Student-Led IEPs


Required Reading (Read these first)

Student-Led IEPs: Take the First Step

Student-Led IEP Meetings: Planning and Implementation Strategies


Guiding Questions

  1. What is a student-led IEP?
  2. Describe the process of implementing student-led IEPs.
  3. Why is it important for students to be involved in the IEP process?



Student-Led IEPs

            One definition of a student-led IEP is an IEP in which the student with a disability participated in the writing and creation of any portion of the IEP and/or held a leadership role during the actual IEP meeting. Researchers refer to student-led IEPs (also called student-directed IEPs and self-directed IEPs) as a method for increasing student involvement in the IEP process, a way to increase students' knowledge of their strengths and needs, an approach to developing a transition plan that includes the students' input, and a tool to increase the students' self-determination and self-advocacy (Eisenman, Chamberlin, & McGahee-Kovac, 2005; Martin, Van Dycke, D'Ottavio, & Nickerson, 2007; Martin, Van Dycke, Christensen, et al., 2006; Mason, McGahee-Kovac, Johnson, & Stillerman, 2002; Mason, McGahee-Kovac, et al., 2004; Myers & Eisenman, 2005; Torgerson, Miner, & Shen, 2004; Van Dycke et al., 2006). Eisenman et al. discuss the "match between elements of the IEP process and behaviors associated with self-determined individuals," stating that as students become involved and hold responsibility in the IEP process, they also "become engaged in learning about themselves and methods for attaining goals" (p. 195).

Research on the effectiveness of student-led IEPs

            Research has shown that implementing some form of student-led IEPs with students with disabilities leads to positive outcomes regarding self-knowledge, self-determination, and self-advocacy (Konrad & Test, 2004; Mason et al., 2002). Whether teachers provide explicit instruction regarding the IEP process and writing portions of the document or allow students to develop their skills more implicitly, students benefit from an increased awareness of their disabilities and the various parts of the IEP process.

            Konrad and Test (2004) studied the effectiveness of using an IEP template to teach middle school students how to write sections of their IEPs. The template was a workbook format developed by the researchers and included sections for writing the vision statement, present level of performance, annual goals (with objectives, measurement procedures, and criteria), services, and the least restrictive environment for meeting the annual goals. They found that by using a template as a first draft, middle school students became active participants and authors of their own IEPs. Konrad and Test also asserted that maintenance of the knowledge and skills learned through the use of IEP templates can easily be maintained by having students interact with their IEPs on a regular basis (daily or weekly) over an extended period of time.

            Mason et al. (2002) were interested in how training students to prepare for and participate in their IEP meetings would impact their actual participation. They found that when teachers provided regular training over a period of up to six weeks, the students were able to lead all or most of the IEP meetings. One of the students had limited verbal ability but was still able to participate using head-nods and brief responses. They also discovered a link between student experience and level of participation. Those students who had at least two years of experience in attending IEP meetings needed fewer teacher prompts and exhibited significantly more self-confidence. This presents the argument that early involvement promotes richer involvement in the future. Mason et al. noted that their research shows that "students with prior knowledge, experience, and training in being involved in the IEP process tended to be more aware of their disability, it's impact on their school performance, and their need for self-advocacy" (p. 188). The participants in this study were also more aware of their accommodations and could provide interviewers with some knowledge of their disabilities. Another benefit of the training and experience was that the students were more likely to ask teachers for assistance and had increased confidence with public speaking activities.

            These studies show that when students become part of the IEP process, they experience increased self-determination, self-awareness, and self-advocacy skills (Konrad & Test, 2004; Mason et al., 2002). They also provide a convincing argument for involving students in the IEP process as early as possible in their education (Mason et al.). This can lead to a sense of empowerment that assists these students with improving their future outcomes and becoming successful, productive citizens.

Researcher-developed programs for assistance in implementing student-led IEPs

            Many special education teachers develop student-centered methods to involve their students in the IEP process, but some researchers have created programs that have been published for this purpose (Martin, Marshall, Maxson, & Jerman, 1997; Konrad & Trela, 2007; Konrad, Trela, & Test, 2006). These programs provide teachers with a set of research-based teaching materials that give the teachers who may be unfamiliar with student-led IEPs a starting point for implementation. The following are two examples of published programs for student-led IEPs:

Self-Directed IEP

(Martin et al., 1997)

GO 4 IT... NOW!

(Konrad & Trela, 2007)

  • Multimedia lessons
  • Assessments
  • Lesson plans
  • Workbooks
  • Improvements in students with a wide array of disabilties
  • Increased participation and leadership and more positive perceptions
  • Writing IEP goals and objectives
  • Leads to improvements in written expression
  • Students maintain these skills
  • Importance: students can simultaneously learn about their IEPs and improve their writing skills


            While published programs may provide teachers with a curriculum to follow in implementing student-led IEPs, studies prove that a published program is not required to increase student participation in IEP meetings and implementing student-led IEPs (Mason et al., 2002; Myers & Eisenman, 2005; Test et al., 2004). By simply assessing the level to which students can become involved in the IEP process and then developing a plan based on each student's individual strengths and needs with regards to self-determination and self-advocacy, teachers can increase student involvement. The most important thing for teachers to remember is that the goal of student-led IEPs is to teach students skills that they need as individuals to meet their goals and transition out of high school, where teachers and parents help advocate for them, to their adult lives when they will no longer have access to the same resources and advocates.


