How To Write the SEP

Step by Step 

What IS an IEP? Or Is It an SEP?

There are several acronyms for the individualized plan of educational interventions created for a special needs child. The one that arose from federal legislation aimed at helping educate children with disabilities is the IEP — Individualized Educational Plan (program). Home schooling parents call this a Student Educational Plan (SEP) and sometimes an Individualized Student Plan (ISP). In all cases, the reference is to the same written program of interventions written specifically to strengthen the weaker areas of a child’s educational and life skills. Preschool students have a IFSP — Individualized Family Service Plan. Adolescents also usually obtain a Individualized Transition Plan (ITP) to accompany their IEP and prepare them for success after ending formal education. Through out this Special Needs Section, we use the term SEP primarily, but interchangeably, with the other acronyms. 

Where Do You Start?

When you write an SEP for a child, it can be a very simple process or a complex one. It CAN seem almost impossible the first time you attempt to get your knowledge of your child down onto paper, because it is something so close to the heart that it can be difficult to be objective. It will be very helpful to write answers to the following questions as if you were describing the child to a stranger. Putting the information down in writing truly helps focus and almost forces a parent into greater clarity when trying to evaluate, “Just what DOES the child need in order to benefit from an education?” The following steps look intimidating, but once the information is organized in front of you, the rest of the process will be much easier than if you had just tried to jot down some ideas in a disorganized approach.

So take some notebook paper and start writing! — one page for each response. Draw a line across the paper after you complete each page. (You will be coming back to these sheets.)

1.   You start where the child is now! In note form, write answers to the following questions.

a.   In what grade is the child? What grade level material is the child working
           on for each subject? Identify the present levels of performance.
           Use any documentation, such as previous testing,
           early report cards, observations made informally,
           and samples of student work.

b.   What are the skill areas that need special help?

c.   What is the learning style that meets the need?

d.   What kind of curriculum or approach works best with this child?

e.   What environment helps child perform well?

f.   What are the child’s strengths?

g.   What special accommodations or modifications are important for the child
           to do his/her best?

2.   Go back to the answers for items “a-g”. Use the answers for each question to write a paragraph that describes the child’s strengths and weaknesses. You are explaining why the child needs special individual educational planning (although ALL children really do!) This is called a “narrative summary” of strengths and weaknesses. This Summary of Strengths and Weaknesses is to be attached to the IEP/SEP. It provides documentation for why the child needs specially designed educational approaches, pacing, materials, and accommodations to succeed.

Setting Annual Goals

1.   Spend some time thinking about where you want to see the child by the end of one full school year in each area of weakness. Ask the Lord’s guidance and wisdom. For some children, those with severe limitations, there will have to be some difficult reality checks, and it may be necessary to pray for God’s peace to see how these long-term goals are going to help the child move forward in meeting God’s plans for his/her life. If you feel unclear about what a reasonable expectation or specific goal should be, use a Scope and Sequence approach (for details see Choosing Texts and Curriculum) to understand what is typically taught and to adjust for your child.

2.   Now narrow down your list so you can state what behaviors (skills) you want to see for five or six essential areas of weakness or need. These areas should be the long-term “big picture” items. These will be your major focus in your child’s SEP. Make sure that you don’t get bogged down early with too many ideas or creative ways to reach the one-year goals you identified! Keep in mind that with appropriate accommodations the child may be capable of working close to grade level in weaker areas! (See below where to find articles about Accommodations and Modifications.) If there is a proper place for creativity in teaching the special needs child, it is particularly in selecting which accommodations fit into the plan to help your child reach the long-range goals. (Make notes here on which accommodations you think of using.)

3.   It is helpful to consider the possible accommodations at this early point in SEP writing, because with accommodations and modifications, a greater range of achievement is possible for many areas of learning! This will affect the goals that you set for your child — the highest levels, realistically, that your child can achieve by the end of the year.

Accommodations can be and will be important, because they are usually permitted for the child’s use on many standardized tests! If they are not part of an SEP, it looks like a parent is just asking for accommodations on the test date to make the testing easier to improve scores! Type out the accommodations and modifications and add them to the SEP goals later.

4.   Once long-term “big picture” goals are written out, sit down with the Scope and Sequence for the upcoming year. Decide how much of the material in detail the child might realistically complete. Then split that content up into four approximately even sections, similar to a school’s marking periods. The end of each section is a cut-off “checkpoint.” The four checkpoints function like mileposts to see how much distance you have driven. At the checkpoints you find out whether the child is moving along fast enough to meet your selected year-end goals. If not, it may be necessary to revisit the long-term goals and revise them. Write these checkpoints down on the SEP form under Checkpoints (see the suggested form).

