What is an IEP?

By Gail Belsky

Expert reviewed by Melody Musgrove, EdD

An adult points to text in a notebook with the left hand while taking notes on a printed IEP document with their right hand.

At a glance

  • IEP stands for Individualized Education Program.

  • The purpose of an IEP is to lay out the special education instruction, supports, and services a student needs to thrive in school.

  • IEPs are part of PreK–12 public education.

When kids struggle in school, you may hear the term IEP. What is an IEP? IEP is an acronym that stands for Individualized Education Program. Some people may refer to it as an Individualized Education Plan.

The purpose of an IEP

An IEP is more than just a written legal document (or “plan”). It’s a map that lays out the program of special education instruction, supports, and services kids need to make progress and thrive in school.

IEPs are covered by special education law, or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). They’re created for eligible kids who attend public school, which includes charter schools.

There are many benefits to getting an IEP. The process begins with an evaluation that shows a student’s strengths and challenges. Families and schools use the results to create a program of services and supports tailored to meet the student’s needs.

Having an IEP gives students, families, and schools legal protections, too. It lets families be involved in decisions that impact their child’s education. It also gives students rights when it comes to school discipline.

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