What is an IEP?

By Gail Belsky

At a glance

  • IEP stands for Individualized Education Program.

  • An IEP lays 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.

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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    About the author

    About the author

    Gail Belsky is executive editor at Understood. She has written and edited for major media outlets, specializing in parenting, health, and career content.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Melody Musgrove, EdD served as director of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) in the U.S. Department of Education.