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What Is an IEP?

What is an IEP

For those who are new to the special education process, understanding what an IEP is and why it is important can take a bit of time… some research, and sometimes a little bit of deciphering.

There are a lot of acronyms in special education and unless you are using the terminology as part of your everyday vocabulary, it can be easy to forget what something means or need clarification. For parents, those acronyms are even more confusing and it is not uncommon to have families ask, “What is an IEP?”

As special educators, it is our responsibility to help families understand what it is and why it is a vital part of their child’s education.

What Does IEP Mean?

IEP stands for Individualized Education Program. Any time that a child enters into the special education system, they must have an IEP. This legal document describes how the school will help your child improve his or her skills.


What is in an IEP?

There are many different forms in an IEP. You will find everything from evaluation reports to present levels of learning to academic goals to accommodations and modifications. All of those things help to make up the program that is individualized for your child’s success. By law, an IEP must include:

  • Present levels and current performance – this describes how the child is doing right now.
  • Annual goals – year-long measurable goals that the student can reasonably accomplish. Those goals are broken down into objectives or benchmarks so that progress can be monitored throughout the duration of the IEP.
  • Services provided – this section of the IEP talks about the special education services that the child will receive. Any related services will also be put into this section.
  • Participation in the general education setting – this section will describe the amount of time that the student will be present in the general ed classroom and not receiving special education services.
  • Information about testing – the IEP will also address how, where, and if the student will participate in state and district testing.
  • When and where services will occur – the days and locations of special ed services will also be included in the IEP so that it is very clearly laid out as to how often the student will be receiving services.
  • Transition services – when a child reaches 14 years old, the IEP must begin to include any courses the student should take to prepare for transitioning out of high school. Once he reaches 16 years old, language about the need for and any transition services that will be provided is included. These are services that he will need to successfully navigate life beyond high school graduation.
  •  Progress measurement – the IEP will also state how and how often progress towards the goals will be measured and reported.


Is an IEP a Legal Document?

Yes, according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) an IEP is a formal, legal document that must be followed by the school and district. It is enforceable and should be planned, written, and executed with care and consistency.


Do Parents Have a Say in the IEP?

By law, parents are part of the IEP team and have a say in what goes in the document. They can disagree, have it re-written, and discuss the contents without repercussions or fear that the child will not receive services.

By understanding what an IEP is and why it is important, families can better advocate for their children and help them get the services and accommodations that they need to be successful in school.


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What Is an IEP?2021-05-10T14:48:21-04:00

Navigating New to You IEPs

New to You IEPs

Have you ever inherited an IEP? We’ve all been there, and it can be tricky to navigate a new student on your caseload.

So, what should you do first with a new to-you IEP so that you and the student can both be successful? We have broken it down into easy steps so make sure you get the information you need to succeed.

Navigating a New-to-You IEP

Step 1 – Read It

It may sound simple but the first thing to do when looking at a new IEP is to read it completely. This will help you familiarize yourself with the student’s current levels, goals, objectives, accommodations, and modifications.

Step 2 – Check the Expiration Date

While you are reading the IEP, check the expiration date. The expiration date of the IEP is, hopefully, not expired by the time you receive it. This can be tricky if a new student has enrolled but brought along an IEP that expired prior to enrollment. If the document is expired, your time frame for creating a new one will be significantly shorter than if the IEP is still active.

Step 3 – Check the Services and Placement

Look at the services and placement needs of the student to make sure that he is in the right class and receiving the necessary services in the new school. There may be times when your school is not set up to provide certain services, so those will need to be addressed right away.

Step 4 – Look at Accommodations and Modifications

Does the student need a distraction-reduced area to complete work? Are audiobooks a necessity? Pay close attention to the accommodations and modifications listed in the IEP and inform his general education teacher of the things that need to be changed in order to help him.

Step 5 – Scan for Any Health Issues

Sometimes students will have health issues like allergies or seizures listed in their IEPs that the school nurse, teachers, and support staff should be aware of. Scan through the IEP to see if there is anything that others should be made aware of in regards to the student’s health.

Step 6 – Highlight the Good

Take note of every positive thing mentioned in the IEP. The student is more than what he needs help with and there are plenty of opportunities to help him, but focus on the good – especially if you have yet to meet the child.

Step 7 (or Step 1!) – Meet the Child

Some special education teachers prefer to read the IEP and other documents before meeting the student, but others prefer to meet the child prior to reading anything about him or her. No matter when you do it, meeting the student is as important, if not more so, as reading the documentation that he brought along to the new school.

Getting a new IEP can be overwhelming when you already have a large caseload, but take a deep breath and remember that the student did not ask to have needs that warrant an IEP. You have the power to make a positive, lifelong difference in the child’s life. Use that power wisely and approach each new IEP as an opportunity to make an impact on a child and family.


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Navigating New to You IEPs2021-04-30T16:06:58-04:00

6 Reasons Teachers Need to Tell Parents to Get an Advocate

6 Reasons Teachers Need to Tell Parents to Get an Advocate

Imagine being a parent and walking into an IEP meeting for your child.

Maybe you’re new to the IEP process. Maybe English is not your first language. Maybe you had a negative experience at school yourself and are distrustful and wary of school officials. Maybe you, yourself, have the same learning disability as your child and are automatically on edge.

Maybe you just need someone on your side.

In those instances – and so many others – it’s okay for teachers to suggest that parents get an advocate to accompany them to the IEP meeting and beyond.

When Parents Should Get an Advocate

There is a misconception that advocates are out to get the school or argue unnecessarily about the accommodations, goals and objectives, and placement of a child. In actuality, advocates have the same goals as schools should have – to help the child in question get the most effective services and placement so that he can be successful.

