What’s an IEP? What should it contain? and how do I keep it organized?

According to the U.S. Department of Education, “each public school child who receives special education and related services must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Each IEP must be designed for one student and must be a truly individualized document. The IEP creates an opportunity for teachers, parents, school administrators, related services personnel, and students (when appropriate) to work together to improve educational results for children with disabilities. The IEP is the cornerstone of a quality education for each child with a disability.”

The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) and Reading Rockets offer the following additional details (shared with permission):

The big picture

The IEP has two general purposes: (1) to establish measurable annual goals for the child; and (2) to state the special education and related services and supplementary aids and services that the public agency will provide to, or on behalf of, the child. When constructing an appropriate educational program for a child with a disability, the IEP team broadly considers the child’s involvement and participation in three main areas of school life:

  • the general education curriculum,
  • extracurricular activities, and
  • nonacademic activities.

By general education curriculum, we mean the subject matter provided to children without disabilities and the associated skills they are expected to develop and apply. Examples include math, science, history, and language arts.

When we talk about extracurricular activities and nonacademic activities, we’re referring to school activities that fall outside the realm of the general curriculum. These are usually voluntary and tend to be more social than academic. They typically involve others of the same age and may be organized and guided by teachers or other school personnel. Examples: yearbook, school newspaper, school sports, school clubs, lunch, recess, band, pep rallies, assemblies, field trips, after-school programs, recreational clubs.

The IEP can be understood as the blueprint, or plan, for the special education experience of a child with a disability across these school environments.

Who develops the IEP?

The IEP is developed by a team of school personnel and the child’s parents. This team meets at least once a year and more often, if necessary. Team members work together to craft an education that will address the child’s individual needs and enable the child to participate in general education and school activities, learning alongside his or her nondisabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate. The IEP team then puts its crafted plan down in writing — resulting in the IEP that will guide the delivery of the child’s special education and related services.

What an IEP must contain

When the members of a child’s IEP team sit down together and consider how the child will be involved in and participate in school life, they must be sure that the resulting IEP contains the specific information required by IDEA, our nation’s special education law. Here’s a brief list of what IDEA requires:

  • A statement of the child’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance, including how the child’s disability affects his or her involvement and progress in the general education curriculum;
  • A statement of measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals;
  • A description of how the child’s progress toward meeting the annual goals will be measured, and when periodic progress reports will be provided;
  • A statement of the special education and related services and supplementary aids and services to be provided to the child, or on behalf of the child;
  • A statement of the program modifications or supports for school personnel that will be provided to enable the child to advance appropriately toward attaining the annual goals; to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum and to participate in extracurricular and other nonacademic activities; and to be educated and participate with other children with disabilities and nondisabled children;
  • An explanation of the extent, if any, to which the child will not participate with nondisabled children in the regular class and in extracurricular and nonacademic activities;
  • A statement of any individual accommodations that are necessary to measure the academic achievement and functional performance of the child on State and districtwide assessments;
  • (Note: If the IEP team determines that the child must take an alternate assessment instead of a particular regular State or districtwide assessment of student achievement, the IEP must include a statement of why the child cannot participate in the regular assessment and why the particular alternate assessment selected is appropriate for the child; and
  • The projected date for the beginning of the services and modifications, and the anticipated frequency, location, and duration of those services and modifications.

Extra IEP content for youth with disabilities

For students approaching the end of their secondary school education, the IEP must also include statements about what are called transition services, which are designed to help youth with disabilities prepare for life after high school.

IDEA requires that, beginning not later than the first IEP to be in effect when the child turns 16, or younger if determined appropriate by the IEP team, the IEP must include:

  • measurable postsecondary goals based upon age-appropriate transition assessments related to training, education, employment, and, where appropriate, independent living skills; and
  • the transition services (including courses of study) needed to assist the child in reaching those goals.

Also, beginning no later than one year before the child reaches the age of majority under State law, the IEP must include:

  • a statement that the child has been informed of the child’s rights under Part B of IDEA (if any) that will transfer to the child on reaching the age of majority.

How to Organize Your Child’s IEP Binder

Amanda Morin and Understood.org offer the following tips for creating and organizing your child’s IEP binder:

Here’s what you need to get started:

  • A three-ring binder
  • Six tabbed section dividers
  • A three-hole punch

Organizing an IEP binder with your child’s evaluation reports, IEP, report cards and other paperwork may sound like a lot of work. But this guide walks you through what to gather and where to put it.

