What is in the actual IEP document?

The special education process can be very daunting as can reading the actual IEP document. The IEP document can be upwards of 30 to 40 pages. You may be overwhelmed when you first receive the document. I hope the following summary will be helpful in understanding what an IEP document contains and familiarize you with it so that you will be less overwhelmed the first time you read it. Let’s get started.

The cover page of the IEP lists basic information about the child such as name, date-of-birth, school the child is attending, and parent information. Also, the child’s case manager is listed and the annual review date of the IEP. Most importantly, the cover page states the “Primary Disability” of the student. A primary disability, for example, could be Autism, Developmental Delay, Emotional Disability or Other Health Impairment. After this is a description of the “areas affected by the disability.” A statement of an 8-year-old student’s areas affected by Autism might be:

Student’s disability is manifested in limited frustration tolerance, in inappropriate peer interactions, and in weak executive functioning skills.

For a 7-year-old student with Developmental Delay it might say:

Student’s Developmental Delay affects written language, sorting, numeration skills, visual/fine motor delay, and communication and social skills.

Next comes a list of the IEP team participants. After this is Part One which is information on the student’s participation in district/statewide assessments and graduation information. Part Two is a description of the student’s “Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance” in areas such as oral language, written language, math, reading, attention, routines and directions, and visual/fine motor skills. Also in Part Two is a statement on how the student’s disability affects the student’s involvement in the general education curriculum. For example the statement for a child with Autism might be:

Student’s Autism disability affects the areas of limited frustration tolerance, inappropriate peer interactions, and weak executive functioning skills. These difficulties result in poor organization, rigid thinking, misperceived social cues, and difficulty with change.

For a student with a developmental delay, the statement might say:

Student’s developmental delay affects all academic areas and impacts the ability to demonstrate grade level concepts in early literacy skills, reading comprehension, number sense, problem solving, written expression, and attention to task.

The bulk of the IEP document is Part Three – “Special Considerations and Accommodations.” The need for a behavioral intervention may be indicated in this section. If so, a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) and a Behavioral Intervention Plan (BIP) will be indicated. For a student with Autism, the basis for the FBA and BIP might read:

Due to significant emotional needs in increasing frustration tolerance, improving peer interactions, and strengthening executive functioning skills, the student requires a Behavioral Intervention Plan in order to fully access the curriculum.

Next comes “Instructional and Testing Accommodations” which is also in Part Three. Examples of these accommodations are human reader, visual clues, notes and outlines, scribe, electronic word processors, visual organizers, graphic organizers, extended time, calculators, and frequent breaks.

An example of a statement supporting accommodations might read:

Due to the student’s limited frustration tolerance and weak executive functioning skills, the student requires extended time at 50% and frequent breaks to access the curriculum.

Also in Part Three are “Supplemental Aids, Services, Program Modifications and Supports.” Listed will be the nature of the services, the frequency of the services, and the provider of those services. Such services are instructional support, program modifications, social/behavioral support, and physical/environmental support.

Instructional support may include the use of manipulatives, checking the student’s understanding of course material, frequent feedback, monitoring independent work, providing alternative ways for a student to demonstrate learning, and repetition of directions.

Examples of program modifications are altered/modified assignments, breaking down assignments into smaller units, reducing the number of answer choices, and repeated readings and practice.

Encouraging and reinforcing appropriate behavior, advance preparation for schedule changes, frequent reminder of rules, breaks to increase attention, and use of positive re-inforcers are examples of social/behavioral supports.

Physical/environmental could be preferential seating and extra time for movement between classes.

Next in Part Three is “Extended School Year (ESY).” This Section identifies whether or not a student needs to attend summer school. A student is eligible to attend summer school if the student is likely to regress in critical life skills caused by the school break. The IEP team may find a student eligible if:

The student’s goals in frustration management, frustration tolerance, peer interactions, and weak executive functioning skills demonstrate skills critical to life. There is a significant chance of regression in these skills due to the lengthy summer break.  

If a student is 14 years or older, a “Transition Plan” must be developed that lists the student’s preferences and interests, and the student’s post-secondary goals. Transition services and activities are included such as employment training. Other services that will facilitate the student’s transition from school to post-secondary activities are identified.

We then reach Part Four of the IEP document that lists the goals and objectives for the student. Such goals may be indicated for reading comprehension, math, written language, behavior, oral language, rules and directions, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, and attention. Examples of goal statements are:

Behavior: Given adult support, instructional accommodations, and supplemental aids and services, the student will increase the ability to focus attention.

Reading: Given a text, visual and verbal cues, teacher prompts, modeling and strategies, the student will learn and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words to demonstrate an understanding of phonics and word recognition.

Mathematics: Given manipulatives, visuals, modeling, and teacher prompts, the student will represent and solve problems involving addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

Part Five lists the location, services description, duration, and providers of the special education services the student will receive. If necessary for the student, related services such as occupational therapy and speech/language therapy are included.

After this we come to Part Six called “Placement Data.” This part identifies the amount of time the student will be in the general education and special education settings.

Finally, Part Seven, “Authorizations,” gives the decision and rationale for the various services a student is to receive.

As mentioned in the beginning of the summary, getting through the IEP document can be rather daunting. Knowing what to expect in the IEP will assist you in not being overwhelmed by the special education process .


Janet Lee, the founder of Pathways Educational Consulting, has extensive experience serving as an advocate and navigator for parents of children with special needs in the Montgomery Country, Maryland public school system. Janet Lee prepares parents for Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) meetings and assists at these meetings in order to secure accommodations and when necessary, appropriate school placements. She has particular expertise in Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 Plans.