A Massachusetts IEP Process Guide: a breakdown of the IEP form

If your child qualifies for special education, they should have an IEP. Here is a breakdown of the Massachusetts IEP process and form.

A mom and teenage son look at an IEP draft with a teacher

If your child qualifies for special education, they should have an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP. If you’re looking for a Massachusetts IEP process guide, you’re in the right place.

Here we will walk you through the Massachusetts IEP form page by page.

(For a broader explanation of what IEP IEP forms need to include in every state, check out The IEP Form: Section-by-section).

Before your IEP meeting, the team will usually make a draft of the IEP. Make sure to ask for a copy before the meeting so you can review it. If you ask for it, they are required to give you a copy at least 2 days before the meeting. You will be able to make changes at the meeting, or even afterwards.

While you will not need to write the IEP yourself, you should make sure it reflects your child’s real goals and the supports your child will need to achieve them. It helps to know what it includes ahead of time. 

Look at the Massachusetts IEP form and use it to follow along as we describe each section. (A new form will begin rolling out in fall of 2023, but some districts will not begin using the new version until fall of 2024).

The Massachusetts IEP process: the IEP form by section

Parent and/or Student Concerns

The first section of the IEP is called Parent and/or Student Concerns.

The team may ask you to write this part and the Vision Statement before the meeting so they can add them to the draft. It is important that you be honest and thoughtful. Think carefully and write what you want for your child. If they don’t ask, then you can offer to send them some notes. This section should reflect your concerns.

This is a key section for you, the parent! It’s where you can document all your concerns.

Student Strengths and Key Evaluation Results Summary

Past progress reports can help with this part, if you have them.

In this “strengths” section, it is important to put aside your negative concerns about your child. This section is focused on positive things like:

  • What does your child do well at in school?
  • What are their interests?
  • What are their positive qualities?
  • What are examples of things they have accomplished or have had success with?

This section will also include a summary of the most recent evaluations of your child:

  • What type of disability do they have, and how does this affect their work in the classroom?
  • What were the results from recent evaluations and tests, like the MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System)?
  • If your child has had an IEP before, what progress have they made on those goals?

It’s important to make sure the school describes your child’s needs here completely and in detail. Make sure that this section lists every diagnosis and everything your child struggles with. It could help them get better services!

Vision Statement

This is one other part that they may ask you to write ahead of time, or share notes about. It describes what you see happening with your child over the next 5 years.

If you don’t write it yourself, you and your child should play an active role in what the team writes here. It should at least be based on discussions with your child, if possible.  

Here’s what you can do: 

  • Think ahead to the next 1 to 5 years, and outline:
    • What is the vision for your child, both in school and outside of school?
    • How can school and after-school activities best prepare them for the most independent and productive life they can have?
  • Try to balance your concerns with the hopes and dreams of your child
  • Aim high, but be realistic about what they can achieve, given their abilities and disabilities

If your child is 14 or older, the Vision Statement will also describe their goals for after high school. These might relate to jobs, continued education, or adult living. Your child may help to write this section, if possible. You will also develop a transition plan to help prepare your child for adult life, but the vision, goals, and services in the IEP will be important pieces to support that plan.

Present Levels of Educational Performance

Part A: General Curriculum

Here, there are boxes to check which academic subjects are impacted by your child’s disability.

Then it will answer these 3 questions:

  1. How does your child’s disability affect progress in these subject areas? 

This should include all the ways your child has trouble learning, and cover every part of your child’s disability (cognitive, emotional, behavioral, physical).

  1. What types of accommodations are needed to make progress? 

Accommodations are changes that the regular teacher can make to help your child learn more effectively. For example: rearranging the classroom, taking frequent breaks, or getting extra time for tests and assignments. These do not include changes to the content.

  1. What kinds of special instruction (teaching) does your child need? 

This includes changes to the content. It is usually special education teachers or different kinds of therapists who do this special instruction. The team will write out changes that are needed in these areas:

  • Content: Changes to the level or difficulty of the regular curriculum (these changes are also called modifications)
  • Methodology and Delivery of Instruction: Changes to the way they teach your child, based on their strengths and learning style
  • Performance Criteria: Changes to the way your child shows what they have learned, based on their strengths and learning style (this may be something besides traditional written tests)

Part B: Other Educational Needs

This section is about how to help your child take part in activities that are not academic. These may include social life, sports, arts, and after-school programs.

This next part answers the same 3 questions from Part A, but this time for non-academic needs, such as:

  • Adaptive physical education (APE)
  • Assistive technology devices or services
  • Behavior
  • Braille (as needed for blind or visually impaired students)
  • Communication
  • Language
  • Social/emotional needs
  • Travel training
  • Skill development related to job training

Current Performance Levels / Measurable Annual Goals

The next section is for your child’s IEP goals.

These goals are what you and the team expect your child will achieve over the next year. Usually, an IEP will have more than one goal, but the number can vary a lot.

First, you and the team will choose Specific Goal Focus areas. Examples may be: communication, behavior, social skills, or math. Focus areas are based on what will make the biggest difference in your child’s school experience. 

For each focus area, you and the team describe your child’s Current Performance Level. This is their current ability in that area: what they can do now. This is the starting point for writing a specific goal, which comes next.

Next, the team will write one or more Measurable Annual Goals for each focus area. You will help them decide, but they should know how to write the goals in the right way.

Benchmarks/Objectives are the stepping stones between your child’s current level and meeting the goals.