So, when should it be recommended to parents to get an advocate? Here are six times it might be the most appropriate thing to suggest.

1 – The Child Has Complicated Needs

Sometimes children have complicated needs and issues. They may have a learning disability as well as another issue that impairs their ability to succeed without accommodations and support. The more complicated the issues, the more in-depth the IEP will be. Having an advocate who can help explain some of the finer points of the IEP and why certain things are being recommended – and why others are not – can be a huge help for parents.

2 – The School Administration Has a History or Reputation of Being Resistant to Providing Services

Let’s face it, some school administrators have a reputation for being resistant to providing all of the supports and services that would benefit the children in their school district. While it’s not necessarily a “fight” to get the services that are needed, parents can feel a lot of pressure to give in to what the school is suggesting – even if they feel like more is needed. Advocates can help push for those services.

3 – It’s the First Time the School Has Had a Child with the Particular Needs

For children with rare or unusual issues, their services are often the first time a school district has dealt with those needs. Advocates can help educate the schools on the child’s condition and what they see as the most important things needed for the child to succeed. In cases like this, an advocate can be a huge help for both the school and the parents as they act more as an educator about the child’s needs.

4 – The Parents are Distrustful of the School

When parents have had a negative experience in school they tend to be distrustful of schools. This can be problematic when faced with the necessity to advocate for their children during IEP meetings. Advocates can help bridge that gap and ease the tension that families might feel when they have to deal with the school.

5 – The Parents Do Not Feel Comfortable Advocating Themselves

Not everyone is good at advocating for themselves or their children and that’s okay. Some parents feel very uncomfortable challenging or questioning schools which means that their child may not be getting the help he or she needs. It’s helpful in those circumstances to have an advocate who is able to step in and take charge of advocating for the child being discussed.

6 – If Parents Have a Hard Time Focusing

Sometimes IEPs are overwhelming for parents and having an advocate there to help them focus on the bigger picture is important. An advocate frees them up to take notes, formulate their questions without feeling as much pressure and helps them secure the services their child needs.


When you believe that a family would benefit from having an advocate, it is absolutely okay to suggest that they contact one. Not only does it indicate to the family that you are looking out for them, but it also shows that you truly want the best for their child. Remember, advocates are not foes and can be a huge help for families.


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6 Reasons Teachers Need to Tell Parents to Get an Advocate2021-04-19T12:41:25-04:00

Surviving IEP Season

Surviving IEP Season

When you ask a special ed teacher what feelings come up during IEP season, the answers are rarely positive. Fear, frustration, exhaustion, and overwhelm are the most common feelings.

No one went to college to become a special ed teacher to experience those feelings. In fact, while most colleges do a good job of addressing writing IEPs, they often forget to include strategies for coping with the vast amount of work that comes during IEP season. For some teachers that season is in the second half of the year and for others, it is a continuous “season” that lasts all year long.

Regardless of when the bulk of your students’ IEPs are due, it is important to take steps to survive the IEP season.

How to Survive the IEP Season

1 – Get Plenty of Sleep

Exhaustion is one of the most common side effects of IEP season. Countless IEP reports, meetings to organize, and data to collect – on top of the everyday caseload – can quickly turn in to coming in early and staying late to complete everything. While there may be the temptation to skimp on sleep in order to get everything done, rest is what your body needs most during this time. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night and more on the weekends if you are able. You cannot create the most effective and on-target IEPs if you are tired and distracted.


2 – Exercise

Just like sleep, exercise is important during IEP season. It might be a walk around the school grounds on your lunch break, a run with your dog after dinner, or a relaxing yoga practice before you begin or end your day, but movement will loosen the tension that comes with long hours of writing IEPs.


3 – Set Realistic Goals

While it might be amazing to think that you can have all of your IEPs written three weeks in advance, sometimes that’s just not possible. Setting overly aggressive goals can leave you feeling even more frustrated and overwhelmed than you already are. Just like you wouldn’t expect your students to accomplish huge tasks in a short amount of time, give yourself the same respect and create goals that are achievable.

• This is where an IEP Writing Timeline comes in handy. Outline when XYZ needs to be sent home, written, or scheduled and then follow through from there. Learn more about how to streamline this process here.


4 – Use Systems

One of the most overwhelming parts of the IEP season is making sure that everything is organized and included in the documents and meeting for each child. Create or use pre-established systems that ensure that you have everything you need.

• The IEP Toolkit is one such system that can make preparing IEPs much less stressful and time-consuming. The included IEP Meeting Toolkit simplifies the process of planning a meeting and has everything you need in an organized, easy-to-use system. Learn more about it here.


5 – Laugh

They say that laughter is the best medicine and when it comes to alleviating stress, it is highly accurate. Laughter has been proven to soothe tension and lessen the stress response. During IEP season that is much-needed relief! So pop on a sitcom, play a funny video, read a book that makes you laugh, or spend time with friends and family who make you smile.

Remember that there is light at the end of the IEP season tunnel. There will come a day when all data has been collected, all reports have been created, and all meetings have been held. Take a deep breath and know that you can do this. You are not alone.



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Surviving IEP Season2021-04-24T09:10:22-04:00

Who Is on an IEP Team?

Who Is On An IEP Team

Preparing for your first IEP meeting? Before you get too far into planning, make sure you know who is on an IEP team.

By law, there are mandatory members of an IEP team. This ensures that the IEP is created collaboratively and not based solely on one person’s evaluation of the child.

Let’s take a look at each required IEP team member, as well as others that may be invited to the meeting.

