In the United States an Individualized Education Program, commonly referred to as an IEP, is mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In Canada and the United Kingdom, an equivalent document is called an Individual Education Plan.
An IEP is designed to meet the unique educational needs of one child, who may have a disability, as defined by federal regulations. The IEP is intended to help children reach educational goals more easily than they otherwise would. 34 CFR 300.320 In all cases the IEP must be tailored to the individual student's needs as identified by the IEP evaluation process, and must especially help teachers and related service providers (such as Para-Professional educators) understand the student's disability and how the disability affects the learning process.
The IEP should describe how the student learns, how the student best demonstrates that learning and what teachers and service providers will do to help the student learn more effectively. Key considerations in developing an IEP include assessing students in all areas related to the known disabilities, simultaneously considering ability to access the general curriculum, considering how the disability affects the studentís learning, developing goals and objectives that correspond to the needs of the student, and ultimately choosing a placement in the least restrictive environment possible for the student.
As long as a student qualifies for special education, the IEP must be regularly maintained and updated over the student's primary educational years (i.e. up to the point of high school graduation, or prior to the 22nd birthday). If a student in special education attends university upon graduation, the university's own system and procedures take over. Placements often occur in "general education", mainstream classes, and specialized classes or sub-specialties taught by a specifically trained individual, such as a special education teacher, sometimes within a resource room.
An IEP is meant to ensure that students receive an appropriate placement, not "only" special education classrooms or special schools. It is meant to give the student a chance to participate in "normal" school culture and academics as much as is possible for that individual student. In this way, the student is able to have specialized assistance only when such assistance is absolutely necessary, and otherwise maintains the freedom to interact with and participate in the activities of his or her more general school peers.