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The IEP Cycle

The IEP (Individualized Education Program) process is a shared responsibility of the community, the family, and the school. The development of an IEP is also part of a cycle that begins with a particular child. The cycle has the following steps:

1. Referral: The cycle begins when either a parent or a teacher notices that your child is struggling with some aspect of his schooling and requests that he be referred for potential special education services. A committee then meets to decide whether your child's difficulties are severe enough to warrant a formal evaluation. You must give permission for the child to be evaluated. In addition, a parent must be invited to this and any other meeting regarding the identification, evaluation, or placement of your child. In this regard, a meeting means a "prearranged event" and not an unscheduled or informal conversation among school personnel.

2. Evaluation: Evaluations must be conducted by a multidisciplinary team. Many different methods, tests, and materials are used to evaluate children. The purpose is to understand your child's strengths and needs. The team may look at issues such as educational performance, medical history, social interactions at school and at home, psychological evaluations, and other factors. Any information provided by you must be considered by the team.

3. Eligibility: Once the data have been gathered, you and a team of professionals meet to discuss the results of the evaluation and decide if your child has a disability. Definitions of disabilities, such as hearing impairments, emotional disturbances, and specific learning disabilities, are spelled out in state and federal laws. If your child is found eligible, then the committee must decide if he, because of his disability, needs special education.

4. Development: If your child is found eligible for special education, then the IEP team is formed and meets to develop the IEP.

5. Implementation: After the IEP has been developed, your child's special education program and services begin.

6. Annual review: The IEP team reviews your child's IEP at least once a year to discuss whether he is meeting his goals, to set new goals and objectives, and to revise the educational program and services as necessary.

This cycle is an orderly one that is required by law. The process is designed to assure that children receive the services they need, as well as to provide legal protection for the rights of children with disabilities and their families.

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Council for Exceptional Children

Provided in partnership with The Council for Exceptional Children.


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