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A Student’s Guide to the IEP

National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities
Learn to help write your own IEP. This guide will show you how to develop an IEP, how to prepare for the meeting, and how to participate. Learn how to organize the meeting and invite people. Take charge of your own education.


Editor’s note: This article was published before the 2004 reauthorization of IDEA. While much of the law remains the same, some changes have been made to the language and procedures. We continue to offer this article because it provides valuable information that is still relevant to the current law. For more information on the recent changes, visit our 2004 IDEA Update page.

Welcome to your IEP!! This guide will tell you:

  • what an IEP is
  • why you need to be part of your IEP team
  • how to help write your IEP
  • and much, much more!!

Being a part of the team that writes your IEP is an exciting, important thing to do. It’s your education be in on planning it!

What is an IEP?

What is an IEP?

IEP stands for Individualized Education Program (IEP). The IEP is a written document that describes the educational plan for a student with a disability. Among other things, your IEP talks about your disability, what skills you need to learn, what you’ll do in school this year, what services your school will provide, and where your learning will take place.

Why Do Students With Disabilities Need an IEP?

First, it’s the law. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires each student with disabilities who receives special education services to have an IEP an educational program written just for him or her.

Second, the IEP helps the school meet your special needs. It also helps you plan educational goals for yourself. That is why it is called an IEP because it is an individualized education program.

What is the Purpose of an IEP?

The purpose of the IEP is to make sure that everyone you, your family, and school staff knows what your educational program will be this year.

Where is the IEP Developed?

The IEP is developed during an IEP meeting. The people who are concerned with your education meet, discuss, and develop your IEP goals for the next year.

Who Comes to the IEP Meeting?

Certain individuals will help write your IEP. We’ve listed these below. Some are required by law to come to the meeting. (In the list below, we’ve written these people in bold letters.) Others, such as you and your parents, must be invited to take part in the meeting. It’s your choice to attend or not. (We’ve listed these people without any bolding of the letters.) All of the people listed below work together as a team to write your IEP. So who might you see at the meeting?

  • You
  • Your parents
  • At least one of your regular education teachers, if you are (or may be) taking part in the regular education environment
  • At least one of your special education teachers (or special education providers)
  • Someone who can talk about your evaluation results and what they mean, especially what kind of instruction you need
  • Someone from the school system who knows about special education services and educating students with disabilities and who can talk about what resources the school system has this person may be your principal, a school counselor, or someone else from the school system
  • People from transition service agencies (such as vocational rehabilitation), if you’re going to be talking about what you plan to do after leaving high school and what you need to do now to get ready
  • Other people who know you your strengths and needs very well and who can help you plan your educational program

How Often is the IEP Meeting Held?

The law requires that your IEP is reviewed and, if necessary, revised at least once a year. This means attending at least one IEP meeting each year. However, you, your parents, or the school can ask for more IEP meetings, if any of you think that it’s necessary to take another look at your IEP.

How Long Does an IEP Meeting Last?

Approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Why Should I Participate in the IEP Meeting?

It’s your educational program everyone will be discussing in the meeting. Your opinions are an important part of this discussion.

What Should I Do if I Want to Help Develop my IEP?

There are five basic steps:

  1. Talk to your parents and teachers.
  2. Review last year’s IEP.
  3. Think about your strengths and needs in school.
  4. Write your goals for this school year.
  5. Practice what you want to say at the meeting.

More details on these steps are given in this article. Keep reading!


The Student’s Guide package includes this article for students; a technical assistance guide for parents, transition specialists, and others interested in helping students get involved in developing their IEPs; and two audiotaped programs (on one tape) featuring students, their parents, and school staff who share their stories about student participation in writing the IEP.

If you are interested in obtaining the tape, contact NICHCY at the address or telephone number below. If you are interested in seeing the script of the tape, the script text is available on NICHCY’s web site.

How do I Develop My IEP?

What to Do Before the IEP Meeting

  1. Tell your family and teachers that you are interested in participating in your next IEP meeting. It is important that you have the support of your parents and teachers, because they will play a major role in helping you.
  2. Ask your parents or teachers when your next IEP is due to be reviewed. Write the date below.

    Next IEP Date: ____________________________

  3. Ask your parents or teachers for a copy of your current IEP.
  4. Read your IEP carefully. The IEP has different sections. These sections are listed in the article below. Look at the information below. Look at your IEP. Can you find the different sections or this information in your IEP?
  5. Ask your parents or teachers to explain what is written in your IEP, section-by-section. Ask questions. Make sure you understand the sections and information in your IEP.

Sections of the IEP

By law, your IEP must include certain information about you. This information is usually organized into the sections listed below. Your new IEP will also have these sections or information.

