is where the planning for a child should begin. I call the "Present Levels of Performance," the Starting Line of our race. Then, the next thing a runner must know is where the finish line is. That, too, should be a measurable distance and visible to everyone. This line represent the child's annual goal. In between the starting line and the finish line let's place some hurdles. At each hurdle is a tool that will help the runner towards the finish line. These hurdles will represent our Short Term Goals and Objectives.

Perhaps after negotiating the first objective, a wide span of soft sand, the runner picks up an oar to help him row to the other side of the lake in the boat that will be sitting on the shoreline. After he negotiates the lake, which is the second objective, he picks up a bike to help him reach the top of the steep hill ahead, which is our third objective. These tools have enabled him to finish the last lap of the race to the finish line, which in special education would be the annual goal. Let's look more closely at these steps.

Writing the IEP in an orderly fashion

Special education law is very specific in how to go about writing an IEP. There are a number of logical steps that must be taken in the proper sequence. A team can not discuss placement until those steps have been followed. Yet all too often speculation placement is one of the first things discussed. We will not go into great detail about every little thing to be included in the IEP. Rather, we will look at major steps that should take place and the order in which those steps should take place.

Reviewing recent evaluations

The team should look at the last 3 year evaluation and any other recent evaluations. This is something your district may not be used to doing. Now, with the new special ed law, the team is supposed to review the needs in the evaluations. The team should also review the recommendations that every evaluation is required to have. If the team skips this step it is not unlike getting a thorough physical from your doctor, yet he never sees the results of laboratory tests or any other testing. IDEA now recognizes the importance of referring to relevant evaluations at IEP meetings.

Present Levels of Performance

Every IEP must include a statement of the Present Levels of Performance. This step should happen after reviewing evaluation information. The team should review how your child is performing in the areas where he receives special ed services. Every area should be meticulously addressed in MEASURABLE terms. For example, you should know whether he is performing eighteen out of twenty multiplication problems with three digit numbers and two digit multipliers. The PLEP should also state what objective testing instruments were used. Terms such as "on third grade level," or "most of the time," or "almost never" are examples of terms that do not belong in Present Levels of Performance. "Teacher observation" is also not objective. It can be one measuring instrument but should never be the only measuring instrument.

If your child has a reading goal, the present levels of performance should be detailed as to the level of accuracy in a number of different areas of reading. Placing a child on a simple grade level overall in reading is not sufficient detail to address all the areas of reading. Perhaps he is excellent when reading aloud, but his comprehension when reading to himself is practically nil. Perhaps he can verbally explain the main idea in a passage, but cannot recall the storyline when giving a written description. There are so many areas and we must depend on our teachers and diagnosticians to have the expertise to write accurate PLEPs. Sometimes we must insist on districts providing teachers continuing education in a particular area in order to accurately assess and successfully teach a child in his or her areas of disability.

After the team agrees on where your child is in each area of need they should move on to where he should be a year from now. Let's move on to annual goals.

Annual Goals

After the team agrees on where your son is they should move on to where he should be a year from now. Parents should be vigilant about the team trying to set too low an expectation of your child's educational performance. Children can often do much more if they think we believe they can do it. It should not be too hard for example to expect 1 1/2 years progress in reading if a child is 4 years behind in reading. If we expect only say 3 months progress in a year's time that is not progress. It means the child in reality slips 6 months more behind his peers. With true measurements of his present levels of performance and a measurable goal written the team moves on to Short Term Objectives. The year needs to be broken down into stepping stones. Your son will need to understand basic phonics before he can move on to blends, which will lead to two syllable words. (A rough example). Each objective must also state what objective instruments, or tests, will be used when measuring progress. It must also include the target date for attaining that particular objective. Remember our race at the beginning of this article? Everything must be measurable.

Other supports and services

Then the team needs to look at what supports your child will need to attain that goal. Will he need extra time with a resource person? Will he need assistance from a computer to complete written assignments? Will he need speech therapy to express himself more fully? (Just examples). Also in the new law is a requirement that the IEP include a list of the supports the teacher will need to be successful with your son. Does she have a basic understanding of the disabilities? Will he or she need to attend a special workshop on your child's disability? Will he or she need special training in multi-sensory teaching techniques? Will an administrator be in regular contact, say once a week to see if other supports or equipment is needed, and to check on your child's progress?

Prior Written Notice

Placement should NEVER be discussed until these steps have been taken. Placement should NEVER be something that is of convenience for the district rather than designed to meet the unique needs of your child. It is good to remember that special education is NEVER a place. It is always a service.

At the end of the meeting the district writes the Prior Written Notice. Included should be a list of all the recommendations that were presented by all team members. Then the district is required to state whether each recommendation was accepted by the team, rejected, and also state why each suggestion was accepted or rejected. This is required under Prior Written Notice, although to my knowledge, districts are just learning about this requirement. I have seen an administrator do it this way and it was wonderful. Everyone had a real record of what ideas had been accepted or discarded and why. I would encourage you to read the article at this site on Prior Written Notice. It can be a very powerful tool for parents if you ask your district to meet this requirement of IDEA.

This article is a very basic outline of the steps that should take place when writing an IEP. Of course, other information is included in an IEP such as medications, transportation, therapies, etc. But I wanted to show you an uncluttered outline IDEA's expectations during the IEP process.

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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2007, June 7). Writing an Individualized Education Plan The Logical Steps, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 26 from

Last Updated: February 13, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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