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3 Simple Tips to Writing Meaningful IEPs

Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) are essential documents that outline a specialized education plan for learners with disabilities. These comprehensive plans are tailored to address each student’s unique strengths, weaknesses, and specific needs. In this blog post, we will explore three critical aspects of developing meaningful IEPs: crafting a comprehensive present levels statement, writing effective goals and objectives, and implementing individual accommodations and modifications to support student success.

1. Writing a Present Levels Statement for the IEP

The present levels statement sets the foundation for the entire IEP. Depending on your state, it may be referred to as the PLOP (Present Levels of Performance) or the PLAAFP (Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance). It should provide a clear and detailed snapshot of the student’s current academic and functional performance, considering their strengths as well as areas of need.

In order to complete the present levels section of an IEP thoroughly, you will rely on several things. First, you will take into account any assessment data you have collected recently, including but not limited to: standardized test results, grade level test scores, and/ or any instructional assessments you have completed with the learner. If working with students who are unable to complete grade level or standardized testing, you may be relying on assessments such as the VB-MAPP, the ABLLS-R, or other criterion-referenced assessment measures geared toward learners with autism or other developmental disabilities.

iep goals 3 Simple Tips to Writing Meaningful IEPs

Another objective measure of student growth to include in present levels section is to identify which goals and objectives from the previous IEP year were achieved. It may be helpful to analyze this information by charting the number of goals and objectives your student achieves each quarter throughout the IEP year. Check out this easy digital data tracker that can help monitor your goal data!

Once you have compiled all of this assessment data, you can use it to write an objective summary of your student’s strengths and weaknesses. It is important to include performance in both academic areas (such as math and reading) as well as functional areas (such as social skills, communication, behavior, and self-help skills). In essence, you want to share the student’s abilities to navigate their environment and engage in daily activities. Acknowledge and celebrate the student’s strengths while identifying areas that require support. A well-rounded perspective can allow you (as well as any future teacher’s this student may have!) to build on existing abilities.

Parent or family input can be instrumental in both choosing assessments and reporting on student abilities in an IEP. You may want to send home a survey prior to the IEP meeting to gain input from the student’s parents or guardians on things such as strengths and weaknesses witnessed in the home environment, student preferences, and preferred family activities. For example, maybe the family plays a board game every Sunday night and would love their child to learn how to take turns appropriately to be included in the game night!

2. Writing IEP Goals & Objectives

Goals and objectives are the driving force behind a successful IEP. Think of it this way: the present levels tells the story of your learner’s current achievements, and the goals and objectives tell the story of what YOU as the teacher is going to do to maximize their progress in the upcoming year. The goals and objectives should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). Check out this blog post for a comprehensive overview on writing SMART IEP goals.

Based on the present levels statement, identify specific skill deficits that need to be addressed. Any areas of shortcomings listed in the present levels should be accompanied with a goal addressing this area. For example, if a student struggles with number identification, their goal might be to identify ten numbers within one year. You will then break down long-term goals into smaller, achievable objectives.

These short-term objectives should act as stepping stones towards the ultimate goal. For example, if the goal is to identify numbers 1-10, you may write in 3 separate objectives:

  • (1) Identify numbers 1-3
  • (2) Identify numbers 4-6
  • (3) Identify numbers 7-10

You would then systematically teach numbers 1-3 to a pre-determined mastery criteria, before moving on to target numbers 4-6.

Clearly define how progress towards the goals will be measured and how often in order to report progress that will be communicated to parents or guardians on a regular basis. Data collection methods should be objective and consistent. Using the above example of identifying numbers, if the mastery goal was 90% success over 2 consecutive sessions, you would use this to determine which objectives have been mastered at the time of your progress report.

3. Including Individual Accommodations & Modifications

Accommodations and modifications are critical to ensuring that students with disabilities can access and participate in the general education curriculum. These adjustments level the playing field and help create an inclusive learning environment.

Accommodations are changes that allow students to demonstrate their knowledge without altering the content of the curriculum. Examples include:

  • Extended time for tests
  • Preferential seating
  • Use of assistive technology

Modifications involve adjusting the curriculum to suit the student’s learning needs.
These could include:

  • Using simplified texts
  • Adjusting the complexity of assignments
  • Modifying grading criteria

Be sure to tailor accommodations and modifications to suit the unique needs of each student. What works well for one learner may not be suitable for another! Regularly communicate with teachers, parents, and other professionals involved in the student’s education to ensure that the accommodations and modifications are appropriate and effective.


Developing meaningful IEPs is a collaborative effort that requires a deep understanding of each student’s strengths, weaknesses, and learning needs. By crafting a comprehensive present levels statement, setting clear and achievable goals and objectives, and providing individualized accommodations and modifications, we can create personalized paths to success for learners with disabilities. Remember, the IEP is your roadmap to empower students to reach their full potential and thrive in your educational setting. Putting in the work to develop a comprehensive IEP will outline an effective instructional plan for that learner for the entire year ahead!


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