What Is Individualized Education Program (IEP) Progress?


What Is Individualized Education Program (IEP) Progress?

This publication provides necessary information to educate yourself on IEP progress and all of its inner workings.

Disclaimer: This publication is legal information only and is not legal advice about your individual situation. It is current as of the date posted. We try to update our materials regularly. However, laws are regularly changing. If you want to make sure the law has not changed, contact DRC or another legal office.

Federal and state special education law require a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) to include measurable annual goals for the student.1

A student’s IEP must detail how the student’s progress toward meeting their annual goals will be measured.2 Measuring progress allows the team to see if the IEP is helping the student make progress or if changes need to be made to the IEP.

The IEP must also state when and how the school district will report on the child’s progress to their parent / guardian.3

Reviewing Progress and Revising

At least once a year, the IEP team must meet to review progress toward the student’s goals.4 The team looks at the information collected. They decide if the IEP goals have been met and if special education services are effectively meeting the student’s needs.5

If a child is not making expected progress toward their annual goals, the IEP team must revise the IEP to address the lack of progress. They can adjust teaching and support strategies. If the IEP team needs to make major changes, the they should schedule an IEP meeting. There, they can review and revise the IEP.

Parents / guardians have the right to ask for an IEP team meeting at any time. They should make the request in writing. The school district then has 30 days to hold a meeting.6

Required by IEP Teams

IEP teams should be able to show they are:

  • Providing special education and related services,
  • Making program modifications,
  • Providing supports for school staff, and
  • Allowing for appropriate accommodations. These are reasonably calculated so a child can make progress appropriate in light of their circumstances. This gives the child the chance to meet goals that are challenging for them.

Interpreting Federal Law

The Supreme Court emphasized the importance of a student making progress on their goals in its 2017 decision, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District.

An IEP must be designed to let a child to make appropriate progress, given the child’s circumstances. For most students in a general education program, appropriate progress means going from one grade to the next. For other students, moving up to the next grade at that pace may not be possible. These students can make progress and meet challenging goals in other ways. Any student with an IEP should be getting more than minimal educational benefit from their special education program. Endrew F. v. Douglas Cnty. Sch. Dist. RE-1 137 S.Ct. 988, 992 (2017).

Although the Court did not give any one test for deciding what appropriate progress would look like for every child, IEP teams must set up policies, procedures, and practices for:

  • Figuring out present levels of academic achievement and functional performance;
  • Setting measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals, based on the child’s present levels; and
  • Measuring a child’s progress toward meeting those goals.


The following examples show how different entities have decided what is progress. Every situation is different. You may need to consult with an advocate or attorney for your child’s specific situation.

Examples of Progress

  • IEPs do not need a goal for each of a student’s educational needs.
    A student’s IEP doesn’t have to a separate goal for each area of a student’s educational needs. The IEP is okay as long it addresses the student’s needs as a whole and lets them make appropriate progress. K.M. by Markham v. Tehachapi Unified Sch. Dist., No. 1:15-cv-001835, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52179 (E.D. Cal. April 5, 2017).
  • High grades can mean the student has progressed.
    On their report card, a student had received high grades. He had received an A+ in art, math and social studies and a B+ in language arts, reading, and writing. The Administrative Law Judge for the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) said the student had made progress. The grades were evidence of the student’s progress. The student “prospered” when their IEP goals were in effect. Ventura Unified Sch. Dist., No. 2021030296 (Cal. OAH June 18, 2021).7
  • Students can make progress without a separate targeted program.
    A student made progress without a targeted program to address their executive functioning skills. The parents had requested a separate targeted program. The student, however, met their on-task work completion goal over the year. They had improved by establishing good work habits, keeping their binder organized, and keeping track of their assignments. The student had not needed anything additional to improve. School districts do not need to maximize a student’s education or offer programs preferred by the parents. Parent on Behalf of Student v. San Marcos Unified Sch. Dist., No. 2020110479 (Cal. OAH June 10, 2021).

Examples of No Progress

  • IEPs need to be reasonable, not perfect.
    Student argued their IEP was not reasonably calculated to allow them to make progress. The school identified behaviors by the student that were inappropriate and prevented progress. The court said that the district had spent time, talent, and resources in multiple good faith attempts. The student’s IEP did not need to be perfect, and it did not need to guarantee progress. In re Butte Sch. Dist. No. 1, No. CV 14-60-BU-SHE, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13311 (D. Mont. January 28, 2019).
  • Districts must send home progress reports.
    Progress reports were sent home, but they were not sufficient. The reports discussed the student's progress mostly in general terms. They rarely contained quantitative information. They contained confusing or conflicting information, such as describing how the student was struggling to achieve a goal, but marking that the goal was met. The reports copied text verbatim from previous reports or failed to discuss the student's progress in certain areas. The court said that these reports did not allow the family to evaluate their child’s progress. Hood River Cty. Sch. Dist. v. Student, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 123391, Case No. 3:20-cv-1690-SI (D. Or. July 1, 2021).
  • Progress must be supported by data.
    At an OAH hearing, the school district failed to prove it developed appropriate academic goals. Present levels are required when writing the goals. At the hearing, there was no testimony to most of the goals’ appropriateness and measurability. For example, no speech pathologist testified that all of the language and speech goals were identified from the information available to the IEP team. No one said the goals were appropriate to meet the student’s needs. The school district did not have enough data to support their decisions. Pivot Charter School – San Diego v. Parents on Behalf of Student, Case No. 2020120031 (Cal. OAH May 13, 2021).