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Access Guide: Students with Significant Disabilities: Curriculum Instruction and Assessment Issues Louisiana Department of Education
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Writing the IEP

expand  Team Approach
expand  IEP Guidelines: Alignment to Academic Standards

The following guidelines, based upon recommendations in Courtade-Little and Browder’s Aligning IEPs to Academic Standards, 2005, can be used by IEP teams in constructing standards-based IEPs.

  • Become familiar with the Common Core State Standards,  Louisiana’s Content Standards, Benchmarks, Grade- Level Expectations and the Louisiana Comprehensive CurriculumA general education teacher on a student’s IEP team can be a key resource in understanding curriculum expectations at the student’s particular grade level.  At the high school level, it may be necessary to confer with multiple general educators to gain an understanding of the curriculum across content areas.
  • Become familiar with the Louisiana Extended Standards, which represent the core academic content that may be assessed at each grade span for students with significant disabilities.
  • Keep the planning student-focused.  Give careful consideration to the student’s strengths, progress, needs, preferences, and current performance.   What are the student’s current skills?  What supports and accommodations will be needed to promote access to grade-level content?  What are the student’s future needs? 
  • Consider both specific academic goals and broad access goals.  The IEP team should consider strategies to support access to the grade level content in ways that will be meaningful to the student.  The team should not attempt to write a goal or objective for every academic learning need.  Remember, the IEP does not reflect the total curriculum for a studentIt provides a basis for identifying priorities for a student and for specifying how he or she will access the broader curriculum.
  • Ask if it is “really reading” and “really math.”   As the team is developing the objectives related to academic areas, it may be helpful to reflect on the team’s work and ask if the focus is really on reading and/or math, or if the team has gone astray of the essence of the academic content.
  • Do not try to force all IEP objectives into alignment with academic standards/Extended Standards.  Some students may need functional skills addressed on their IEP along with academics.   Functional skills may be legitimate areas to target on the IEP, but do not try to back map them to academic standards.  It is best to develop academic goals by beginning with the academic standards, rather than back mapping functional goals into the academic standards.  (Courtade-Little and Browder, 2005).

Remember that therapy services provided through the IEP should support a student’s achievement of his or her goals and objectives.  As such, therapy should be integrated within the context of other IEP goal areas to the greatest extent possible.

expand  Achievement Targets Aligned to Symbolic Level of Functioning
expand  Writing Goals and Objectives that Reflect Standards

There is no reason to write the GLEs or Extended Standards verbatim on a student’s IEP.  The IEP should specify goals and objectives (based upon an individual students’ strengths and needs) that will allow the student to have access to and make progress in the general education curriculum.      For example, at the 3-4 grade level span, under Standard Seven in English Language Arts, Extended Standard 17/14 is as follows:


Demonstrate understanding of information in texts,


  • Identifying main idea, and
  • Sequencing events.

An IEP team may determine that this Extended Standard is a high priority for a student in that mastery of the related skills will have an impact across multiple content areas.  Rather than writing the Extended Standard verbatim on a student’s IEP, the team may use the student’s present level of performance to construct an IEP objective to ensure that classroom instruction is aligned with the student’s needs.  Examples of related objectives based upon students’ symbolic functioning levels are as follows:


Pre Symbolic:  Using 4th grade adapted stories read aloud (reduced text, repeated story lines, object representation), Debbie will select an object/picture to represent a story’s main idea for 4/5 stories.


Early Symbolic:  Using 4th grade adapted stories read aloud (reduced text, repeated story lines, picture/icon representations), Max will sequence 3 pictures to retell a story for ¾ provided opportunities.


