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What is the IEP?

Once your child is eligible for special education services, the ARD/IEP committee decides which services are needed and develops an IEP (Individualized Education Program). The IEP describes the specific services and support your child needs and the school will provide. It is a written plan that guides all the specialized aspects of your child’s instructional day and school experience, and it functions like a contract.

The IEP is a complex document. There are many components, and every IEP is customized to the child and the situation. Therefore, most IEPs require substantial preparation before they’re ready to be put in place formally. Even experienced parents and educators sometimes struggle with the details of the IEP because each child has individual needs and there are many technical requirements for documenting the ARD/IEP process and plans. In Texas, the IEP is woven throughout a larger document, the ARD Committee Report.

School districts use different commercial computer programs to generate ARD/IEP paperwork. This means that your child’s IEP may look different in one school district than that in another— or, if your district changes to a new product, the IEP may look different from one year to another. However, the contents of the IEP are set by federal law, so regardless of the format, if you understand which components to expect, you’ll find them more easily in the paperwork.

The IEP answers two main questions:

  • What does the child need to learn or do academically?
  • What does the child need to learn or do functionally?

Did you know?

The IEP is created by a group of people who, in Texas, are referred to as the Admission, Review & Dismissal (ARD) committee. You, as a parent, are a very important member of your child’s ARD committee.  This means you play a big part in creating your child’s IEP.

How long does an IEP last?

At the longest, 12 months. The IEP contains goals or targets for your child’s performance in identified areas for one year from when the program is put in place. Sometimes parts of a student’s program are designed to last for a shorter amount of time (e.g., if the length of a class is shorter than a year or when shorter-term objectives are included). Also, changes may be made to a student’s IEP at any point if the need arises, so some IEPs originally designed to last a full year are updated or altered sooner. If the student’s progress has gone as predicted and no changes are needed throughout the year, a new IEP must be put in place before the 12-month “due date” arrives.

Basic Components of Every IEP


The initial evaluation answers three questions:

  1. Does my child have a disability?
  2. What is his or her profile as a learner?
  3. Does my child need special education and related services? This information is the foundation upon which the IEP is built. Evaluation connects how the child presents intrinsically (internally) with his or her needs in school.

Statement of Eligibility

After the initial evaluation has been completed, the ARD/IEP committee will meet formally to decide whether your child qualifies for special education services. To be eligible, the student must (1) have a qualifying disability, and (2) as a result of this disability, require special education services to benefit from his or her public school education. The evaluation, the Full Individual Evaluation (FIE), is the basis for eligibility.

Due Date for Next Evaluation

Under the law, your child must be reevaluated at least every three years. The purpose of the reevaluation is (1) to determine whether your child continues to be eligible for special education, and (2) to take a fresh look at your child’s educational needs. The ARD/IEP committee or evaluation planning team reviews existing records and data and decides whether additional evaluations are needed. Parents are part of the planning team.

After reviewing the records, the committee may decide no new evaluations are needed and your child continues to qualify for special education services. Or, the team may decide a reevaluation is needed, in which case the planning team will determine which specific assessments are needed. The plan may include new evaluation in all areas, only in those areas in need of updating, or in new areas that haven’t been assessed before. The evaluation team must obtain your written consent to reevaluate (unless the school can show that it took reasonable measures to get your consent and you did not respond).

PLAAFPs (Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance)

A PLAAFP describes what your child can do now or at what level your child is performing in a particular area (e.g., math, social skills, career exploration). PLAAFP statements can be located in various places in the IEP. Often, you will find specific PLAAFPs just before the IEP goal that is meant to strengthen that particular academic or functional skill. The PLAAFP data become the baseline of where to start when implementing an IEP goal. PLAAFPs describe current performance and behaviors in measurable ways. PLAAFPs should not consist only of grade or age levels or standard scores. They should not be subjective or framed too generally (e.g., the student is good/bad at something, “has difficulty,” “is a pleasure”).

Measurable Goals

Goals and objectives are the heart of the IEP, for this is where the specially designed instruction is found. A goal is designed for a specific skill or competency and is meant to develop the skill from where it is today (the PLAAFP) to where one would like to see it in a year. Goals take into account overall targets for students, such as functioning within a grade-level curriculum, engaging in socially appropriate play, developing independent living skills, self-advocating, managing emotions, and more. They specify the next steps or priority areas that the student must master to reach the ultimate target.

