Individualized Education Plans (IEP) are a requirement for every child receiving special education and related services in the public school system. The IEP process should be individualized and fair, and the resulting plan should be used to outline the steps, goals and personalized learning needed for that particular child to reach their excellence.

We’ve created video resources for IEP related topics on our YouTube channel!

In most cases, there are seven steps involved in the formation of the IEP. However, the number of steps may vary depending on the school district and the needs of the child. The IEP is one of the most significant elements used to ensure that children with special needs receive quality teaching and a customized learning environment designed to maximize their education.

7 Steps Of The Special Education IEP Process

Step 1: Pre-Referral

There are different pre-referral interventions through which to initiate the IEP process. These interventions are implemented based on the type of disability exhibited by the student.

The main objectives of the pre-referral are;

• Document and elaborate the challenges and difficulties exhibited by the child.
• Evaluate the usefulness of classroom accommodations and changes.
• Review the power of different instructional interventions.
• Supervise the development of the student.

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The pre-referral process helps to determine whether behavioral and educational challenges exhibited by the child can be resolved in a general education classroom. To avoid unnecessary evaluations and placements, the assessments used at this stage are purely intervention-based. Typically crafted in the general education class, this step is conducted with the use of direct performance procedures. Helping to save money, time and other resources in the process.

During the pre-referral stage, teachers will try various certified teaching approaches in hopes of establishing whether flawed instruction could be the cause of the problems exhibited. Children whose learning remains challenged will be referred to the next step in the IEP process, referred for special education services.

Step 2: Referral

If the pre-referral interventions prove unsuccessful, the student is referred for special education services through the use of a referral. Referrals can come from parents, daycare professionals, public health nurses, doctors or social service agencies. Referral for special education services can happen at different stages during a child’s life and vary a great deal based on their individual needs. Often, poor academic performance, continued misbehavior or disruption of their learning environment are prerequisites to this stage.

Step 3: Identification

Once a referral has been made, a special assessment is carried out to determine whether the child has a disability that requires special education services. During this stage of the IEP process, the child’s major life activities such as interpersonal relationships, performance in school and at home are used to assess the kind of services required.

Multidisciplinary teams become involved to help determine the child’s distinctive strengths and needs. This team includes parents and other family members, educational diagnostician, school psychologist, or a teacher depending on the state where it is conducted.

An array of data types, assessment instruments and methods are used during this stage in order to create an accurate report later used to determine the correct path for the student. If the final decision is that the child has a disability that requires special education, a baseline of performance is determined.

Step 4: Eligibility

The information gathered during the assessment stage is used to categorize those who have a disability and are eligible for special education services. The IEP committee creates different elements of the services required to plan and deliver an appropriate education framework. Students who do not meet the qualifications for special education services remain in the traditional classroom setting.

Step 5: Development Of The IEP

The next step in the process is to create the actual IEP. An IEP team is formed which includes the child’s parents, educators, administrators and other specialists. As a parent attending an IEP meeting for the first time may be an overwhelming experience. To help calm your nerves and know your child is receiving the help they deserve, you have the right to bring a child advocate with you to the meeting. Child advocates are paid professionals familiar with these proceedings and work specifically for the child and their parents.

During the meeting, resources required by the child are identified, their individualized learning style determined, along with goals both long term and short term.

Step 6: Implementation

At this stage, the student’s IEP and associated services commence. Accommodations are provided for both instructions and testing along with a range of multidisciplinary services required from different providers to support the child’s educational program. The providers your child with special needs will interact with moving forward could include occupational or physical therapists, speech pathologists and other special education professionals.

Step 7: Evaluation And Reviews

Each IEP developed requires accountability and consistent follow up by the child’s parents. A review is conducted annually or after every three years depending on the state. The purpose for these reviews is to determine whether the child is meeting their educational goals.

If the goals are not being met, revisions are made in the IEP. In the event that the child is meeting and even exceeding their IEP goals, new milestones are determined. In some cases, the child may be moved back into the traditional classroom setting.

Additional Resources

Once your child is enrolled in special education, there are a ton of options available to help ensure their success. Different types of classroom settings (self-contained, inclusion), different schools (charter, private) and resources outside the classroom such as special education tutoring. The more information you gather regarding your child’s specific learning disability, the better equipped you will be in finding and maintaining the perfect environment for them to thrive.

Suzie Dalien

Suzie Dalien


  1. My son is having great difficulty in school. He took first grade over and is now in third grade. He attends a Christian school in Virginia. I am getting a tutor to assist with math, writing and phonics. He has had IEP most of his life in Pittsburgh, but we moved back to Virginia to care for aging parents. He has ADHD, severe dyslexia attachment disorder, ptsd prior to husband adoption from Guatemala at age two. His last IEP was in McMurray PA. I need one in Virginia. Help

    • Suzie Dalien, M.Ed.
      Suzie Dalien, M.Ed.

      Sandra… We would love to help you though this process! We just sent an email to help get the ball rolling. Look forward to helping your son get the help he deserves!


    This piece of writing has helped me a lot in that it has equipped me with the necessary knowledge about the formation of an IEP and the steps involved.

  3. 👍👍👍very helpful for my exam preparation

  4. My grandson is in a program in his school where his mom has moved to doesn’t have a program is there a bus transportation that can pick him up and drop him off his school is likes 8 miles from his home

  5. Hello my name is Stella Kirksey and I have a child named Cali Kirksey and she goes to W.C.Friday middle school in dallas nc and she is having some trouble in her learning. Is there any way she can get an IEP started for her school.

    • Suzie Dalien, M.Ed.
      Suzie Dalien, M.Ed.

      Stella, I’m going to send you an email with some additional information. The short answer is… YES!

  6. Hi. I have a 15-year old who goes to school half the week and refuses to go the other half. I am supposed to go in next month to meet about possibly setting up an IEP. I was told there would be a group of people there: daughter’s teacher, counselor, school psychologist, etc, etc…

    My daughter seems to suffer with seperation anxiety and a bit of social anxiety. She is also behind in school.

    I am wondering how intrusive this process is?

    My daughter isnt going to want to get into a lot of personal issues with her school. She has issues that she may want to only bring up with a counselor or doctor outside of school. Are those things kept private? Or is the school going to want to talk to a doctor or counselor about issues?

    Also, I was reading about how sometimes a school social worker will drop by the home of an IEP student to check up on them if they don’t go to school. Is this true?

    And lastly, are there stipulations a parent can set when creating an IEP?

  7. I have two special needs kids whom can’t seem to get the right help in place. It’s been a long struggle and I’d like to OWN my upcoming IEP follow up meeting this coming Wednesday 11/13. We’re in Phoenix AZ. I have watched 95% of your YouTube videos and they have helped a great deal. I actually knew most of what you talked about so it was reassuring to me.

  8. Shouldn’t the student be included in the decisions regarding what his daily schedule will be like. Shouldn’t the child be able to offer their opinion regarding what is or isn’t helpful for their learning success?

  9. My son is 12 and has adhd how can I get him a Iep thank you shell

  10. My son is 12 and has adhd how can I get him a Iep thank you shell

  11. What if you had your initial IEP meeting and you disagree with the IEP? How do you go about disagreeing? Can you request and IEE at that time?

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