The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Information on the Massachusetts IEP Improvement Project

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Jeffrey C. Riley, Commissioner
April 12, 2019

At the April 23 meeting, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) will receive an update on the Massachusetts Individualized Education Program (IEP) Improvement Project, one of our initiatives to strengthen the quality of special education in the Commonwealth. This memorandum provides background information and an overview of recent progress on the project.

Purpose and Historical Context

Under state and federal special education law, students with disabilities who are eligible for special education are entitled to receive an Individualized Education Program (IEP) designed to meet their unique needs. Since the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) introduced the current Massachusetts IEP form in 2000, the Department has received numerous requests from stakeholders to improve both the IEP development process and the form itself. While the IEP must comply with legal requirements, it should also support improved results for students with disabilities, helping to close achievement gaps in academic, behavioral, and social-emotional domains and ensuring college and career readiness. Administrators, teachers, families, and other stakeholders have asked the Department to develop a comprehensive IEP system that supports implementation of IEPs focused on improving student outcomes.

In addition, research1 commissioned by the Department in 2012-2014 confirmed that the current IEP development process does not fully support schools and districts to implement the most effective identification, services, and placement of students with disabilities. The research also revealed inequities across disability and demographic categories in students' access to general education curriculum, high-quality instruction, and education in the least restrictive environment (LRE).

Based on these data and research findings, the Department began a process to improve the development and implementation of high-quality IEPs and address the issues described above through the IEP Improvement Project.

As part of the initial IEP Improvement Project efforts, the Department solicited extensive stakeholder feedback, including from the state Special Education Advisory Council, practitioners and administrators, parents, advocates, and students, as to how best to improve the development and implementation of high-quality IEPs. Based on the feedback, the Department determined that the new IEP development process should enhance the data-based cycle of inquiry so that it will better support both compliance and results.

Research, Planning and Recommendation Report

For the next phase of the IEP Improvement Project, in February 2018, the Department contracted with AnLar, a Washington, D.C. based consulting firm, to conduct research and, based upon the research, provide the Department with a Research, Planning and Recommendation Report. AnLar's research focused on two areas: evidence-based special education policies, practices, and procedures; and market research on a cost-effective IT solution to meet the goals of the project. AnLar's research included a national literature review of best practices on IEP development, and a series of surveys, focus groups, and interviews with stakeholders, including families and directors of special education. AnLar partnered with the Center for Educational Leadership and Technology (CELT) to provide expertise on the IT aspect of its research.

In December 2018, AnLar completed its Research, Planning and Recommendation Report. The report contains the following three recommendations:

  1. The Department should improve IEP practices as a focused effort that precedes any efforts to pursue a technical solution.
  2. Based on current stakeholder feedback, there is low desire and need for the state to develop and host a statewide IEP solution. Instead, the Department should consider providing grants to vendors or consortiums of districts to enhance existing technical solutions to meet the requirements of the revised IEP development process (once established).
  3. The Department should develop a project governance structure that includes a communication and stakeholder engagement plan and establishes a core group of stakeholders to guide and advise the Department throughout the duration of the project.

Next steps

Based on AnLar's report and additional research the Department has done, the Department's next steps include:

Senior Associate Commissioner Russell Johnston and members of the Department's Office of Special Education Planning and Policy will be at the Board meeting on April 23 to answer your questions.


Download PowerPoint File
IEP Improvement Project Recommendation PowerPoint Presentation

1 "Review of Special Education in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts: A Synthesis Report." Thomas Hehir, 2014.