Goals and objectives must be measurable. This means they should clearly state how the team will know whether the student is progressing toward the goal or has mastered the goal. Well-constructed goals contain action words and connect back to the PLAAFP. They specify the student behavior or action the team is looking for (e.g., reading, greeting, completing a task). A good goal also contains mastery criteria. This refers to the kind of measurement to be used (e.g., accuracy, frequency, or duration) and at what level the team will consider the goal mastered (e.g., 75% accuracy, four of five opportunities, 15 minutes).

Schedulel of Services

The ARD/IEP document will specify which classes your child will take, including grade level and content. It will identify which classes are general education classes and which, if any, are special education classes. If an IEP spans two different school years (most do), you will likely find two different schedules: one for this year’s grade level and one for the part of the next school year until the ARD/IEP’s due date.

Placement in the Student’s LRE (Least Restrictive Environment)

A statement is included in the ARD report/ IEP document about your child’s placement in his or her Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). “Least restrictive” means the most mainstream, or as typical as possible and appropriate for the student. To determine a student’s LRE, the ARD/IEP team first looks at where the student accesses curriculum, what his or her goals are, and what supports he or she needs for success. Then, the team decides which learning environment is appropriate to deliver the student’s needed curriculum and support. The ARD/ IEP committee is required to consider general education placements with necessary supports first before justifying something outside of or different from (i.e., more restrictive) what the typical student placement would be.

LRE also includes the campus that would be the typical placement for your child. Schools must provide your child’s education as close to your home as possible and, if possible, at the school your child would attend if he or she did not have a disability.

State Assessment

The ARD/IEP document includes a section that describes which state assessment your child will take if his or her grade level has required subjects for testing. The state assessment your child takes corresponds to where he or she accesses the curriculum and the specially designed instruction he or she is receiving. All students must participate in state assessment, but in some situations, the ARD/IEP committee has the discretion to waive passing as a requirement. Depending on the student’s graduation plan and other factors, some students must both participate and pass.

Other Services

Related services are supportive services that a student may need to benefit from special education. Common related services include assistive technology, occupational therapy, psychological services, physical therapy, and special transportation. Related services cannot stand alone as the only special education service provided.

When certain special factors are present, other components of the IEP become mandatory. Examples include planning for visual or auditory impairment services or for a student with autism, specific assistive technology or communication needs, or behavior plan. 

Transition Planning Transition planning refers to postsecondary goal setting and planning for the student’s life after high school. In Texas, this is a mandatory part of the special education process for all students beginning at age 14 (nationally, age 16). The first step in transition planning is identifying the student’s strengths, preferences, interests, and needs, including needs for family, community, or agency support in the future. The next step is to design postsecondary goals, which become the targets for current IEP planning and goal design. This process may be documented in supplements to the ARD/IEP paperwork. References to transition and future planning are often found in other places in the ARD/IEP paperwork.

In Texas, speech services can be considered stand-alone special education instruction. If you are coming from another state, you may have seen speech therapy listed as a related service. In your child’s Texas IEP, you will find speech therapy in the instructional section of the schedule of services and not in the related services section of the ARD/IEP document.

Want to Know More?

Dig Deeper and learn more about the special education process in Texas using the following resources:

SPED Parent Handbook

Gives parents a basic grounding in the special education process and the use of strategies, facilitation skills, and techniques to improve the process.


IDEA Legal Framework

  • Notice of Procedural Safeguards
  • Special Education Rules & Regulations


Texas Project First

Search for evaluation procedures, evaluation rights-overview, special education eligibility rules.


Did you know?

Parnets can ask for a “Pre-Ard”

This is an informal planning meeting that can also take the form of phone calls, e-mail exchange, or a combination of both, for the same purpose. At a pre-ARD meeting, or during the pre-ARD process, your team can offer you its ideas for proposed services and supports as well as draft goals. This is a good time for you to provide your input on past progress and the development of the next plan.

Did you know?

Services and placement are based on your child’s needs, as described in the IEP, and not on a diagnosis or program title.

Your child cannot be placed in a specific class simply because of a type of disability, nor can he or she be placed automatically in a separate or more restrictive environment simply because he or she requires a modified curriculum. Special education is a service, not a place.

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