Members of an IEP Team

According to the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) Section 300.321, the IEP team must be comprised of individuals who can provide an overall picture of the child’s disability, competency, and growth. Those team members include:


1 – The Parents or Legal Guardians of the Child

Including parents or guardians in the IEP process is not optional. The law very clearly lists parents as part of the team. In fact, the law goes so far as to give parents the ability to excuse other members of the IEP team along with the school district.


2 – At Least One General Education Teacher

While IDEA permits more than one general education teacher to attend the IEP meeting, it is mandatory that there is at least one in attendance. Although some gen ed teachers may be reluctant to attend, the law requires that one be present.


3 – At Least One Special Education Teacher

The special education teacher on the IEP team should be familiar with the child’s progress. There may be more than one special ed teacher invited, but, as with general ed teachers, there must be at least one in attendance.


4 – A School District Representative

This person is typically your supervisor or the director of special education for the district. The representative should, by law, be able to provide and/or oversee special education services, be knowledgeable about the general education curriculum, and be aware of the services that the district can or does provide.


5 – Someone Who Can Interpret the Results of the Child’s Evaluation

IDEA requires that there be an expert present who can interpret “the instructional implications of evaluation results.” This person may be the special education teacher or representative that is already in attendance. However, in some instances, it may be the school psychologist.


6 – The Child Being Discussed

The law very clearly indicates that the child about whom the IEP is being written should be in attendance whenever possible and appropriate.


Other Individuals Who May Be Present at an IEP Meeting

The law provides parents and guardians with the right to invite or request additional people to the meeting. Those people are:

An Advocate

Parents may wish to invite an advocate to the meeting with them. This may be done for a multitude of reasons and should not be considered an act of aggression on the parents’ part. Sometimes families just need the support of someone who is not associated with the school to help them clearly communicate their child’s needs. While advocates are all different, they too have the same goal in mind – helping the child about whom the IEP is written.


A Translator

If English is not the family’s first language, they may request that the school provide a translator for the IEP meeting. Typically, this is done ahead of time in writing. If you know that your student’s family may require a translator, it is a good idea to touch base with them a few weeks in advance of the meeting to confirm their request as it is up to the school to arrange for such support.

Understanding who makes up the IEP team and who should be in attendance at an IEP meeting can help you organize and plan ahead.

If you’re struggling to keep all of your IEP meeting data and forms together, learn how the IEP Toolkit can help make it easier. It not only has everything you need to write comprehensive IEPs, but it also comes with access to the IEP Meeting Toolkit that includes everything you need to plan and implement a productive meeting. That means you save time and energy! Learn more about the IEP Toolkit here!


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Who Is on an IEP Team?2021-04-08T12:38:47-04:00

Writing an IEP for a Student with Excessive Absences

Writing an IEP for Students with Excessive Absences

Writing IEPs is challenging enough, but when a student has excessive absences and has not been there, it is even more difficult.

Writing an IEP for a student with excessive absences requires determination, honesty, and documentation.

IEPs for Students with Excessive Absences

Before beginning to write the IEP, take a look at why the student has been absent. There may be health issues or other things to consider. However, in many cases, there is no indication as to why the student has not been attending school and the parents provide little insight. It is in those instances when documentation is especially key.


Has There Been Progress?

One of the hardest parts about writing an IEP for a child with excessive absences is that it is difficult to determine how much, if any, progress has been made. The inconsistent attendance makes it difficult to track progression and get an accurate read on a child’s present levels. Collect as much data as you can based on the days when the student was in attendance.


New Year, Same IEP Goals

Since you may only have a small amount of data from the days the student was in attendance, it may be necessary to repeat a goal. If this is the case, be sure to cite the number of absences and inconsistency in attendance to justify keeping the same IEP goal. Getting an absence report from the attendance secretary and including it in the IEP documentation is an important part in justifying the repetition.

If there is an open line of communication with the child’s parents, explain this ahead of time so as not to surprise them during an IEP meeting. While most families will be aware of their students’ absences, there may be some that are not. This may be a difficult conversation so consider bringing in your supervisor or head of special education.


Consider Writing an Attendance Goal

In some instances, it might be appropriate to write an attendance goal for a student. This should be based on your school district’s policies and in collaboration with your supervisor, the school principal, or district representative. With the documentation of absences and how it has impacted the student’s ability to progress and learn, it could be a justified IEP goal.


Review After 30 Days of Attendance

There is nothing wrong with including language in the IEP about revisiting the goals after a student has been in attendance for 30 consecutive days. Within that time a baseline can be established and a student’s progress can be monitored. The documentation may prove that the student has made progress and needs a more robust IEP goal than he currently has, or it may show that he needs more remediation in that area. Either way, reviewing the IEP after a set number of in-attendance days shows that the entire IEP team is committed to helping the student progress and meet him where he is academically.


Excessive absences can cause havoc with a student’s ability to make progress with his IEP goals. Documenting absences, describing how the attendance issues have impacted the ability to get complete data on his current academic levels, and putting in place ways to help him succeed when he is at school are important.

In challenging cases such as this, do not hesitate to seek advice from supervisors and make them aware of the situation long before the IEP meeting.


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Writing an IEP for a Student with Excessive Absences2021-03-30T11:43:11-04:00

IEP Writing Suggestions for First Year Teachers

IEP Writing Tips for First Year Teachers

It is never easy being a first-year teacher. There is so much to learn, so much to experience, and so much to do. For first-year special ed teachers, one of the most daunting tasks is writing those first IEPs.

While colleges do their best to prepare future teachers to write them, there is nothing like being in the school and having to write an IEP alone. Thankfully, there are resources and tips to make it easier.

Tips for IEP Writing for First Year Teachers

1 – Ask for Help

Everyone was a first-year teacher at one point and they know the challenges associated with writing those first IEPs. Do not be afraid to reach out to colleagues and supervisors for support if you need guidance. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but of strength and being self-aware.

