History of the Individualized Education Program (IEP)

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CategoryEducation, IEP
The ECHO Program

The Individualized Education Program (IEP) is the educational road map for children with disabilities that outlines the exact education, services, and supplementary aids that will be provided for your child. It is important to understand the history of IEP to better understand the IEP process. 


In the U.S. Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education, the Court held that African American children had the right to equal educational opportunities and that racial discrimination in public schools was unconstitutional. After the decision in Brown, parents of students with disabilities began to bring lawsuits against their school districts for excluding and segregating their children with disabilities. The argument was based on the fact that by excluding students, schools therefore discriminated against the students because of their disabilities. 


Congress enacted the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in 1965. This Act helped provide resources to school districts to help ensure that students with disabilities had access to quality education. In 1966, the Act was amended to establish a grant program to help states initiate and improve educational programs for students with disabilities. 


The 1966 ESEA grant program was replaced by the Education of the Handicapped Act. The Act established a new grant program that further provided educational resources and programs for students with disabilities. However, this program did not include any specific mandates on the use of the funds provided by the grants nor did the program show to have significantly improved the education of students with disabilities. 

The landmark court cases of Pennsylvania Assn. for Retarded Children v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Mills v. Board of Education of District of Columbia launched an investigation into the status of students with disabilities not receiving adequate education throughout the country.

  • In Pennsylvania Assn. for Retarded Children v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the court found that a Pennsylvania law that allowed public school to deny free education to children who had not reached the mental age of five was unconstitutional and that Pennsylvania was responsible for providing free public education to all children regardless of whether or not the child had a disability.
  • The Mills v. Board of Education of District of Columbia case was very similar to Pennsylvania Assn. for Retarded Children v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The Mills court ruled that all students are entitled to free public education appropriate to their needs. 


IEP was first introduced into school systems when the right of students with disabilities to attend public schools were legally recognized under the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) in 1975. Prior to the Act, many students with disabilities were not allowed to attend school at all.

The Act contained provisions allowing students with disabilities to be placed in the “least restrictive environment” in order to allow students to have the opportunity to interact with their non-disabled peers. However, the Act was also limited by the fact that it only allowed separate schooling for children with disabilities when the disability was so severe that educational goals could not be reached in the typical classroom setting. This legislation was so important because it was the first time children with disabilities were granted a legal right to education. 


In 1986, an amendment to the EHA added early intervention for infants and toddlers. The Law made it a requirement for states that offer interdisciplinary educational services to disabled toddlers, infants, and their families to receive financial grants. The financial grants provided an incentive for states to offer these types of services while providing parents necessary early intervention educational services. 

President Reagan had also signed the Handicapped Children’s Protection Act (HCPA) which allowed parents the right to access their Child’s IEP and to permit parents to participate in the formation and implementation of their child’s IEP. Further, if parents deem their child’s IEP unsuitable, they have the right to a hearing under their State Education Department and to bring their case to state and/or federal court. 


In 1990, the name of the Education of All Handicapped Children’s Act was changed to Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA required IEP to be designed with parental approval to meet the needs of every child with a disability. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was also passed. This Act prohibited discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, services rendered by state and local governments, places of public accommodation, transportation, and telecommunication services. 


A 1997 amendment to IDEA required all students with disabilities to participate in state and district-wide assessments alongside their peers in general education as required by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. IDEA also initiated the use of individualized transition plans (ITP) to prepare students for success in their adult lives. Now, IDEA provided disabled students with equal education as their abled counterparts along with viable schooling options and individualized attention. 


In 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was enacted to ensure that all children have the opportunity to receive a high-quality education. This Act included that states were required to report on the progress of traditionally underserved students which specifically included students with disabilities. The Act also added technology assistance and loan programs to help schools get special education resources. Now, the NCLB has been renamed the Every Student Succeeds Act which sets a framework for the states to place goals for its schools to improve student performance. 


A 2004 amendment to IDEA changed the name of the law to Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) and brought IDEA into conformity with the NCLB. The amendment required early intervention for students, greater accountability and improved educational outcomes, and raised the standards for instructors who teach special education classes.

The purpose of reauthorizing the IDEA was to increase the focus on accountability and improve educational outcomes by emphasizing early intervention and research-based instruction. The Act now requires special education teachers to be highly qualified. States must now report the progress of children with disabilities on state and district assessments and are required to improve graduation and dropout rates among children with disabilities. 


Now, IEP is utilized so that every student with a disability has an equal opportunity to receive the same education as every other student. IEP is used to support and encourage a student’s educational goals and can be modified whenever necessary as long as all parties are advised and agree with the modifications.

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