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Developing an Individualized Education Program–IEP

Individuals with disabilities may need specialized support in school settings. If this is the case, support needs are documented in one of two ways:


Individualized Education Program (IEP)

This is the way most students with disabilities receive support and accommodations. Individuals with an IEP are considered "special education students".


504 Plan

This is a way for students to receive needed accommodations and support, even though they may not qualify for special education, but have a disability. Both an IEP and a 504 Plan tell your teacher what accommodations (or adjustments to your school environment) need to be made in order for you to do your schoolwork.

Whether you have a 504 Plan or an IEP, your success after high school depends upon you knowing what your disability is, and what accommodations you need to be successful in college or in the workplace. You need to know what supports you need (and how to advocate for these needs) in order to be the best high school student, college student, or employee you can be!

If you aren't sure whether you have an IEP or a 504 Plan, you can always ask one of your teachers or your school counselor. Because most students with disabilities in California have an IEP (as opposed to a 504 Plan), we are choosing to focus on IEPs in this chapter. However, if you would like more information on 504 plans, please see these websites:


Developing an IEP

An Individualized Education Program, or IEP, is essential to figuring out your educational goals. The enactment in 2004 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that a well-thought out IEP be developed and updated yearly so that you have a map of what you need to do to move on after high school. It takes into account your needs, preferences and abilities. IEPs are provided for individuals who need them, starting at the pre-school level through the end of high school. Development of your IEP requires input from you, your family, your teachers and your school.

Your IEP plan:

  • records your goals
  • keeps track of your academic, cognitive and functional performance
  • and notes the accommodations and assistive technology that you need to be successful in high school.

But first…what's the difference between a Certificate of Completion and a High School diploma?

In order to properly plan for what you will do after high school, it's important to understand the difference between a Certificate of Completion and a high school diploma, since achieving one or the other can affect your future opportunities.

  • A certificate of completion will show that you have completed at least four years of high school. The IEP team will decide what you need to do to get your certificate. In addition, each school district may have their own set of requirements for awarding a certificate of completion. Keep in mind that many colleges and employers require diplomas over certificates when considering enrollment in college or when hiring someone for a job.
  • A high school diploma states that the student successfully met all high school requirements. Since this document records what you studied and how you did, it gives colleges and employers a clearer sense of your experience and skills. In California to earn a high school diploma there are a certain number of credits and specific classes that must be taken and passed, including one year of AlgebraEP requires input from you, your family, your teachers and your school.

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