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Learning Disabilities


IEPFind answers about Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) from our panel of experts.

Candace Cortiella:An Individualized Education Program, or IEP, is an agreement between school and parent that outlines the special education and related services to be delivered to a child who has been found eligible for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The document provides several important statements about the progress to be accomplished and the specific amounts of special education and related services to be delivered in order to achieve the desired progress. In addition, an IEP outlines accommodations to be furnished both in daily instructional settings and in state- and district-wide testing. It also details how progress will be determined and a method by which parents will be regularly advised of that progress.

Parents should expect to be full partners in the development of their child’s IEP. They provide critical information about their child and should be a respected member of the IEP team. IEP development is a collaborative process between school personnel and parents. To make the most of the process and to ensure that their child will benefit adequately from special education services, parents should learn about the requirements of the IEP and how to work effectively with school personnel. Such knowledge is gained by reading books, taking training classes, and attending informational meetings on the topic.

An IEP is an agreement between parent and school and a formal commitment of resources by the school district. Failure to adhere to the IEP is a serious breach of that agreement and can have significant consequences for schools. More importantly, given that it has been agreed that the student needs the services and supports contained in the IEP to make progress, failure to deliver those services is robbing the student of his or her opportunity to learn — an opportunity that comes only once.

If parents feel that the school is not following their child’s IEP, they should quickly communicate that concern to the school in writing. Sometimes, simply pointing out the situation can lead to quick action and get the child’s program on track. If formal communication doesn’t correct the problem, then the parents should request an IEP meeting, during which time there can be a discussion of the specific services not being delivered and what actions will be undertaken to ensure IEP compliance. If a significant amount of service has been lost, parents can request compensatory services. Details on the types of compensatory services and how to obtain them should be requested from the Parent Training and Information Center.

Above all, parents are encouraged to be cooperative and courteous while maintaining diligence with regard to the faithful delivery of services outlined in their child’s IEP. It is also important for parents to monitor not only the delivery of the services that have been provided but also the effectiveness of those services. It doesn’t matter that a child is getting the correct number of hours of special education instruction in reading, for example, if the instruction doesn’t provide substantial results. Parents should pay careful attention to the benefit of the services being delivered. If inadequate progress is being made, regardless of whether the amount of services agreed upon is being delivered, parents need to investigate the integrity of the instruction and seek changes through the IEP process that will lead to student progress. Adequate teacher training is critical to the success of instruction, and the issue of teacher training can and should be discussed when formulating an IEP.

Gail Grodzinsky, Ph.D.: An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a written agreement between the parents and the school about what the child needs and what will be done to address these needs. IEPs must be drawn up by the educational team for the exceptional child and must include the following:

  • The student’s present levels of academic performance
  • Annual goals for the student
  • Short-term instructional objectives related to the annual goals
  • The special education and related services that will be provided and the extent to which the child will participate in regular education programs
  • Plans for starting the services and the anticipated duration of services
  • Appropriate plans for evaluating, at least annually, whether the goals and objectives are being achieved
  • Transition planning for older students
  • Every parent should receive a copy of their rights when they attend their first IEP meeting (many school districts mail a copy of the rights prior to such a meeting). In this pamphlet, the appeal process is explained.

    Sheldon Horowitz, Ed.D.: Children with disabilities have the right to receive instruction and support designed to meet their specific needs. In the case of infants and toddlers, these needs are documented in an Individualized Family Services Plan (IFSP) and focus on the early developmental growth of the child; for children age three and older, service and support plans are stated in an Individualized Education Program (IEP). These plans outline:

  • The child’s current levels of development
  • The outcomes expected to be achieved for the child over a specified period of time
  • The services that will be provided to support this growth
  • When and where these services and supports will be provided
  • When the plan will be reviewed and updated
  • Everyone wants the child to succeed, but sometimes, people’s best intentions fall short of taking steps to address the child’s needs. Perhaps due to a lack of resources, a system that doesn’t allow for flexibility in classroom instruction, or because the child’s evaluation scores do not meet the threshold for special education classification, the trajectory toward help shifts into idle, or worse, grinds to a halt. Parents could explore a number of options:

  • If the school district is reluctant to conduct an initial evaluation, don’t take “no” for an answer. Parents cannot be denied access to having their child evaluated for suspected learning disabilities.
  • If you disagree with the school district’s evaluation, consider having an outside evaluation at private expense. (Note: If this outside evaluation provides new information to the school that now makes the child eligible for services, the parents should be reimbursed the expense of this testing.)
  • Look for alternate ways to get your child the needed help. For example, consider setting up a schedule of in-school help with teachers or peer tutors, or having teachers provide you with a structured program of materials to review at home.
  • Be sure to discuss what kind of assistive technology devices — such as speech recognition software, electronic organizers or books on tape — could help your child. Assistive technology services include evaluating your child for specific devices, providing the device, and training your child to use the device.
  • David Urion, M.D.: An Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) is a set of observations regarding a child’s learning disability that are associated with specific instructional changes or interventions — methods, time required, and personnel needed to achieve this are all stated, along with goals for a given academic year and any modifications of assessment techniques that are warranted on the basis of the child’s needs. The process at its best is collaborative between teachers, evaluation personnel, and families.

    Each jurisdiction has specific procedures for making sure that an IEP is being followed. Speaking with the director of special education is a good, informal first step. If this does not explain the situation, then many states have mediation available through the state department of education. Failing that, binding arbitration through hearing officers is possible. The latter is usually rare.

    Cheryl Weinstein, Ph.D.: A parent should first call their state’s Neuropsychological Association for the names of child neuropsychologists who specialize in educational assessments and understand the public school system. Any assessment, however, must focus on current strengths, weakness and risks at crucial transition points in the educational process. Thus, though the child may not need special education services in elementary school, the demands of high school may overwhelm him or her. When dealing with the school system, it is always important to understand that the education of your child is a collaborative process. After all, the school wants to help your child succeed too. When I see high school and college students in my practice, I often read reports from their kindergarten teachers in which potential problems were first identified. However, when their parents agreed only to “watch” them, those problems were left unaddressed. Or, the school may have identified a problem, but the high school student absolutely wouldn’t go to a learning center!

    We all hear about school budget cuts and schools being overwhelmed with legitimate learning-disabled students. Clearly, there are unfortunate instances when a child needs special services but his or her learning disability goes unnoticed. At the same time, a collaborative process with the school system does work, and it has been my experience that, given dependable documentation of significant cognitive difficulties in a child, a school system will respond.

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