Samples of IEPs that your co-workers have written can also be a good resource as it gives you a clear picture of what your district expects.


2 – Use Your School or District’s Forms

Many schools and districts have their own IEP templates and form that teachers are required to use. Be sure to get a copy of them before attempting to re-create the wheel only to find out you need to redo everything on the district’s forms.


3 – Use a Checklist for the Entire Process

From collecting data to observations to setting up the IEP meeting, use a checklist to track what needs to be done and when. Not only does it make it easier to write the IEP because you will have the information you need, but it also helps you stay organized.

Not sure where to start? The IEP Toolkit has everything you need – including an IEP Writing Timeline, present level templates, lists of accommodations and modifications, and more! It also includes guides and forms for holding a successful IEP meeting. It’s a special ed teacher must-have!


4 – Understand Current Goals and Present Levels

Before you can write a new IEP, you need to have a firm understanding of the previous IEP and the student’s progress. Review the current goals and assess the student’s present levels to see where he is ready to make progress. Use the current IEP as the backbone for the new one that you are writing.


5 – Communicate with Parents

While it is important to contact parents about the IEP meeting, it is even more important to communicate with them ahead of time about their child’s progress. Ask them what their concerns are and what they have observed. Do not be afraid to call or meet with them face-to-face to talk about their child’s strengths and weaknesses.

Making parents feel like they are part of the IEP team and that you are all working together for the good of the child goes a long way toward establishing great relationships with your students’ families.

For more on how to help parents advocate at an IEP meeting, read on here.


Above all else, remember that the document you are writing is about a child. It is easy to get lost in the data and the jargon of special education and forget that at the heart of the IEP is a student who needs your help and guidance. Writing an IEP is never an easy task, but when done well, it can change a child’s future forever.


If you struggle with writing IEP goals and objectives, The Intentional IEP is here to help you. The Vault is a growing IEP goal bank with over 12,000+ prewritten IEP goals, each written by a certified special education teacher on the TII Team. The IEP goals span 40 domains across all grade levels and subjects.

Want to take a look inside? Let me show you.


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IEP Writing Suggestions for First Year Teachers2021-04-08T11:38:52-04:00

Writing an IEP for a Student with an Emotional Disturbance

Writing an IEP for Students with Emotional Disturbances

Writing any IEP can be challenging, but writing an IEP for a student with an emotional disturbance can be even trickier.

Whether you are new to writing IEPs or even an IEP writing veteran, the following teacher-tested tips and tricks can make it easier to write an appropriate and effective IEP for students with emotional disturbances.

IEPs for Students with Emotional Disturbances

As with all IEPs, making sure that you have appropriate goals and benchmarks is important for students with emotional disturbances. However, in order to write the best IEP, it is important to delve deeper and look at things that might not make it into an IEP for a student without emotional goals.

Here are some ways to make sure that you are writing the best IEP possible.


Focus on the Cause of the Behavior

It can be very easy to focus on the behavior itself, but it is important to look at and focus on the cause of the behavior in the first place. Not only does this make it easier to define the goals, but it also makes it easier to focus on observable behaviors that indicate progress.


Define Terms

When writing the IEP, be sure to define and explain the terms you use. If you indicate that the student had a “meltdown” define exactly what that behavior looks like. Other common words that may need explanations include tantrums, shut down, defiant, etc. Not only does this help the teacher who is reading and implementing the IEP, but it also helps the student’s family understand exactly what the IEP is describing.


Consider Any Sensory Needs

Many times, although not all, students with emotional disturbances also have sensory-related issues. Take those into consideration and try to find a way to account for them in the IEP.


Involve Other Staff Members

Look beyond just the special and general education teachers for providing support for the student. The school counselor and others may be able to provide weekly counseling sessions and support.


Include an Excerpt About Field Trips

While it would be wonderful if every child was able to participate in field trips every time, for those students with emotional disturbances, it may be appropriate to have information in the IEP that relates to a day-of behavior evaluation. This ensures that the student’s behavior is safe and appropriate for the trip that day.


Build a Relationship with the Student

Above all else, take the time to build a relationship with the student. Recognizing that beyond the behavior, the student is a child. Spend time talking with him or her and really getting to know the child. Sometimes the students who are struggling the most need the connection even more – in spite of their behavior.

Think of the relationship as a marathon and not a sprint. It will take time to develop, but once you build that relationship, it will be easier to write an IEP that is reflective of the child’s true needs.

If you are struggling to write an IEP for a student with emotional disturbances, do not hesitate to reach out to your supervisor or other special education teachers in your district. They can be challenging to write, but you do not have to do it alone.


Did you know?!  The Intentional IEP membership it comes with over 12,000+ SMART IEP goals, so there’s never a doubt that the goals you include are going to be effective and appropriate for your students. Take it for a test spin with our trial member here.


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Writing an IEP for a Student with an Emotional Disturbance2021-04-08T11:39:36-04:00

The Difference Between IEP Goals and IEP Objectives

The Difference Between IEP Goals and IEP Objectives


There is a lot of terminology that Special Ed teachers must become accustomed to in order to effectively write an IEP. Understanding the difference between terms can be confusing for even the most experienced educators.

Knowing the difference between IEP goals and IEP objectives is one area that commonly trips teachers up as they sit down to write IEPs.

If you are struggling with remembering the difference, or need to explain the difference to parents, check out the advice below.

Is It an IEP Goal or IEP Objective?

Here are some ways to remember the difference between IEP goals and IEP objectives.