  • You break down each goal into 2-4 smaller parts. These are the objectives
  • Benchmarks describe how much progress you expect within a specific time period during the year
  • The objectives and benchmarks help to assess your child’s progress towards each goal. You will get regular progress reports throughout the year that tell you how well your child is doing

Well-written goals are:

  • Specific: The goal should describe the knowledge, skill, behavior, or attitude that you want your child to master. It explains what success will look like when they meet this goal
  • Skill-building: The goal should be useful. It should address what matters most to you and your child, and should help make the best possible difference for your child’s future
  • Challenging: The goal should ensure your child is being held to high standards to prepare for an independent and productive life
  • Measurable: Describe how you will measure your child’s progress toward the goal
  • Achievable: The goal should be realistic. Your child should be able to reach it within one year
  • Individualized: Goals must be based on your child’s past experiences, current abilities, rate of learning, and educational need

Service Delivery

This section, or grid, describes how your child will get the services needed to help them reach their goals.

Based on federal law, services should allow your child to follow the regular curriculum along with their non-disabled peers as much as possible.

There are three types of services listed in the IEP:

A: Consultation and indirect services (includes teachers consulting with therapists to help make the instruction consistent with what the therapists are working on)

B: Special education services in the general education classroom

C: Special education services in other settings

Your IEP team will:

  • Identify the type of services that can help with each goal
  • Decide who will provide the services
  • Decide how often (frequency) and how long (duration) your child will get the service

These are some types of providers who may work with your child:

  • Special education teacher
  • Occupational therapist (OT)
  • Physical therapist (PT)
  • Speech therapist (also called a speech-language pathologist – SLP)
  • School psychologist
  • Applied behavior analyst (ABA)
  • Autism specialist
  • Assistive technology professional

Non-Participation Justification

This says why – and how often – your child will NOT be in the general classroom.

This is important because federal law requires that students with disabilities must be taught with their non-disabled peers as much as possible.

For example: a child may be pulled out of class sometimes for special instruction, or if they have intense needs and will do better in a special classroom. Here, the team describes WHY your child must be removed from the regular classroom in order to meet their learning needs.

In some cases, a child may be placed in a separate specialized school, if that will meet their needs more effectively. This is called an out-of-district placement. Examples are schools for Deaf, blind, or visually impaired students, or for those with significant intellectual disabilities. If this is the case, it may be written in here and you will sign a Placement Form at the end of the IEP.

This section will:

  1. Refer to the services that the team listed under Section C in the Service Delivery grid
  2. For each of these services, describe why your child needs a separate setting outside of the regular classroom
  3. Make it clear at which specific times your child will be removed from the regular classroom

This is a chance for you to make sure that your child is not being pulled out of their regular instruction too much. They can often get help from a specialist in the classroom during the regular teaching session, and it’s important that they not miss too much regular instruction.

Schedule Modification

You only fill this part out if your child needs a different school schedule from the regular one.

  • Shorter or longer school day
  • Shorter or longer school year (sometimes called Extended School Year, or ESY)
  • Residential services
  • Summer services or summer school

The most common reasons that a child would need a schedule modification are:

  • They have a health condition that prevents them from keeping a typical school schedule, or
  • They will regress (lose skills) if they don’t get a longer school day, longer school year, or summer school/summer services

It’s common for kids to get services through the summer if they are at risk of losing the progress they made during the school year. Ask about this if you think this may happen to your child!

Transportation Services

If your child has an IEP, they have a right to get a special bus to and from school if they need it.

If your child’s disability means they need this service, you will fill out this section. Children who are placed at a specialized out-of-district school also have a right to door-to-door transportation.

Here’s what you can do to decide:

  1. Decide if your child’s disability prevents them from getting to school the same way as their peers
  2. Could they safely ride a regular school bus or van with some help? What extra help would they need? For example, some kids have a bus attendant, or monitor. A monitor is a person other than the driver who rides with your child to keep them safe 
  3. Your child may need a special transportation vehicle. For example, if they use a wheelchair they may need a wheelchair van.

If you drive your child to school yourself, let the team know. The state may be able to pay you a transportation reimbursement. This is a standard rate per mile to pay you back for gas money!

State or District-Wide Assessment

This says how your child will take the state or district assessments.

These are the standard tests that all students must take. The main one is the MCAS: The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. 

Both federal and state laws agree that students with disabilities should do this testing. Why? Because it helps hold schools and teachers accountable for the performance of special education students, just as they are held accountable for general education students.

So for each content area in the grid, you and the team will decide which column to check:

  • Column 1: If your child can take the test (or parts of it) in the same way it’s given to typical students
  • Column 2: If your child can take the test only if there are accommodations, or changes to the test conditions. For example, they may get extra time, have the questions read aloud to them, or take the test in a small, private room
  • Column 3: If your child cannot take the test, even with changes to the test conditions

If any box in Column 2 or 3 is checked, the next part must explain why and say what accommodations or alternate testing method will be used.

If you want to learn more about changes to test condition and alternate tests, talk to your IEP team and read these resources from the state:

Additional Information

Here is where you can put any more info you would like to add.

Tell the team any important details you’d like to add to the IEP that were not yet included. And ask them to explain anything mentioned here that you’d like to learn more about.

Response Section

This is where you check if you accept the IEP, and sign it.

These are your 3 options:

  1. Accept the draft IEP
  2. Reject the draft IEP
  3. Partially reject the draft IEP

Remember, you don’t have to sign it at the meeting!  It’s usually best to take it home and think about it or get advice from trusted teachers or friends, or an education advocate if needed. If you don’t agree with the IEP, read more about how to solve disagreements with the school.

If you agree with the IEP you can sign it. Now the school must follow it and provide the services listed. 

You can ask for a meeting at any time if things change with your child, or something in the IEP is not working.

The Massachusetts IEP process can be easier and more effective if you have looked at the form ahead of time and know what to expect. Look through the Massachusetts IEP form before your meeting with the school and write down your questions and ideas. Good luck!

Learn more:

Check out our page: Special Education Hub

Where you will find links to more articles on this topic.

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