Unpacking an IEP to Support Students to Meet their Goals

A general educator can unpack a student's IEP to help them meet their goals and a special educator can support them to do so
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About This Strategy

This strategy will support general education teachers to build an understanding of how to read a student's IEP, how to understand its practical implications, and how to help students meet their learning goals.

Implementation Steps

  1. General education teachers must be aware of how to support  students in their general education classes who have an IEP. At a minimum, this means understanding each student's disability and how it affects their learning (see resource from Parent Center Hub below), their learning goals for the year, and both classroom and testing accommodations. Refer to the resource below that outlines the 13 categories in which a student may qualify for an IEP. Use the IEP-at-a-Glance template shared below to help organize this information. When completing this template, please remember: 

    • In some districts, general educators must ask to see students' IEPs. Make sure to do this so you can get the full picture of each student in your classroom. However, make sure that you protect students' privacy, act in accordance with your district's procedures, and are in compliance with FERPA.

    • In some districts, special educators may create an IEP-at-a-glance for each student and share it with the general educator. General educators must make sure that they fully understand what the special educator has written. To do this, request a meeting with the special education teacher to make sure all terms and the plan are clear.

    • Special educators are a resource. Reach out to them and ask for help. The general educator and special educator must act as a team in order to best serve all students.  

  2. Create time to have one-on-one conferences with students about their goals and about what helps the student learn. Use the IEP Conference template below to help guide this meeting. 

    • Teachers may find that students' themselves are unaware of their learning goals written in their IEP or their classroom accommodations. If this happens, use this time to help students understand their IEP, reach out to the special educator, or consult the Better Lesson strategy "Supporting Students to Understand their IEP." 

    • Be aware of the stigma often associated with having an IEP. Consider meeting with all students about their goals so as not to single out students on IEPs, or meet with the student during a private time, such as lunch. 

  3. Design learning activities to support all students. A classroom that is attuned to the many learning needs of all students is a classroom that creates multiple means of engagement, provides multiple means of representation, and provides multiple ways for students to express their learning. In order to develop learning activities that support all students:

    • Consult the universal design for learning guidelines shared below for key questions to consider when lesson planning. 

    • Create units and lessons with the specific needs of your students in mind. For example, if you have a lot of students whose disability affects their attention, strategically plan opportunities for students to take breaks, move around the room, and switch tasks. Work with your special education teacher for support. 

  4. Communicate regularly about students' progress with families, the special education teacher, and any other service providers. Carefully track student progress toward their learning goals and reach out to providers if students are not making adequate progress or if you are encountering challenges.

How the Special Educator can Support the General Education Teacher

For the special educator, creating a strong, collaborative partnership with the general education teacher to support them to understand and adhere to students' IEPs is very important. Below are some ideas.  

Implementation steps:

  1. Create an initial meeting with the general educator to discuss each student's goals and learning needs according to their IEP. This is an important time to also discuss expectations and norms for how the special educator and general educator will work together. 

  2. Establish regularly scheduled meetings to share information about students, discuss student data, and make instructional decisions. This is a great time for the special educator to learn more about how individual students are performing. 

  3. If a student is struggling, offer resources to the general educator. For example, the special educator could modify a document, create a graphic organizer, teach a mini-lesson, provide extra support to a student, etc. 

  4. Share students' IEPs or IEPs-at-a-glance with general educators and offer to walk them through the documents. 

  5. Inform general educators when students' IEP meetings are well in advance and seek their input when creating new goals for students.

EL Modification

If there are Students With Disabilities who are also English Learners, the general educator should: 

  • Meet with the EL specialist to discuss the student, his/her IEP and language goals, and classroom accommodations. 

  • Design instruction that both supports the student to meet their IEP goal as well as to develop their English language. Work with the EL specialist as necessary. 

  • Add any relevant notes about the students' language proficiency to the IEP-at-a-Glance Template.

  • With both the special educator and EL specialist, establish a clear system of communication with students' families about the students' progress.

Conducting an IEP Meeting During Distance Learning

IEP Meetings can be conducted during distance learning via a phone call or video conference. See the Edutopia article below for guidance on how to set up an IEP meeting during distance learning.

Questions to Consider

  • How will I refer back to students' IEPs or IEPs-at-a-glance often in my planning of instruction and assessment to ensure I am providing appropriate accommodations for all students and helping students meet their IEP goals? 

  • How can I design instruction that will provide for multiple means of engagement, multiple modes of representation, and multiple ways for students to express their learning?

Coach Tips

  • Advocate to see students' full IEPs (if not readily offered). You are the students' teacher, and it is your responsibility to help each student meet his or her learning goals.

  • It is your responsibility to provide accommodations for the student in your classroom. Spending the time to create IEPs-at-a-glance for the students in your class can help you internalize exactly the type of accommodations you need to provide each day.

  • Lean on the special educator for support. They are a resource and are there to support the students. Ask for examples of modifications or accommodations, additional resources, or extra help with a particular student. 

Tech Tools


  • Goalbook is an online resource that districts can purchase to provide tools for universal design for learning, professional learning for both the general educator and special educator, and tools for classroom use. 

  • Goalbook supports the general educator by providing examples of common student goals and common classroom accommodations. 

Google Docs 

  • Google Docs is an online word processor (part of Google Apps) that allows you to store, create and edit documents collaboratively in a web browser. 

  • Having a clear system of communication between the general educator and special educator for IEPs at a glance, lesson plans, and individual students' needs is helpful. Using google docs or a shared folder is a great way to exchange key information.

Consulted Resources

In developing this strategy, the following resources were consulted: 

  • Shafer Willer, L., Monroe, M., & Mancilla, L. (2016). What are my choices? Referring culturally and linguistically diverse students for disabilities: A family conference thinking map for educators. Washington, D.C.: Colorin Colorado. Available at http://www.colorincolorado.org/article/what-are-my-choices-facilitatingmeaningful-conversations-families-culturally-and 

  • Shafer Willer, L. & Monroe, M. (2016). Using a “can do” approach to ensure differentiated instruction intentionally supports the needs of language learners. Washington, D.C.: Colorin Colorado. Retrieved from http://www. colorincolorado.org/article/using-can-do-approach-ensure-differentiatedinstruction-intentionally-supports-needs

  • Center for Public Education (2009). Special education: A better perspective. Retrieved from http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/ Main-Menu/Evaluating-performance/Special-education-At-a-glance/Special-education-A-better-perspective-full-report.html