In Episode #5 of “How to Win at the IEP Table” I’m going to give you a brief overview of what I call “The 5-Step IEP Process”.  After reading this article, if you are interested in learning more about the IEP process, I cover these steps in depth in my “Ultimate IEP” virtual training program. Here is the link for more information:

In order to become a parent advocate who will be able to overcome the many pitfalls that you are faced with in dealing with your local school district, you must understand the basic “rules” the district follows when making decisions to award your child the goals, supports, services, and placement listed in the IEP. 

After attending thousands of IEP meetings over the past 25 years, I have developed a strategic system that is easy to follow and understand.  These 5 steps mirror the order in which the IEP document is written as well as the IEP Agenda in which the IEP team follows during every IEP meeting. 

The 5 Step IEP Process: 

  1. Assessment 
  2. PLOP
  3. Goals
  4. Supports and Services
  5. Placement


The assessment process is the key to gathering the evidence you need to be successful in having the district award the services you want for your child.  If you want to combat statements like, “We don’t see that at school” or “Your child is receiving passing grades” or “Their disability isn’t hindering them from accessing the curriculum,” you will need to obtain an IEE, (Independent Educational Evaluation).  If you want to learn more about the IEE, please read “How to win at the IEP table with an IEE Episode #3” here.

The district makes decisions during an IEP meeting based upon assessment findings which they consider legal evidence. This is the same evidence that is used in a mediation or due process hearing. Your child’s entire special education program is built using assessment findings. The assessment determines eligibility for an IEP, identifies your child’s deficits and strengths, and provides the baselines for your child’s current levels of academic and functional performance. 

If you want the district to develop an IEP that meets your child’s needs, you must start with an accurate, complete, and comprehensive assessment. 

Without an assessment that substantiates the supports, services, and placement you are asking for, you will be denied the IEP you are seeking for your child.  

But in order to utilize the assessment findings, you will need to learn the requirements for an accurate and complete assessment and be able to interpret the test results and identify the deficit areas. All areas of deficit will become your child’s present levels of academic and functional performance, which drives the next 4 steps of the IEP process. 


The Present Levels of Academic and Functional Performance are the baselines in which your child is currently functioning. As I mentioned, the PLOAFP is determined through assessment. These baselines are used to craft goals in all deficit areas. This means that the assessment test scores that fall in the deficit range, warrant a goal be written by the IEP team. 

If there isn’t a current assessment to determine present levels, baselines will be identified through informal tests, quizzes, district assessments, or work samples. A word of caution; these methods are not as trustworthy as a standardized assessment, therefore, use caution if a teacher or service provider refuses to continue a goal by reporting your child is at grade level or met a goal in an area that previously fell within the deficit range. When this occurs, I request the child be reassessed to gain legal evidence of the current PLOAFP instead of depending upon the opinion of a staff member. There are many reasons why teachers and staff members resist writing goals, which I will explain in the next step. 


The PLOAFP drives the goals that are required based on the areas of deficit. As I mentioned, every Standardized Test Score that determines a present level that falls within the deficit range requires a goal to be written. 

It is common for the team to argue that a child doesn’t need a goal written for every deficit area. The team may suggest writing an accommodation or modification in lieu of a goal. However, how will you know if your child is progressing in a particular area of deficit without a goal to measure progress? The team may say, “We don’t want to overwhelm your child with too many goals.” This is a tactic to avoid the need to write goals, which alleviates team members from their obligation to ensure your child is making progress. It also has a direct effect on the frequency and duration of the level of services, which is another reason why team members don’t want to write goals. 


Supports are things like a classroom or one-on-one aide, specialized curriculum or learning programs, assistive technology, specialized equipment, and the most common are Accommodations and Modifications. 

Services are Related Services (also known as Designated Instructional Services or DIS). These are therapies and services such as Occupational Therapy, Speech and Language Therapy, Adaptive Physical Education, Vision Therapy, Audiological Therapy, Physical Therapy, Counseling, Transportation, Consultation, and more. 

Supports and Services are driven by your child’s goals and utilized to ensure your child meets those goals. If your child has 6 Speech and Language goals, 20 minutes 3x per month of speech and language therapy will not be sufficient to meet those goals. This is why it’s important to make sure the IEP team writes a goal to address all deficit areas. Because goals drive services, if there aren’t goals to warrant the supports and services, your child will not be awarded the supports and services they are entitled to receive.  


Placement is driven based upon the goals, supports, and services. If your child has the need for a one-on-one aide, or goals that are written 3 years below grade level, or goals that address maladaptive behavior that impedes the learning of other students and/or impedes a teacher’s ability to teach other students in the class, or self-injurious behavior, the team will consider placement suited to implement these goals. If your child is close to grade level and does not exhibit significant behaviors, the team will consider a more inclusive placement or a general education class. That being said, the LRE (Least Restrictive Environment) gets complicated. Just because your child isn’t at grade level doesn’t mean your child doesn’t have the right to be placed in a general education class and it doesn’t mean you must accept your child being placed in a severely handicapped class either. 

The LRE should always consider the most appropriate placement in which the IEP can be implemented with fidelity while holding high expectations for the student in terms of meeting goals and making progress. A student should not automatically be placed in a special education class based upon a disability label, the student’s PLOP, or their grade level academic achievement test scores. Inclusive education consideration is mandated by IDEA and the IEP team is obligated to show good cause why the student has been removed from the general education environment. 

In closing, these 5 steps are essentially the IEP process and are the main steps used during IEP meetings to determine the special education program as it is developed and carefully crafted for your individual child. When parents understand how the IEP is developed and how the team makes decisions to award their child’s goals, supports, services, and placement, parent advocacy becomes much more feasible and achievable. Albeit there are so many other components and variables to the IEP process in which I did not cover here, most of these additional issues are addressed on my blog on my website. If you’d like to receive my newsletter to provide you with the articles I write each week, please go to this link and sign up to be placed on my email list.

 Cheering you on always!

Valerie Aprahamian

If you haven’t joined our Private Special Education Parent Empowerment Facebook Group yet, you should check it out here.

Here’s what parents are saying about the group:

“Thank you for sharing your knowledge Valerie! This world needs more people willing to speak the truth.” -Elizabeth

“Please keep blowing the whistle, Valerie!  So many children are being deprived of an education because of all the corruption and lies being told to parents. We pay our taxes like everyone else, which can be interpreted as our children have the same rights as any other child.” -Maria

Valerie Aprahamian is a special education advocate, IEP strategist, and speaker. She speaks on behalf of parents to protect the rights of neurodiverse children to receive the supports they need in public school.

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