IEP Goals

IEP goals are the overall target by a set time. It is where the student should be or aim to be, by the next IEP meeting. They are the backbone of the IEP and provide educators and students with an end outcome in mind.

Goals are driven by what the student needs and are SMART in nature. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. They explain exactly what the outcome should be based on the student’s needs, how it will be measured and achieved, and when it will be accomplished.

An example of an IEP goal from The Vault is:

With minimal physical prompting, student will trace and then print 26 lowercase letters of the alphabet with 75% accuracy in 3 of 4 trials.

The goal is specific (trace and print 26 lowercase letters), measurable (75% accuracy), attainable (3 of 4 trials), relevant to the student’s needs, and can be bound by the term of the IEP.


IEP Objectives

If IEP goals are the overarching framework, IEP objectives are the baby steps to get there. They support the goals by providing clear parts or steps to reach that end result.

While objectives are not always required, they can vary state by state, they are especially useful for complex goals. Objectives break down the steps of those complex or large goals so that students can make clear progress in an organized and appropriate fashion.

Objectives should not match your main goal, as they are not the same. Instead, they should provide students with the supports they need in order to reach mastery. The main goal of the IEP is usually written to include little or no supports so that the student demonstrates the skill independently.

When writing IEP objectives, keep in mind that they usually build upon each other. For instance, the first objective will not be the student writing the first three letters of the alphabet if he or she cannot currently hold a pencil. Instead, an objective related to pencil grip would be a more appropriate place to start.

Writing IEP goals and objectives can be confusing and time-consuming. It is common for teachers to second-guess themselves while writing IEPs which, in turn, takes even more time.

If you struggle with writing IEP goals and objectives, The Intentional IEP is here to help you. The Vault is a growing IEP goal bank with over 12,000+ prewritten IEP goals, each written by a certified special education teacher on the TII Team. The IEP goals span 40 domains across all grade levels and subjects.

Want to take a look inside? Let me show you.



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The Difference Between IEP Goals and IEP Objectives2021-03-10T09:12:38-05:00

7 Go To Tips for Your First IEP Meeting

7 Go To Tips for First Time IEP Meetings

IEP meetings are intimidating, most times for all parties involved!

While many veteran teachers still feel butterflies when they enter the conference room, first year teachers experience the nerves of IEP meetings ten-fold.

To help alleviate some of those nerves, we asked experienced special ed teachers to share their best tips and tricks for IEP meetings. Their advice is teacher-tested and spot-on!

First IEP Meeting Tips and Tricks

1 – Have an Agenda

An agenda not only keeps you organized as you lead the meeting, but it also helps the meeting flow. If you are worried about time constraints, try putting times next to each section, so that everyone knows when it’s time to move on.


2 – Have a Checklist of What to Bring to the Meeting

Create or use a checklist of what to bring to the IEP meeting so that you do not forget anything. The last thing you want to have happen is forgetting something important and not realizing it until mid-way through the meeting!


3 – Lead with Positives

IEP meetings are hard for many families for a variety of reasons. They know that their child needs help, but when a meeting starts off pointing out all of the things that are wrong, it can leave them feeling defensive and angry. Instead, break the ice and build rapport by leading with positives. Talk about what the student does well. Give examples of how he or she has helped in class, been a role model, been kind to others, tried hard on assignments, etc. Win families over by showing that you notice more about their child than what needs improvement.


4 – Give Parents All of the Information Ahead of Time

Prevent surprises at the meeting as much as possible by giving parents advance copies of the IEP draft, a sheet defining special ed/IEP terminology, and any other important information that they need to know. Whether they review it ahead of time is up to them, but it can save a lot of frustration by allowing them to review the documents ahead of time.


5 – Realize Parents Come to the Table with Many Emotions

Parents of children with special needs often come to the IEP table with a myriad of emotions. They have concern over their child’s progress, they may be embarrassed, there may be guilt, and they may even struggle with decisions about their child’s care if the child can not be independent. Make the IEP meeting easier for them. Compassion, empathy, and kindness go a long way in the IEP meeting and beyond.


6 – Explain the Lingo

While you may have a firm grasp of special ed lingo, most families do not. Spend time explaining what each acronym and term means – especially if it is the family’s first IEP meeting as well.


7 – Save Time for Questions

Make sure you build time into the IEP meeting for families to ask questions about things they may not understand or things they may be concerned about.


Bonus Tip – Stop Trying to Reinvent the Wheel

As a special education teacher, you have enough on your plate without trying to create the things you’ll need for your IEP meetings. Don’t reinvent the wheel! The IEP Toolkit not only has everything you need to write comprehensive IEPs, but it also comes with access to the IEP Meeting Toolkit that includes everything you need to plan and implement a productive meeting. That means you save time and energy! Learn more about the IEP Toolkit here!



Remember that everyone enters an IEP meeting with some degree of nervousness. Be professional, be compassionate, and be proactive. Not only will you find that the IEP will run more smoothly, but the rapport that you build with families may last throughout the school year.


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7 Go To Tips for Your First IEP Meeting2021-03-09T12:00:37-05:00

Collecting Data to Show a Need for Extended School Year (ESY)

Collecting Data to Show a Need for Extended School Year (ESY)

Do you have students who would benefit from participating in Extended School Year (ESY) services?

Learn what type of data to collect to ensure that your students get the support that they need!

What is ESY?

Unlike summer school, Extended School Year or ESY is summer instruction that is designed to meet children’s individual needs.

For students who have speech therapy services that may mean seeing the speech therapist over the course of the summer months.

For students with dyslexia, ESY might entail a continuation of their reading remediation services.

Not all students with IEPs qualify for ESY services, so it’s important that if you think your student would benefit from it, appropriate data is collected to support the services.