Symbolic:  Using 4th grade adapted stories read aloud (reduced text, repeated story lines, picture/icon representations), Josh will fill-in sentence starters with icons to identify multiple ideas represented in the story, 80% of opportunities recorded across a 9 week period.

expand  Ensuring the Standards are Accessible and Meaningful
expand  Foundation Skills

The foundation skills of communication, problem-solving, resource access and utilization, and citizenship are relevant students in all disciplines.   The foundation skills represent global outcomes for all students who are to become lifelong learners and productive citizens.  While these skills apply to both students with and without disabilities, they may represent major areas of focus for students with the most significant disabilities.  The following are sample ways in which students evidence foundation skills:



·         Joint attention

·         Ask for Help

·         Follow directives

·         Answer questions

·         Initiate communication

·         Respond to systematic/movement cues

·         Orient to sound and/or speaker

·         Communicate for various purposes (e.g., for needs, wants, expressing opinions, commenting)

·         Attend to others



·         Attention and focus

·         Make a choice among items

·         Making associations

·         Matching

·         Cause/effect

·         Patterning/sequencing

·         1 : 1 correspondences


Resource access and utilization

·         Use the internet to access information

·         Check out books/DVDs/CDs from library

·         Use information booth in public places

·         Identify and access resource personnel


Linking and generating knowledge

·         Utilize library resources to gather information

·         Use assistive technology (AT) to gather and express information

·         Apply learned skills in a variety of environments

·         Actively participate in classroom



·         Follow rules – participate in society/school/community/classroom

·         Participate in clubs and committees

·         Self-advocate

·         Express opinions, make choices, make requests, ask questions

·         Respond to greetings

·         Share materials

·         Respond to others request for help

·         Acknowledge others

·         Participate in corporative learning groups

·         Attend school

·         Hold a job

·         Access public facilities

expand  GLE and Extended Standards: Scope and Sequence Matrix
expand  Points to Ponder

The IEP should identify the strategies and supports necessary for the student to address the selected GLEs.  Keeping this in mind, consider the following:


a.     What is the student’s present level of symbolic use?  What are the related instructional implications (e.g., modification of materials, strategies to facilitate growth in student’s capacity to engage with symbolic materials)?


b.     What are the student’s needs in regards to instructional materials (e.g., alternate formats) to support access to the academic standards across all content areas?


c.     How does the student communicate, and what supports are needed to enhance age and topic appropriate communication across environments and content areas?


d.     What assistive technology is needed to support student

         access of the standards?


e.     Are there broad goals/objectives that are needed to support access across content areas?  For example, what skills need to be taught so the student can actively participate in academic routines that occur in typical classrooms (e.g., contribute during whole class discussions, take turns in cooperative group learning activities, answer questions related to content, transition from one task to the next)?


f.      Are there goals/objectives needed which focus on a specific content area?  Keep in mind that it may be appropriate to write IEP objectives which correlate with the GLEs/Extended Standards for some student, whereas, other students may benefit from objectives that focus on individualized skills needed to access curriculum activities.

expand  Tips and Traps
expand  Essential Issues

Essential issues are concepts/practices that must be considered when planning an IEP and instructional day for a student who has a significant disability.  A description of each essential issue follows.


·          Ability to Contribute:  Schools have a responsibility to give each student the chance to make his/her contribution.  Without opening the door for ALL students to belong, we lose untold opportunities to gain from the presence of others, for it is only through their presence that we can begin to see what individuals have to contribute to a community.


·           Age-appropriateness:  Age-appropriateness means that the skills taught; activities, routines, and materials selected; and the language used must reflect the chronological age of the student.  These practices ensure that a student’s dignity is promoted and maintained, that responses from peers and society are positive, that student preferences are clear and respected, and that skill development and active participation in typical activities are enhanced.


·          Assistive TechnologyAssistive technology devices are any items, pieces of equipment, or product systems that are used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability.  Students with significant disabilities should have access to technology that will assist them in developing and participating in meaningful academics, social relationships, and employment activities. Both low and high technology approaches can be combined to allow students to communicate with others and to exert varied levels of control over their environments.


·          Friendships:  Friendships are relationships between two or more individuals that are based on mutual respect, interest, and affection for each other that lasts over time.  In order for friendships to develop, all individuals, regardless of disability level, should enjoy ongoing opportunities for interaction with a variety of people (across a variety of ages) and in a variety of settings (school, community, and work).  Students with significant disabilities are seldom provided opportunities to befriend age-appropriate peers, resulting in a ‘circle of friends’ with an unnatural proportion of adults.


·          Future-oriented:  Future-oriented means keeping “an eye on the future.”  When selecting activities and skills for instruction, selection should be based on current needs and future goals that will ultimately result in desired adult outcomes.  Information for making these decisions should come from student and family preference assessments and input of the instructional team.