  • Present levels of educational performance: This section includes precise information about how you are doing in school and sometimes in other aspects of your life
  • Goals for the year, broken down into short-term objectives or benchmarks
  • What special education and related services the school will provide to you
  • An explanation of how much of your school day (if any) you will spend not participating with children without disabilities in the regular class and other school activities
  • The modifications you will need when state or district-wide tests are given, or an explanation of why taking these tests is not appropriate for you; if you won’t be taking these tests, then your IEP must say how you will be tested instead
  • When and where the school will start providing services to you, how often the services will be provided, and how long the services are expected to last
  • How the school will measure your progress toward your goals and how the school will tell your parents about your progress
  • The transition services you need to get ready for life after finishing high school

One final note about what’s on your IEP:

  • If your state transfers rights to young people when they reach the age of majority, then at least one year before that time your IEP must state that you have been told about any rights that will transfer to you.

Writing Your IEP

  1. You’ll need several sheets of clean paper, and a pencil or pen. (If you like using a computer, that’s fine, too. So is a tape recorder! You can also have a friend take notes for you.)
  2. Start by describing your disability.
    • What is your disability called?
    • How does your disability affect you in school and at home? (For example, what things in school are harder because of your disability?)
    • What do you think is important for others to know about your disability?

    If you aren’t sure what to say, think about what the students on the tape had to say. How did they describe their disabilities?

  3. Look at your old IEP goals (including the short-term objectives or benchmarks). Do you think you have met those goals and objectives/benchmarks? (This means you can do the things listed there.) Put a check next to the goals and objectives you have met.
  4. What goals and objectives/benchmarks have you NOT met? Write these down on paper. They may be important to include in your new IEP.
  5. What are your strengths and needs in each class or subject? Make a list. This can be hard to do. Here are some suggestions to help you:
    • Start with clean sheets of paper. Title one sheet “Strengths” and another sheet “Needs.”
    • Ask yourself the questions in the section entitled “Ask Yourself” below. These can help you think about your strengths and needs. Write your ideas down on your “Strengths” and “Needs” worksheets.

      Hints: If you’re not sure how to answer a question, look at the examples given. Also, think about what the students on the tape had to say. How did they describe their strengths and needs? What accommodations did they ask for? What did they say they needed to work on in school?

      Ask Yourself.…

      • What classes do you take? Make a list.
      • Which is your best class?
      • What can you do well in this class?

        These are your strengths. (Example: read, write, listen, work in groups, work alone, draw, do your homework…)

      • What helps you do well?

        These can also be your strengths. (Examples: Your interest in the subject, your memory, patience, determination, effort, the help of others (what, specifically?), the way the teacher presents new information…)

      • What class is hardest for you?
      • What’s the hardest part of this class for you?

        These are the areas you need to work on during the school year. (Examples: Paying attention, reading the book, listening, staying in the seat, remembering new information, doing homework, doing work in groups…)

      • What accommodations would help you do better in this class?

        Look at the list of accommodations in the section further below entitled “List of Accommodations.” Write down the ones you think would help you in this hard class.

      • What do you need to work on in your other classes?

        Go class by class and make a list of what is hard for you in each one. Be specific for example, in math class, you might find “fractions,” “word problems,” or some other math skill very difficult.

      • What accommodations would help you in each class?

        For each class, list what accommodations, if any, would help you.

  6. Show the goals in your old IEP to your parents and your teachers. Do they think you have met these goals? What goals haven’t you met? Add their ideas to the list you started in Step 4 above.
  7. Ask your teachers what they believe your strengths and needs are in each class or subject. Write their ideas down.
  8. Develop new goals and objectives/benchmarks for this year, using the list of strengths and needs you and your parents and teachers developed.
  9. Describe the accommodations you may need in each class to meet these new goals and objectives. (See the “List of Accommodations” section below for a list of common accommodations.)
  10. Think about your plans for the future and what you’ll do after you’ve finished high school. Talk with your parents and teachers about what you should be doing this year to get ready. This is called transition planning.
  11. Work with your parents and teachers to write a draft IEP document that includes all the information above. Make a copy for yourself to take to the IEP meeting. Make copies for everyone else who will be at the meeting.

List of Accommodations

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is another important federal law for people with disabilities. This law states that reasonable accommodations must be made. But what are reasonable accommodations?

Reasonable accommodations are things the school or your teacher can do to make it easier for you to learn adapting or adjusting what you’re learning or how they’re teaching. Some common accommodations schools make for students with disabilities are listed below.

Note-taking Accommodations
  • Use a tape recorder in the classroom
  • Use another student’s notes
  • Have a notetaker in the class
  • Use teacher’s notes
  • Use computer or typewriter
Test Taking Accommodations
  • Extended time on test
  • Take test in quiet area
  • Have test read to you
  • Take test orally
Additional Accommodations
  • Use textbooks-on-tape
  • Have extra set of books for home and school
  • Restroom use (medical accommodations)
  • Use a calculator or dictionary in class
  • Have additional time to get from class to class
  • Have seating in front of class
  • Have extended time to take PSAT or SAT

Getting Ready for the IEP Meeting

  1. Talk to your special education teacher or regular education teacher about setting a time, date, and place for the IEP meeting. Make a list of who should be there.
  2. Once the meeting is set, send everyone on your list an invitation like the example below.