Data to Document and Collect for ESY

Memory Retention Issues

If your student has trouble remembering concepts or information over a short period of time, document that. While remembering over the weekend may be a struggle for them, without ESY services they may struggle immensely when they return over a break that is months long.

A good place to start can be examining how well they do after winter break and how much they retained. While this is not extra data that you’re collecting, it can be useful in proving that the student will benefit from ESY services.

Behavior Struggles

For students with behavioral needs that may impede learning, ESY can make a big difference. Oftentimes, by the time the behavior is under control in the classroom, a significant amount of time has already passed. ESY helps close that gap for some students; for some ESY lets students catch up and for others it provides instruction to maintain their skill levels. It can also provide continuity and make the transition back to school easier and more successful.

You can demonstrate a need for services by documenting behavior changes after holiday breaks, long weekends, and extended absences. Any change in behavior that is a regression to a previously modified behavior should be noted.

Lost Ground on Any IEP Goals

Any change in academic progress toward an IEP goal after a break should be documented. This applies to all areas of an IEP, not just behavior or memory retention issues.

If a child returns from winter break and is unable to perform at the same level that he or she was before the break, document the regression. This demonstrates that after an absence of direct instruction, the child struggles and that continued instruction is vital to their success.

Before any extended breaks, collect data on how the student is performing and when you return after break, collect more data to see if regression occurred. The data will show how significant the child’s regression may or may not be.

It is also important to document the amount of time it takes for the student to catch back up to where they were before they left for the break.

Is It Additional Work to Collect Data for ESY Services?

Contrary to what many new special education teachers believe, collecting data for ESY services is not additional documentation. Instead, it is looking at the documentation that would have regularly been done on a student’s progress/regression after an extended break.

Most ESY programs specifically look for a lack of retention as the main qualified for ESY goals. However, if a student is making significant progress toward a goal, ESY services may be recommended to continue that progress. While that does not require additional work or documentation, it does require the teacher to be aware of each student’s level of progress throughout the school year.



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Collecting Data to Show a Need for Extended School Year (ESY)2021-03-17T12:14:31-04:00

Legally – All IEPs Need to Have These Parts

The Legal Parts of an IEP


So you have to write your first IEP. Do you know what an IEP should legally include?

Learn about the legal IEP parts below and make sure your students’ IEPs have all of the necessary components!

What is an IEP?

An IEP or Individualized Education Program is required by law for students who qualify for special education services. The written IEP is a legally binding document that is held to high standards through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Each IEP written must conform to the standards set forth by IDEA and contain a specific set of parts to be legally compliant.


Legally Required Parts of an IEP

According to the IDEA, an IEP must contain:

1 – The Student’s Current Educational Status

A record of the student’s current levels of academic and functional performance must be included as one of the first components in the IEP. It should address how the student’s disability is hindering his progress and growth in the general education curriculum. When including this in an IEP, it should be placed in the Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (acronyms are PLOP, PLEP, PLAAFP, and probably others) section.


2 – Measurable Annual Goals

According to the IDEA, the goals included in an IEP must:

  • “(aa) meet the child’s needs that result from the child’s disability to enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum; and
  • (bb) meet each of the child’s other educational needs that result from the child’s disability;”

However, as many teachers know, crafting goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) can be challenging. Doing that for every academic and functional need can also be exceptionally time-consuming.

Did you know?!  The Intentional IEP membership comes with over 12,000+ SMART IEP goals, so there’s never a doubt that the goals you include are going to be effective and appropriate for your students. Take it for a test spin with our trial member here.


3- A Description of How the Child’s Progress on Annual Goals Will Be Measured

This section of the IEP should include the specifics of how and how often progress will be monitored on a student’s progress toward the goals outlined in the document. It should include how, how often/when, and how that progress will be reported to the parent/guardian. Typically, this reporting is sent to parents each quarter or semester.


4 – A Statement of the Special Education and Related Services and Supplementary Aids and Services

Related services, accommodations, modifications, and service times are typically included in this section of the IEP. According to the IDEA, these related services and aids should be based on research and move the child toward meeting their annual goals. The services and accommodations should also help the student participate with other children with and without disabilities.


5 – An Explanation of the Extent to Which the Child Will Not Participate with Non-disabled Children in the Regular Class or Activities

In other words, this part of the IEP explains how much time the student will receive services throughout the course of the time period and how much time will be spent in a general education classroom setting.


6 – The Start Date of Services

As IEPs are very time-sensitive, this section of the document states the date upon which services will begin and the IEP will go into effect. According to the IDEA law, it should also detail “the anticipated frequency, location, and duration of those services and modifications.”


7 – Transition Services

This section of the IEP goes into effect when the child turns 16 (and in some states it might be earlier than age 16). It should include postsecondary goals and transition services that may be needed to help the student reach those goals.


8 – The Instructional Setting or Placement

The recommended learning placement for the child should be included in the IEP at this point. It may include the general education classroom, the special education classroom, a combination of both, or another appropriate learning environment.


Additional Legal IEP Considerations

In addition to the components above, all IEPs must also consider:

  1. Instruction in Braille for blind and visually impaired students (unless deemed not appropriate). – 20 U.S.C.§1414 (d)(3)(B)(iii)
  2. Strategies to address the needs of children with behavioral difficulties. – 20 U.S.C.§1414(d)(3)(B)(i)
  3. Specific language needs of ESL/ELL children. –  20 U.S.C.§1414 (d)(3)(B)(ii)
  4. The communication needs of deaf and hard of hearing children. – 20 U.S.C.§1414(d)(3)(B)(iv)


It can be challenging to keep all of the legally required parts of the IEP in order when creating IEPs. That is why so many veteran special education teachers use templates to create the documents they need. Not only do templates make it faster to write an IEP, but they also ensure that none of the important and legal parts are overlooked. The IEP Toolkit has all of the templates you need to create the most effective IEPs for your students!