Think about what you already know about learning standards (e.g., Virginia Standards of Learning) and what you've read about in this module. Brainstorm ways to incorporate components of student-led IEPs into core content areas (e.g., reading, writing, math, etc.), while working towards mastery of one or more standards. Complete the activity below.


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Check your answer...

Here are some ideas for incorporating student-led IEPs into daily instruction:

Incorporating student-led IEPs into the core area curriculum (English) solves the "time issue"


Biographical writing (English, written expression) = student writes part of the Present Level of Performance for his/her IEP

Presentations of biography = practice for IEP meeting

Books with characters who have disabilities = background knowledge on disabilities

IDEIA legal aspects = Civics lesson

Business letters (elective class or written expression) = invitations to IEP meeting

Graph IEP goal/benchmark progress = mathematics lesson



If you're interested in reading more about student-led IEPs, choose some of these articles and resources.

Agran, M., & Hughes, C. (2008). Students' opinions regarding their individualized education program involvement. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 31, 69-76.

Arndt, S. A., Konrad, M., & Test, D. W. (2006). Effects of the Self-Directed IEP on student participation in planning meetings. Remedial and Special Education, 27, 194-207.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum Press.

Eisenman, L., Chamberlin, M., & McGahee-Kovac, M. (2005). A teacher inquiry group on student-led IEPs: Starting small to make a big difference. Teacher Education and Special Education, 28, 195-206.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, 20 U.S.C. § 614 et seq. (2004) (reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990)

Janiga, S. J., & Costenbader, V. (2002). The transition from high school to postsecondary education for students with learning disabilities: A survey of college service coordinators. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 35, 462-468, 479.

Kochhar-Bryant, C. A., & Greene, G. (2009). Pathways to successful transition for youth with disabilities: A developmental process (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Konrad, M. (2008). Involve students in the IEP process. Intervention in School and Clinic, 43, 236-239.

Konrad, M., & Test, D. W. (2004). Teaching middle school students with disabilities to use an IEP template. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 27, 101-124.

Konrad, M., & Trela, K. (2007). GO 4 IT… NOW! Extending writing strategies to support all students. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 39(4), 42-51.

Konrad, M., Trela, K., & Test, D. W. (2006). Using IEP goals and objectives to teach paragraph writing to high school students with physical and cognitive disabilities. Education and Training in Developmental Disabilities, 41, 111-124.

Lovitt, T. C., Cushing, S. S. (1994). High school students rate their IEPs: Low opinions and lack of ownership. Intervention in School and Clinic, 30, 34-38.

Martin, J. E., & Marshall, L. H. (1995). Choicemaker: A comprehensive self-determination transition program. Intervention in School and Clinic, 30, 147-157.

Martin, J. E., Marshall, L. H., Maxson, L., & Jerman, P. (1997). Self-directed IEP. Longmont, CO: Sopris West.

Martin, J. E., Marshall, L. H., & Sale, P. (2004). A 3-year study of middle, junior high, and high school IEP meetings. Exceptional Children, 70, 285-297.

Martin, J. E., Van Dycke, J. L., Christensen, W. R., Greene, B. A., Gardner, J. E., & Lovett, D. L. (2006). Increasing student participation in IEP meetings: Establishing the Self-Directed IEP as an evidence-based practice. Exceptional Children, 72, 299-316.

Martin, J. E., Van Dycke, J., D'Ottavio, M., & Nickerson, K. (2007). The student-directed summary of performance: Increasing student and family involvement in the transition planning process. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 30, 13-26.

Martin, J. E., Van Dycke, J. L., Greene, B. A., Gardner, J. E., Christensen, W. R., Woods, L. L., et al. (2006). Direct observation of teacher-directed IEP meetings: Establishing the need for student IEP meeting instruction. Exceptional Children, 72, 187-200.

Mason, C., Field, S., & Sawilowsky, S. (2004). Implementation of self-determination activities and student participation in IEPs. Exceptional Children, 70, 441-451.

Mason, C. Y., McGahee-Kovac, M., & Johnson, L. (2004). How to help students lead their IEP meetings. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 36(3), 18-25.

Mason, C. Y., McGahee-Kovac, M., Johnson, L., & Stillerman, S. (2002). Implementing student-led IEPs: Student participation and student and teacher reactions. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 25, 171-192.

Myers, A., & Eisenman, L. (2005). Student-led IEPs: Take the first step. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 37(4), 52-58.

Snyder, E. P., & Shapiro, E. S. (1997). Teaching students with emotional/behavioral disorders the skills to participate in the development of their own IEPs. Behavioral Disorders, 22, 246-259.

Test, D. W., Mason, C., Hughes, C., Konrad, M., Neale, M., & Wood, W. M. (2004). Student involvement in individualized education program meetings. Exceptional Children, 70, 391-412.

Torgerson, C. W., Miner, C. A., & Shen, H. (2004). Developing student competence in self-directed IEPs. Intervention in School and Clinic, 39, 162-167.

Van Dycke, J. L., Martin, J. E., & Lovett, D. L. (2006). Why is this cake on fire? Inviting students into the IEP process. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 38(3), 42-47.