The difference between IEP meetings and parent-teacher conferences

If your child has an IEP, it can be confusing to have both an IEP meeting and a parent-teacher conference. It may feel like both cover the same ground.

But the reasons for each meeting aren’t the same. The people who come to the meeting are different. And the conversations focus on different aspects of your child’s education. Here are the differences between IEP meetings and parent-teacher conferences.

 IEP meetingParent-teacher conference
The purpose

To review, revise, and update your child’s IEP. An IEP meeting can also be held to determine special education eligibility.

To discuss your child’s academic and social progress in school. 

How long

It depends on what’s being discussed. A meeting can be 30 minutes, or it can last an hour or more.

Schools typically schedule 10 to 20 minutes for a parent-teacher conference.

Which students

Students with IEPs, or students being evaluated for special education.

All students.

Who attends

Your child’s school must invite you to every IEP meeting. Several other people are also required to attend:

  • Your child’s general education teacher(s)
  • A special education teacher or case manager
  • Someone from the district who can approve the resources in an IEP plan
  • Other service providers who work with your child
  • A professional who can interpret evaluation results (if there are evaluations to discuss)
  • Your child, depending on age and whether you want your child to attend

Together, this is the IEP team.

You and your child’s teacher will attend the parent-teacher conference. A second teacher or administrator may also be there.

Some schools are also moving toward student-led conferences. So your child might attend with you. Depending what’s being discussed, your child might attend all or part of the conference.

When they happen

Federal law requires schools to hold annual IEP meetings. But you can request an IEP meeting at any time. The special education teacher or IEP case manager can also ask for one.

These conferences continue for as long as your child has an IEP.

Typically, schools offer one parent-teacher conference in the fall and another in the spring. In some schools, it’s held at the same time as an IEP meeting for students with IEPs.

However, you can ask for a meeting with the teacher at any time. It’s important to do this if you have concerns about your child, or if you need to talk through any specific issues.

Parent-teacher conferences continue until the end of high school.

What’s discussed

It depends on the purpose of the IEP meeting.

For example, if your child isn’t making progress toward IEP goals as expected, you’ll talk about why. You’ll also talk about what needs to be changed. If your child has recently been evaluated, the team will talk about the results and recommendations.

At the annual IEP meeting, the team will talk about how much progress your child made over the last year. You’ll also discuss how IEP goals, services, and supports should be adjusted for next year.

Many parent-teacher conferences follow a set agenda. The teacher provides basic information about test scores and shares work samples. Then, the teacher talks through observations about your child’s academics and social life with peers.

It can be helpful to use a parent-teacher conference worksheet to make sure you cover any questions you may have. You can even email your concerns ahead of time. This is important since time may be limited.

Knowing the difference between an IEP meeting and a parent-teacher conference can help you make the most of both meetings. Learn how to talk to teachers about learning and thinking differences and how to decode teacher comments. And watch an IEP tip video from two moms sharing what they wish they’d known sooner about IEP meetings.


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