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Legally – All IEPs Need to Have These Parts2021-03-17T12:13:34-04:00

The Beginning Steps of the Special Ed Process

Starting the Special Ed Process

Understanding the beginning steps of the special ed process can make the events flow much more smoothly. When the process is smooth and effective, it is easier to get the student the services he or she needs.

Not sure about how the special education process begins? Let’s break it down.

The Start of the Special Education Process

1. Initiating the Process

There are two parties that can initiate the special ed process: parents/guardians and the school.

Parents can initiate the special education process by formally requesting an evaluation of their student. A written request is always better than a phone call, as it creates a record of a paper trail and doesn’t get forgotten as easily as a phone call. It is also recommended to call the school or district and speak with the special ed admin/director to ask about the eligibility process in the district. This may vary from school to school and district to district, so it is important to do some research on the school district’s website.

The school can also initiate the special ed process, but must notify the parent/guardian of its intent. If the school initiates the process, someone from the school will contact the parent/guardian and indicate the areas of concern, and more than likely schedule a meeting to discuss the concerns. The school can then recommend an evaluation, which is the first major step toward special education eligibility. The evaluation then leads into an IEP if the child is deemed eligible for special education services.


2. Understanding the Timeline

There are very clearcut timelines for the special education process and understanding the school’s responsibilities during that time is important. The timeline for evaluation for special ed services is variable, meaning it is dependent upon the state and school district.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) sets a timeframe of 60 days for the initial evaluation. However, each state may choose to set its own timeframe.


3. The Special Ed Evaluation

During an evaluation for special education services, the student will more than likely be tested over multiple days. This thorough evaluation is also known as a comprehensive educational evaluation to some. It must legally take place within the state’s designated timeframe.

Each evaluator must be trained and have credentials in the area they are testing.

The assessment of the child must include: a review of the results of the evaluation, personal observations of the child, and identification of the child’s needs in each of the development areas. 34 C.F.R. § 303.321(c)(1).


4. Eligibility Meeting

After the special education evaluation has been completed, an initial IEP meeting will be held to discuss the evaluation. During the meeting, the IEP team will determine eligibility for special education services. This meeting is known as the eligibility meeting.


5. Formal IEP

If the student is found eligible for special education services, the IEP Team will develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for the child. It will include the student’s current levels, as well as goals and services to address areas of need. This is a legal, binding document and parents/guardians must sign it along with school officials.

While beginning the special ed process may seem intimidating, its systematic approach to providing students with the services they need is both reassuring and helpful.

In order to get the most out of the special education process, make sure that parents and school officials alike understand the road to an IEP.



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The Beginning Steps of the Special Ed Process2021-03-17T12:12:35-04:00

A Great IEP Writer Does These 5 Things

5 Habits of Great IEP Writers

Just like all teaching-related skills, learning how to write an outstanding IEP comes with a lot of practice. No one is fabulous at it their first time out.

However, there are similarities between the things teachers do to create effective IEPs. In fact, a great IEP writer does these five things below to craft a well-thought-out document.

Great IEP writers are not born, they are made through practice, persistence, and patience. They take the time to hone their craft and have a strong drive to master writing IEPs. It is not easy and it is not a quick process, but they do the five things below consistently to make sure they are drafting the best IEP for each child.

If you are struggling with IEP writing or simply looking for ways to improve your skills, take a look at the ideas below and see how you might incorporate them into your own process.

Things Great IEP Writers Do

1 – Get to Know the Child

Great IEP writers understand that an excellent IEP cannot be done on a child they do not know. Without getting to know the student, an IEP is based on data and scores. While those things are important, it is also imperative to understand the person behind those data points.

Get to know the student by talking with them. Have a conversation. Discuss likes, dislikes, home life, and their feelings about school. When the student is truly “seen” the IEP helps to reflect who they are and where they need to go throughout the school year. It also becomes much easier to write about helping a child versus helping an unknown person behind some test scores.

2 – Include Qualitative Data

All IEPs need quantitative data to get an accurate look at how a student performs in the classroom and on tests. However, all IEPs also need qualitative data. That is the data about how hard the student tries in class, how he approaches assignments, and the things he does to help cope.

  • Does he consistently give up when he gets an assignment that’s challenging or does he approach it with a can-do attitude?
  • Does he build himself a file folder enclosure on his desk to help block out distractions?
  • Does he get frustrated easily or is he persistent?
  • Is there a fixed mindset or a growth mindset being displayed?

All of those qualitative touchpoints should be included in an IEP as they help give an overall picture of a student’s mindset and abilities. Without qualitative data, an IEP is simply just numbers and goals.

3 – Ask What the Child Needs

In the rush to complete batches of IEPs, it is easy to forget that one of the most important aspects of writing an IEP is to address the student’s actual needs. Great IEP writers start by asking, “What does this student actually need?”

If there’s no understanding of the needs, the goals that are written will not address the child’s needs not will they help move him forward and keep him progressing. A student’s needs have to be the driving force behind what goals are assigned and great IEP writers know that.

4 – Create SMART Goals

SMART goals are goals that are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

All IEPs should include goals that specifically meet the needs of the student. They should be measurable and easy to assess. The goals should be achievable for a student, not so far-fetched or aggressive that it sets the child up for failure. Relevant goals focus on what the child needs right now – not in the next grade or five years down the line. And each goal should have a specific time-frame for completion so that the student can work toward accomplishing it by a deadline.