    An Invitation

    Please come to my IEP meeting and share your ideas.

    Date: Wednesday, October 23rd
    Time: 2:30 p.m.
    Place: Meeting Room 4

    Your name

    p.s. If you cannot attend this meeting, please let me know when we can meet to talk about my IEP. Thank you.

  3. To get ready for your IEP meeting, it’s a good idea to think about what you want to say. At the meeting, you want to be able to:
    • describe your disability
    • talk about your strengths and needs
    • describe your learning style (how you learn best and what gets in the way of your learning)
    • tell team members the accommodations you need and why you need them describe any medications you are taking or medical needs you have (if you wish to share this information)
    • list your educational goals and objectives/benchmarks talk about your transition plan for the future.
  4. It’s also a good idea to practice what you want to say. Practice with your parents, a classmate, or a teacher. (Parents need to know what your goals are before the meeting, so they can support your decisions.)
  5. One week before the IEP meeting, you may wish to send out reminders to the people who will be attending: your parents, teachers, principal, and others who have been invited. The note can be simple, such as the example below.

    Just to Remind You…

    I’m looking forward to seeing you at my IEP meeting.

    Wednesday, October 23rd
    2:30 p.m., Meeting Room 4

    Your name

Participating in Your IEP Meeting

  1. Make sure everyone knows each other. You may want to introduce them or have them introduce themselves.
  2. Speak up and maintain good eye contact.
  3. Talk about the things you practiced, including:
    • your disability
    • the strengths and needs you have in each of your classes your learning style
    • the accommodations you need and why you need them
    • your goals and objectives for the next year
    • your transition plans for the future.
  4. Ask for additional suggestions and comments on your IEP content. Be sure everyone has a chance to talk and share their ideas.
  5. Listen to ideas and suggestions from the other IEP team members. If you don’t understand something, ask for an explanation.
  6. Share your feelings about the goals and objectives the other team member suggest. Try to come to agreement about what goals and objectives are important to list in your IEP. (If you cannot finish in the time you have, set a time and date for another meeting.)
  7. Write down (or have someone else write down) everything that’s been decided, so that a final IEP can be written.
  8. When the meeting is over, thank everyone for attending.

After the IEP Meeting

  1. Ask for a copy of the final IEP document. Go over it to be sure you understand what it says.
  2. Keep this copy of the IEP, so you can look over it whenever you need to.
  3. Work to accomplish the goals and objectives/benchmarks in your IEP.
  4. Review your IEP throughout the year. If anything needs to be changed for example, you’ve met goals in a class and want to write new goals, or you need more help with a subject ask your special education teacher, your regular education teacher, or your parents to schedule another IEP meeting.

A Final Word…

You have planned for your high school education and thought about your future. It begins today. Good luck!

This information is copyright free. Readers are encouraged to copy and share it, but please credit the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY).

This article is part of a set that also includes a technical assistance guide for parents, teachers, and others; and an audiotape. NICHCY also disseminates other materials and can respond to individual requests for information. We encourage you to share your ideas and feedback with us!

Project Director: Suzanne Ripley
Assistant Director: Donna Waghorn
Editor: Lisa Küpper
Producer, Audio Program: Alyne Ellis
Author, Student Booklet: Marcy McGahee-Kovac

NICHCY thanks our Project Officer, Dr. Peggy Cvach, at the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), U.S. Department of Education. We also express our deep appreciation to Alyne Ellis, who produced the audiotape portion of this Student Guide package, and to Marcy McGahee-Kovac, of Fairfax County Public Schools, in Virginia, for authoring the student booklet.

We also thank: Scott Ripley, who read portions of the student booklet on the audiotape; Christopher Hannan, who wrote and performed the music on the tape; and Interface Video, for their generosity and expertise in production. Finally, we send out a special thank you to all the students and parents who shared their insights and experiences about students participating in developing their own IEPs: Cara, Sarah, Sarah’s mom Carla, Alex, Jean, and Matt. Good luck to you all.

Publication of this document is made possible through a Cooperative Agreement between the Academy for Educational Development and the Office of Special Education Programs of the U.S. Department of Education. The contents of this document do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

NICHCY P.O. Box 1492
Washington, DC 20013
(800) 695-0285
(202) 884-8441
[email protected]

McGahee-Kovac, M. (2002). A Student’s Guide to the IEP. Washington, DC: National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities. Retrieved Jan. 5, 2008, from
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