Start With the IEP Binder Checklist

Print this IEP binder checklist and put it in the very front of your binder. The checklist has details about what you can put in each of the tabbed sections in your IEP binder.

The checklist has another very important purpose: You can update it as you add new paperwork. As your binder grows, this checklist will help you see what you’ve updated and when you updated it.

Label the Tabbed Section Dividers

Label the tabbed dividers for each of the sections of the checklist: CommunicationEvaluationsIEPReport Cards/Progress NotesSample Work and Behavior. Keep in mind that if you’re just starting the special education process, you may not have much to put in each of these sections yet. Over time, here’s what you’ll be putting in each section—and why:

Tab 1: Communication

Print and fill out a school contact sheet and put it in the front of this section. The contact sheet will help you quickly find and reach out to key people with questions or concerns.

Next is the parent-school communication log. Print one out and use it to help you keep track of meetings, phone calls, emails and other important interactions you have with your child’s teacher and school. As you fill out each entry, be sure to note what was discussed and what was decided.

The rest of this section is for letters and important emails. Put the newest ones on top, behind the communication log. Why keep printed copies of emails? Having a paper version in your binder means you’ll have it on hand for meetings, so you can easily find and reference what was said.

As you file letters and emails in this section, remember to include a brief summary of each one in the communication log.

Tab 2: Evaluations

Start this section with the request or referral for evaluation. After that put in your consent to evaluate. Keeping these two documents together can help you see if the school completes the evaluation in a timely manner.

Next comes the school-based evaluation report. (It’s handy to have this in the same section as your request for evaluation, so you can match up each request with the evaluation results.) If your child has had a private evaluation, include that here too.

Down the road, your child might have another school-based evaluation. If so, file it as a trio that includes the new request or referral and the new consent form. Put this new set of documents on top of the previous set.

Also, in this section, you may want to consider flagging key information with paper clips or sticky notes. Come up with a system that can help you quickly find what you want to discuss with the IEP team.

Tab 3: IEP

It’s a good idea to start this section of your IEP binder with a copy of your rights and procedural safeguards the school gives you. That’s because whenever you go to an IEP meeting, the IEP team will offer another copy. It’s important information. But if you show the school you already have it, you can avoid taking home another big stack of paper!

In this section, file your child’s IEP and the prior written notice for each meeting related to the IEP. Many schools attach meeting notes to the prior written notice form. Keep those notes here as well as your own notes from the IEP meeting.

The IEP needs to be updated annually. But you may have more than one meeting a year. And if changes are made to the IEP, put the newest plan and prior written notice on top, behind the procedural safeguards.

Tab 4: Report Cards/Progress Notes

The federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), says you have to be updated on your child’s progress toward his IEP goals at least as frequently as you get progress reports on his general education. Keep these progress notes and report cards in this section.

And if you want to keep track of your child’s progress on your own, print and use this IEP goal tracker. It can help you monitor your child’s progress toward each annual goal in the IEP.

Tab 5: Sample Work

Use this section to file samples of your child’s homework or classwork that show signs of progress or concern. (This is especially important for work that’s noted on the goal-tracker form.)

It’s a good idea to file samples at least monthly. And just like in the other sections of your IEP binder, put the newest stuff on top to help you find the most up-to-date information.

Tab 6: Behavior

In this section, file a copy of the school’s code of conduct. If your child is in middle or high school, his teachers may have also sent home class-specific behavior plans and rules. Keep copies of these here, too.

Next comes your child’s behavior intervention plan or behavior contract, if he has one. This is also the place to file disciplinary notices, if your child receives any. Why keep these in your IEP binder? Because your child has additional rights and protection if the behavior he’s disciplined for could be related to his disability.

Consider Including a Supply Pouch

Since your IEP binder will come to IEP meetings with you, you may want to add a zippered supply pouch. Stocking it with some pens and an extra set of sticky notes means you’ll have one less thing to worry about during your IEP meeting.

And last but not least, remember that organizing your child’s IEP binder may take some time at first. But once the initial steps are done, it’s easy to maintain! When it comes to overseeing your child’s IEP, the less time you have to spend hunting for paperwork, the more time you can focus on questions to ask before and during the IEP meeting.

Check out their YouTube video for more details!


“The secret in education lies in respecting the student.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson


Does your child have an IEP? How has this program helped him or her succeed in school? What other IEP binder organization tips or IEP meeting prep tips have you found useful? We’d love to hear about them. Comment below to share your thoughts — and questions — with our online community!


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.