Did you know?!  The Intentional IEP membership it comes with over 12,000+ SMART IEP goals, so there’s never a doubt that the goals you include are going to be effective and appropriate for your students. Take it for a test spin with our trial member here.

5 – Use Templates

Great IEP writers know that focusing on the content of the document is the most important part of an IEP. That’s why they use templates. Not only do templates save time, but they’re an easy way to make sure that everything that needs to be included in the IEP is included.

  • The IEP Toolkit is a great resource for teachers and service providers who write IEPs, as it includes the templates needed, like the Present Levels template, as well as 340 accommodations and modifications and lots of other moving parts. The IEP Toolkit really takes the guesswork out of what to put in each IEP. See all of what’s included in the IEP Toolkit here.

Creating the perfect IEP is not easy, but great IEP writers know that when they get to know their students, include qualitative data, have a firm understanding of what each child needs, and put goals in a SMART format, their students’ needs will be met through the IEP document.

Each child is worth the time it takes to craft an exceptional IEP based on what they need and can achieve.


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A Great IEP Writer Does These 5 Things2021-03-17T12:11:19-04:00

First IEP Meeting Tips for Special Ed Teachers

No matter how many IEPs you have sat through, there is always a sense of nervousness when facilitating your first IEP meeting. These teacher-tested first IEP meeting tips for special ed teachers can help make it easier and calm some of those first-meeting jitters!

Even veteran teachers get nervous before IEP meetings, so for the first time special ed teacher, it can be even more nerve-wracking!

And a million and one things running through your mind:
• Will everything get covered?
• Will parents understand what’s being proposed?
• Will the meeting run smoothly and be productive?
• Is the IEP Team doing what is in the best interest of the child?
• Did I take enough baseline data?

With so many variables in play, it is anyone’s guess as to how the meeting will go.

We asked special ed teachers to share some of their best tips for running IEP meetings, and they were filled with great ideas. If you’re getting ready to hold your first meeting or need to revamp how you do your IEP meetings, take a look at the tips below to help them run with as few hiccups as possible!

Have a Copy of Your Agenda

Print out your agenda before the meeting and stick to it. Take the time to review it before the meeting to prepare and then follow it as it’s written. It will help keep everything on track!

Lead with Positives

As one wise teacher pointed out, the IEP is data and goals, but its heart is someone’s child. Lead with positives and strengths so that parents understand that your focus is on more than what needs to be improved. When they know that you care about their child, they are much more receptive to suggestions and ideas for goals and services.

Break Down the Language Barrier

It is so easy to get caught up in teacher-speak that you can quickly isolate and confuse families. Instead of using technical terms and teaching jargon, break down the language of the IEP into words they can understand. Explain terms that may seem second nature to you but are not in a parent’s everyday vocabulary. For parents to feel comfortable with what you are proposing, they need to understand exactly what that is. One veteran special ed teacher suggested approaching the meeting as a conversation instead of a formal meeting. It’s sitting down with people who care about the same child you care about and figuring out how to help him best.

Highlight a Copy of the IEP

Many special ed teachers who are new to holding IEP meetings worry about forgetting to touch on everything that needs to be addressed. One way to help prevent overlooking something is to print out a copy of the IEP and highlight the areas that need to be discussed. On that copy, jot down notes or reminders to yourself about things you don’t want to forget mentioning. It provides great peace of mind to have the reminders and makes the meeting run smoothly.

Send Parents a Draft Ahead of Time

If possible, send home a draft of the IEP prior to the meeting. This gives parents a chance to look it over and make their notes about questions or concerns they might have. It also gives them an opportunity to connect with you before the meeting if you want them to do that.

Have Samples of Work on Hand

Try to gather samples of the student’s work to have available for the IEP meeting. This helps demonstrate current levels so that parents understand what you’re referring to in the IEP.

While most special ed teachers are nervous before their IEP meetings, a little prep work and a positive attitude can make a world of difference. At the end of the day, you are helping to decide the best way to make a difference for a child, and that is a powerful responsibility. Take a deep breath. You can do this!


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First IEP Meeting Tips for Special Ed Teachers2021-02-16T15:55:18-05:00

Data Collection Shortcuts That Save Teachers Time

Teachers are always crunched for time, that’s no secret.

And we have a lot of paperwork, that’s another not so secret secret.

So any little tips or tricks we can pick up along the way to help us save a few minutes are like gold in our book.

Today The Intentional IEP  is going to introduce you to a few data collection shortcuts. You’ll no longer need to write out “hand over hand” when conducting data collection trials.

General use data shortcuts:

I- independent

SC – self corrected

VP – verbal prompt

IV – indirect verbal

DV – direct verbal

G – gestural prompt

M – model needed

PV – picture visual

VC – visual cue

IP – indirect prompt

PP – partial physical prompt

FP – full physical prompt / HOH – hand over hand prompt

RR – reduced responses (can follow with a number to share how many responses the student had to choose from)

OA – oral administration

NR – no response

TP – teacher prompt

WA – with assistance

AP – accommodations provided

MDP / MP – modifications provided

ASL / SL – sign language used

+ successful trial

– unsuccessful trial

SM / circled M – skill mastery

TM – target met

TNM – target not met  


When it comes to behavior data shortcuts, try these:

S – sleeping

NF – not focused on task

PA – physically aggressive

VA – verbally aggressive

RP – restrictive procedure

PD – property damage

SIB – self injurious behavior

L – loud vocals / inappropriate vocals

IB – inappropriate behavior

You can grab a FREE printable version of these data shortcuts by clicking on the image above.

Add this PDF printable to your teacher binder, para binders, sub binders, or each center/station in your classroom for adult reference.


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Data Collection Shortcuts That Save Teachers Time2021-01-18T16:24:15-05:00