How Individualized Education Programs Work

How Individualized Education Programs, or IEPs for short, are used to help students.


Tzvi Kalb

The IEP team at Bronx Science is always trying to improve the program, according to Mr. Jonson, a Special Education teacher. “This year, for the first time, we had kind of a pilot program, where all of the special education teachers met with the teachers of each student and went through the IEP and highlighted and explained what this document is really going to look like in their classroom, and how the teachers can best help that student do well in the classroom.”

In the United States, over 6 million public school students have IEPs. 

An Individualized Education Program, or IEP for short, is a 15-20 page document that explains a student’s challenges as a special needs student. 

The first and longest section of this document is the PLOP, or Present Levels of Performance. The PLOP section details basic information about the student’s academic performance, including their grades, credits, and test scores. It also has evaluations by parents, the students themselves, and teachers. The PLOP thus offers baseline information on students to help teachers to help them.

That first section can be a lot for some teachers, however. According to Mr. Jonson, one of the Special Education teachers here at Bronx Science, “ The biggest challenge is that everyone is incredibly busy. Teachers are invested in helping out students, but it can be very time consuming. it’s not something you can read once and forget. It’s my job to help the teachers understand what is in the IEP and how to best implement it.”

Annual Goals, the second section, is quite self-explanatory. There is an official IEP meeting annually where the students talk with their IEP team about how they’re doing in classes, and what ways the group can help them succeed. After this meeting, this section details what the students’ goals for that year, before the next IEP meeting. Progress tracking, the 3rd section, tracks how the students are doing during the year.

The special education services section just describes the program; Duration of Services discusses when different services begin and end, such as testing accommodations. However, some accommodations carry over between years, so they do not have an end date. This section also describes the more technical aspects of certain services.

Participation in Classrooms is simply a check of whether or not a student is in general education classrooms, with the rest of the students. One of Bronx Science’s goals is to have all of their special education students in the general education classrooms. According to Mr. Jonson, things weren’t always like that. “When I graduated in 1976, the government had only just started reforming special education law. Before, it was just for kids with profound challenges, and they were essentially removed from all general education.” Clearly, this was a damaging way to treat students, and was a part of the reason that the IEP was developed.

Testing Adaptation is probably the most famous section of the IEP, at least for Bronx Science students. This section includes information about if the student will be taking certain standardized tests, and what testing accommodations the student will receive.

There are many different kinds of testing accommodations. Students can have either “time and a half” meaning 50% more time on tests or  “double time,” which is self explanatory. Generally, students with extra time also have the option to take tests in a separate testing room for students with accommodations. If students struggle with writing, they may have the ability to use a laptop. Some students  are also allowed to take breaks during the test without losing time. 

In America, there has been a bit of a trend of viewing these types of accommodations as “unfair” or “cheating the system.” “There can be a stigma around conditions that affect the mind,” Mr. Jonson said. “You know, if someone had a physical condition where they needed a wheelchair, then no one would have any problems with a ramp being built. Nobody would say, ‘that ramp is giving the student an unfair advantage!’ But, if someone has any kind of condition that would require an IEP, then people suddenly have a problem.” 

Bronx Science is one of the schools trying to change this outlook, and it seems to be working. “I think it’s getting much better though, and at Bronx Science specifically I’ve been very impressed with how welcoming the student body is, and how willing they are to leave their preconceived notions behind.”

In the United States, over 6 million public school students have IEPs. An Individualized Education Program, or IEP for short, is a 15-20 page document that explains a student’s challenges as a special needs student.