Writing Student Education Plan Goals for Each Identified Weakness

1.   Write a goal for each of the five or six weaknesses. Called a teaching “objective,” each goal should give four key facts —

a.   What grade level should the child be working by the end of the year?

b.   What should the child be doing? This requires an ACTION word.
           Examples: write, recite, state, describe.

c.   What you will expect as a “mastery” level?
           Examples: 4 out of 5 times; or 86%; or
           every time the child is asked; or does it all the time without asking.

d.   What you will do or use to measure this skill? This takes practice!
           Examples of measurement can be as simple as counting sit-ups
           to use of complicated scoring plans, such as a rubric.
           Standardized test scores or spelling weekly test scores can be used
           as the means of assessment.

2.   Decide how often the child will be evaluated for mastery. For some skills, it might be a daily check of whether the child is holding a fork at meals, or writing in complete sentences. Other goals would be longer range, such as reading a 3rd grade sight word list by January, or, when asked a question, communicating orally in complete sentences that are grammatically correct.

3.   Finally, determine what will be used to measure whether the child has reached mastery of a skill. It may be a physical action, a written essay, a recitation, or a musical performance, to name just a few examples. Some evaluations are informal, but data should still be recorded at some kind of regular time interval to satisfy the local administrators. A daily notebook is very helpful for recording short notes. Parents know all too well how easily exciting events get “lost” with the ongoing excitement of family living, and years later, it becomes hard to recollect them. It is also helpful for the parent to have a running record of progress. In home schooling special needs students, a local superintendent may be asking for documentation of how you KNOW that the child has learned a skill, and the notebook will be valuable.

Acceptable Goals ensure that you KNOW whether the child can do what he was asked to do, or knows in fact what you “think” he has learned. You should be able to:

1.   Observe the behavior or skill being demonstrated.

2.   Measure the level of performance (to compare with the child’s previous performance).

3.   State when you expect (hope) to see the skill mastered. This sets a temporal target to aim for (so you know how long it is taking to get to the goal). (If there is no demonstrated progress by each checkpoint, it is clear that changes must be made in teaching technique, goals, materials, or accommodations. In other words, it is time to make mid-course corrections.)

A helpful model for writing goals follows. Parents should fill in each blank with a goal for the coming school year that will work on strengthening a significant weakness. A suggested IEP/SEP form is on the following page, and contents of the “template” can be placed into the appropriate places.

(Child’s name)     will be able to     (action word)     at the     (number)     grade level with (number or percent)     success/accuracy in     (number)     trials.

Examples of Appropriate Goals

The following goals are observable, measurable, and time-limited —

  • Jon will be able to read aloud 25 words correctly from a 5th grade Dolch reading word list with no more than 4 errors.
  • Jean will be able to underline proper nouns when given a set of 15 sentences with mixed parts of speech with 90% mastery.

Goals that are too vague

  • Joseph will “recognize” circles in a 4th grade math book.  (What behavior would Joseph be carrying out that enabled you to KNOW he “recognized circles? This goal could be made acceptable by stating Joseph can point to circles 9 out of 10 times when shown a page of different shapes.)
  • Julia will understand main ideas in reading.  (There is no way stated for a parent to KNOW whether Julia understands, because there is no standard describing what “understanding” would look like. Revise by stating that Julia will answer ten questions based on the main idea & details with 90% accuracy.)
  • Julio will identify short vowels in lists of words.  (Is the parent expecting Julio to point to the short vowels, to read them aloud, or sound out the words using short vowels? The conditions for “identifying” are too unclear –and that means the parent can’t state for sure whether he has mastered the task.)

When you have completed writing out your goals for your child, read them through to determine if they are clear, observable, and measurable. Show them to another person who knows the child and ask for feedback. Pray about them and see that you sense God’s peace. When the document is finished, it will be a very helpful roadmap with checkpoints along the way to help keep your child on a forward path towards a goal of success. 

REVIEW: What should the final SEP document have in it?

When you have finished your work, you should have the following components assembled in your child’s IEP/SEP:

1.   A Biography page containing the essential data about your child: name, parent or guardian names, address, birth date, and grade level.