·          Generalization:  Generalization refers to the ability to transfer learned skills to other settings and to demonstrate those skills with other people, materials, environments, and similar tasks.  In order to support generalization, systematic instruction should occur in a variety of settings, including classrooms, school campuses, and for older students, community and vocational sites.


·          Inclusion:  Inclusion refers to chronologically age-appropriate membership of students with disabilities in a variety of settings, including neighborhood schools, general education classrooms, community, and work settings, providing the necessary accommodations and supports to allow individuals to participate successfully in those settings. 


·          Partial Participation:  The principle of partial participation is an affirmation that students with significant disabilities can be taught to participate in activities with their peers across a wide variety of environments.  This principle calls for the provision of individualized instruction, adaptations, and supports to facilitate a student’s meaningful participation in activities, regardless of the level or complexity of the student’s disability.


·          Positive Behavioral Support:  Positive behavioral support (PBS) is a research based approach that emphasizes identifying and implementing strategies for supporting desired student behaviors, rather than relying on putative measure.  It incorporates the use of positive treatment approaches that are socially acceptable and foster student dignity.  The promotion of “quality of life” and inclusive opportunities underlies positive behavioral support systems.  Key features include environmental rearrangements, communication support, curricular modifications, reinforcement of appropriate behaviors and teaching replacement behaviors.


·          Self-determinationSelf-determination is the ability to make choices or express preferences and then have those selections honored.  It is the ability to identify a personal vision and to set and achieve goals.  Self-determination reflects personal traits and skills, including self-esteem, assertiveness, self-advocacy, control, choice-making, and creativity.


·          Student Dignity:  Student dignity refers to treating individuals with respect in accordance with their chronological age, individual differences, and preferences.  Identifying the preferences of students with significant disabilities is an essential component of developing and implementing effective instructional strategies.  Often, students with the most significant disabilities have difficulty expressing preferences and the instructional team must conduct systematic assessments in order to continuously identify, update, and build a menu of students’ preferences.  Preferences should be identified in the following areas:  activities, settings, materials, and partnerships.


·          Student Preferences:  Student preferences refers to students’ abilities to communicate (verbally or nonverbally) their likes and dislikes in order to promote a meaningful quality of life.  These preferences should be incorporated into the design and implementation of instruction for the student.

expand  Programming Considerations: Middle and High School Levels
expand  Bulletin 1530, Louisiana’s IEP Handbook for Students with Exceptionalities

This bulletin, along with other bulletins issued by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education,  can be accessed at the following site:
expand  Accessible Instructional Materials/Alternate Formats
expand  IEP Professional Development Materials

The materials provided here can be used in the provision of professional development activities linked to writing IEPs. 


Materials Linked to Fall 2009 Workshops (IEPs for Students with Significant Disabiltiies:  A Standards-Based Appoach)

Writing Standards Based IEPs for Students with Significant Disabilities is a PowerPoint presentation which provides an overview of legal requirements and best practices related to IEP development for this population of students.  The following PowerPoint presentations cover specific topics related to standards-based IEPs for students with significant disabilities:  Alignment vs. AccessActive Participation Additional Strategies, and Symbolic and Literacy Levels


Supplemental Materials Aligned to Writing IEPs for Students with Significant Disabiltiies

Sample IEP Objectives contains objectives written in a variety of "styles."  These are only samples! 

Self-Evaluation Tool is a tool for IEPs teams to use in evaluating the content of an IEP for a student with significant disabilties.

Adapatation Modifications and Supports Eval Tool is a rubric for instructional teams to use in evaluation the appropriatness of supports.

Math Web Sites  and Electronic Book Sites are resource lists developed by the Louisiana Region 3 Assistvie Technology Center. 



Materials Linked to Summer-Fall 2009 Workshops (Writing Standards-Based IEPs)

The materials in this section were used in IEP workshops sponsored by the Louisiana Department of Education.  These materials relate to IEP development for all students with disabilities.  The needs of students with significant disabilities are included within these training materials.

     Module 1: Overview

     Module 2: Writing Standards-Based IEPs