Virginia Commonwealth University
May 23, 2011
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Wanda R. Bass, M.Ed.

The standards-based educational movement is not new. Since the 1980s, this movement has been driven by the establishment of high academic standards and accountability for the general education content for all students, which includes students with disabilities (Virginia Department of Education, 2011). These standards describe what students should know and be able to accomplish in each content area and at each grade level. The standards tell teachers what to teach, but not how to teach. The methods for teaching students with disabilities come through the differentiation of instruction specified in the Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) that correspond to state standards (Cortiella, 2008).

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Using SOLs to develop Individualized Education Programs combines the best of special and general education.

What are standards-based IEPs?

The development of standards-based IEPs delineates the process in which the IEP team incorporates state content standards into the IEP. The IEP is linked to the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) curriculum for the grade in which a student is enrolled (VDOE, 2011). The goals will assist parents, educators and students in focusing on the general education curriculum for the student and facilitating achievement within the student’s grade-level. The goals support grade level content and are not isolated from what students in the general education classroom are learning (Cortiella, 2008).

Why develop standards-based IEPs?

The change to using standards-based IEPs has been supported by federal legislation. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 makes schools accountable for the learning and achievement of all students. The need to align IEPs with the general education curriculum was first introduced in the 1997 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In 2004, IDEA was reauthorized to align with NCLB, and a powerful connection was created with the emphasis on access to the general education curriculum for students with disabilities (VDOE, 2011).

As a result of this legislation, the Virginia Department of Education has introduced standards-based IEPs as best practice for IEP development. The development of standards-based IEPs with Virginia’s SOLs will reinforce the educational principle that all students are general education students who participate in the same educational curriculum with the supports provided to achieve and make progress in that curriculum (MacQuarrie, 2009).

What do we need to know to develop IEPs with Virginia’s SOL curriculum?

A standards-based IEP is directly linked to Virginia’s SOL curriculum and contains the same components as a traditional IEP. The present level of performance and the annual goals are linked to Virginia’s SOL curriculum. This linkage of the present level of academic and functional performance (PLoP) and annual goals based on Virginia’s state standards creates an educational plan for the student that aspires toward a proficient level on the state standards. A standards-based IEP also contains:

  • Accommodations and/or modifications
  • Service statements
  • Student’s level of participation with peers in the general education setting
  • How the student will participate in state assessments
  • Methods of assessing and reporting student progress
  • At age 14, secondary transition (VDOE, 2011)

To develop IEPs that correlate to Virginia’s SOLs, the members of the IEP team first must have an understanding of the general education curriculum — not just what is in it, but how the curriculum is organized over time. The IEP team members need to have knowledge of how to assess the student in relation to the Virginia SOLs for the student’s grade-level and must consider what accommodations and supports will be needed. The IEP team must also determine what evidence to use to determine what the student has learned at the end of critical chunks of the curriculum, who will be responsible for teaching these goals and where the teaching will occur (Cortiella, 2008).

What is the process for the development of standards-based IEPs?

The National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE) created a document, A Seven-Step Process to Creating Standards-based IEPs, that presents a seven-step process for the development of standards-based IEPs. The goal of this document is the creation of IEPs that enable students with disabilities to demonstrate academic achievement linked to grade-level content through access to the general education curriculum (Holbrook, 2007).

This seven-step process is briefly described below:

  1. Define the learning needs of the student and be knowledgeable of what students in an enrolled grade level are expected to learn.
  2. Collect data to determine the PLoP.
  3. Define skill gaps within the present level of performance and create annual goals based on what the student must learn in order to close the gap.
  4. Determine how progress will be assessed and reported to parents.
  5. Determine what accommodations are needed in order to provide a student with access to instruction and the opportunity to demonstrate knowledge and skills.
  6. Determine continuum of service (level of support).
  7. Determine the most appropriate assessment option for the student (Holbrook, 2007).

What are the benefits of developing standards-based IEPs?

Using Virginia’s SOLs to develop IEPs combines the best of special and general education. Aligning a student’s special education program with learning expectations for all students helps ensure that students with disabilities benefit from school accountability and improvement activities just like other students. Table 1 highlights some benefits to key stakeholders.

Benefits of standards-based IEPs

Student benefits Parent benefits General education and special education teacher benefits School benefits
Students will receive specially designed instruction linked to general education curriculum for their enrolled grade. Parents will have a better understanding of what is expected of all students in their grade level. General education and special education teachers will have a closer working relationship as they support student learning. Schools will provide special education teacher with an improved understanding of academic content standards.
Students will receive appropriate accommodations designed to support their achievement at grade level. Parents will have a better understanding of where their child is functioning in relationship to what the state expects of a child in the enrolled grade. General education and special education teachers will have a better understanding of what students with disabilities need to facilitate grade-level achievement. Schools will provide time for general education and special education teachers to collaborate and support student learning.
Students will be better prepared to earn a standard diploma and enjoy success beyond secondary school. Parents will be able to support their child’s learning at home. General and special education teachers will have higher expectations of students with disabilities. Schools will view students with disabilities as capable of achieving grade-level proficiency.

(Cortiella, 2008)


In conclusion, standards-based IEPs will improve the opportunity of students with disabilities to receive specially designed instruction linked to general education curriculum for their enrolled grade and appropriate accommodations to support achievement of grade-level expectations.


Cortiella, C. (2008). Understanding the standards-based individualized education program. Retrieved May 28, 2010 from

Holbrook, M. (2007). A seven-step process to creating standards-based IEPs. Retrieved February 13, 2011 from

MacQuarrie, Patricia. (2009). Standards-based individualized education programs (IEPs) benefit students. Focus on Results, 7(2). Retrieved May 28, 2010 from

Virginia Department of Education. (2011). Standards-based Individualized Education Program (IEP). Retrieved February 11, 2011 from


For additional information, a technical assistance guidance document has been designed with supporting materials, including a Web-based training module and standards-based worksheets. These materials are available on the Virginia Department of Education website and should be used in conjunction with the Regulations Governing Special Education Programs in Virginia and the local division policies and procedures.



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