2.   A Narrative Summary page (the same page as above, or on a separate sheet), containing the Narrative Summary of (educational) Strengths and Weaknesses of your child. Be sure to expand on ways in which the “weaknesses” impact learning, but be equally complete in describing the strengths.

3.   Goal Pages. You should have a collection of “goal pages” (see suggested form on the next page or use one from a different source, including software versions!). On each page, you should state a long-range visionary learning objective you hope to see the child attain within the next school year. Remember — the IEP does NOT have to contain all the curriculum you are going to be teaching, nor all the SOLs for that grade level. In fact — the IEP technically ONLY needs to have goals for strengthening the weaknesses you described in your narrative of strengths and weaknesses!!!

4.   Benchmarks for Each Goal. Check that each “long-range” goal has several “benchmark” points or skills that you will use to check achievement at your time-line checkpoints (end of “marking periods”). These can be called the “short-range” goals, and it is helpful to write them underneath each “long range goal.” Each short-range goal should be measurable and observable, defined in terms of what your standard is going to be. This helps YOU and it satisfies the local school authorities.

5.   Checkpoints and Measurement Methods. You should place on the paper when and how you plan to measure achievement for each and every benchmark.

6.   Accommodations and Modifications. Finally, you should have a sheet on which you explain or list the accommodations and/or modifications you are going to use to teach each area of weakness. Examples — a braille calculator, taped books, voice dictation software, or lower (higher) than grade level texts. This assures you the right to use the same accommodations on formal, standardized testing later in the year.

Congratulations! You have just completed your child’s IEP!! Well done!

See a sample of the SEP Goal Page ready to be filled out.

Also see a portion of a filled-out version of the SEP Goal Page for a Happy Home Schooler at Filled-out-sample SEP Goal Page.

We will now assume we are looking at the Filled-out-sample SEP Goal Page (for a simplified version see below) during the following analysis.*** 

You can see at a glance looking at this sample SEP that Happy Schooler is weak in his written language (possibly in part because he has difficulty writing longhand and in part because of weak spelling and composition skills).  These weaknesses are evident because these areas are included as short-term sub-goals to help him strengthen his Written Expression and Spelling.  He is not yet working at the specified level of mastery for each sub-goal, but the schedule for achieving mastery is shown.  In other words, we know what skills Happy should acquire, and the schedule shows how he will progress through time!  The teacher will SEE what Happy does, be able to MEASURE it, and knows how often to check his progress.  If Happy did not show much progress in composition, the teacher would probably have to adjust the amount of the Language Arts text that Happy is expected to finish by June.  Goals can be changed!


Happy needs Keyboarding to accommodate weak hand-eye coordination.

Sub-goals and Methods of Evaluation (linked to Evaluation Schedule) indicated below.

Evaluation Schedule– 
(a)  1st 9 weeks November 15
(b)  2nd 9 weeks January 20
(c)  3rd 9 weeks March 20
(d)  4th 9 weeks May 15

(1)  Happy will be able to compose complete sentences with correct punctuation and capitalization on the computer using MS Word at the 5th grade level with 90% accuracy.
(a)  Evaluate printouts of work from Language Arts work book (scanned into computer to allow Happy to work on them) and teacher-made tests.   We should be at Chapter 4. Lang. Arts.
(b)  75% grade average for sentence writing.  We should be at Chapter 7 Lang. Arts.
(c)  We should be at Chapter 10.
(d)  We should be at Chapter 14.

(2)  Happy will be able use Spell Check to correct spelling errors circled on a rough draft typewritten paragraph at the __x__ grade level (in this case it would be hard to give a grade level to the words that were misspelled) and correct 100% of the mistakes.
(a)  Mom will circle words on a rough draft and Happy will look them up and grade the final printout paper for accuracy.   We should be at Chapter 4 Lang. Arts.   75% grade average for sentence writing.
(b)  We should be at Chapter 7 Lang. Arts.
(c)  We should be at Chapter 10.
(d)  We should be at Chapter 14.

(3)  Happy will be able to spell a list of 20 words from The Natural Speller using words at the 5th grade level at 90% mastery level.   Weekly 20 word spelling tests using keyboarding.
(a)  We should be through 1/4 of the fifth grade word list.   Average 85% on weekly tests.
(b)  We should be through 1/2 of the fifth grade word list.
(c)  We should be through 3/4 of the fifth grade word list.
(d)  We should be through all of the fifth grade word list.