HomeLearning DifficultiesLegal Rights & AdvocacyIndividuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 2004

IDEA 2004 Close Up: The Individualized Education Program (IEP)

Page 3 of 6

By Candace Cortiella, The Advocacy Institute

IEP Contents

The IEP must contain several statements that describe the child's performance and outline the special education and related services the school district will provide. There have been many important changes to these statements, as explained below.

Present Level of Performance.

The statement of the child's present level of education performance has been revised to reflect the child's academic achievement and functional performance, including how the child's disability affects the child's involvement and progress in the general education curriculum.

This change makes it clear that all aspects of a child's performance are important areas of development, including areas such as social and behavioral, and align with the additional consideration mentioned above. Addition of the word "education" to describe the curriculum establishes the expectation for grade-level performance in the regular education curriculum.

Measurable Annual Goals.

A statement of measurable annual goals must be included in the IEP, including academic and functional goals, designed to meet the child's needs that result from the disability, to enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum, and meet each of the child's other educational needs that result from the disability.

Again, the need to include any goals necessary to address the functional needs of the child is emphasized, along with the expectation that the child will make progress in the regular education curriculum.

A major change in IDEA 2004 is the elimination of the requirement to include short-term objectives or benchmarks for each annual goal for all but a small group of students who take alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards. (See box below.) Congress felt that this requirement contributed greatly to the paperwork burden and bore no relationship to the non-linear reality of a child's development. However, this change was not intended to eliminate or lessen parental information or eliminate the need to break annual goals into instructional objectives.

PARENT TIP: Parents may continue to request that annual goals contain additional information about the interim points of achievement that will clearly indicate that the goal will be reached by year's end. Nothing in IDEA 2004 prohibits the development of short-term objectives.

ALTERNATE ASSESSMENTS BASED ON ALTERNATE ACHIEVEMENT STANDARDS: Students who take alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards have significant cognitive disabilities and are considered unable to attain grade-level achievement standards even with the very best instruction. Such assessments generally do not lead to a standard high school diploma. Out-of-grade-level assessments are considered alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards.

Reporting on a Child's Progress.

The IEP must include a description of how the child's progress toward meeting the annual goals will be measured and when periodic reports will be provided on the progress toward meeting the annual goals (such as through the use of quarterly or other periodic reports, or concurrent with the issuance of report cards). IDEA 2004 eliminates two important requirements from this provision:

  • The requirement to advise parents of the extent to which progress is sufficient to enable the child to achieve the goals by the end of the year; and
  • The requirement that progress reports be provided at least as often as parents are informed of their non-disabled children's progress.

PARENT TIP: Request that the school provide progress reports on your child's IEP goals in coordination with regular school report cards, or more frequently if appropriate. Express the expectation that progress reports will indicate if your child's interim progress is adequate to accomplish each IEP goal by year's end.

Services Based on Peer-Reviewed Research.

The IEP must also include a statement of the special education and related services and supplementary aids and services, based on peer-reviewed research to the extent practicable, to be provided to the child, or on behalf of the child, and a statement of the program modifications or supports for school personnel. Services must be designed to enable the child to make progress in the general education curriculum and to participate in extracurricular and other nonacademic activities.

IDEA 2004 adds an important new provision that the IEP team's choice of special education and related services be guided by peer-reviewed research whenever possible. In other words, instructional programs and other services should be supported by strong evidence of effectiveness. This is particularly important when determining instructional programs to address reading deficits, since there is a robust body of research showing the effectiveness of an array of reading programs.

PARENT TIP: Parents should ask about the availability of scientifically-based research to support any instructional program that is proposed, including evidence of effectiveness. This applies not only to instructional programs to address academic deficits, but also those selected to address behavioral or other deficits areas. Schools should be able to offer a variety of instructional approaches - not simply one approach that is given to all students with a particular deficit or disability.

Candace Cortiella's work as Director of the nonprofit The Advocacy Institute focuses on improving the lives of people with learning disabilities, through public policy and other initiatives. The mother of a young adult with learning disabilities, she lives in the Washington, D.C., area.

Comments from readers

"Free IEP's at and at"