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Special Education

IEP Improvement Project — Updates

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EDCO collaborative logo

November 2020 – January 2021

The Students and Families First Coalition (SFFC) was excited to begin the work with the Early Adopters for the IEP Improvement Project in November 2020. On December 4th, the coalition met with interested districts and guided them through a process to choose the schools that would most benefit from being a part of the Early Adopters cohort. On December 18th, the schools and districts met to begin the process of forming their respective teams at each school. In January 2021, the full cohort met and engaged in an interactive virtual workshop. In this workshop, the teams received an overview of the IEP Improvement Project from DESE and commenced conversations on best practices for instruction, equity, and family engagement. Additionally, they began a self-assessment of their IEP processes. To date, there are 19 districts and 35 schools participating in the cohort.

2021 Early Adopter Districts (Map of Massachusetts), Blackstone Valley, Carver, Chelsea, Clinton, Foxborough Regional Charter, Groton-Dunstable, Guild School, League School, Malden, Marblehead, Mashpee, Medfield, New Bedford, Norton, Perkins School, Pinoneer Valley, Quabbin, Waltham, Worcester

January 20, 2021

DESE is happy to announce the updated IEP Improvement Project landing page. The new page delineates the Goals, Theory of Action, and Principles of the IEP Improvement Project. We hope this update will continue to enhance collaboration with stakeholders as we work together to improve the IEP process. Additional updates to the landing page will be forthcoming as we endeavor to provide you with the most up-to-date information possible.

December 30, 2020

As 2021 begins, stakeholders will meet as one unified cohort on January 13, 2021 to review the responses to the first part of the ISERS document and formulate recommendations to DESE. EDCO has synthesized the data collected from both cohorts and provided stakeholders with summaries for review. Working in small groups on specific sections, stakeholders will be asked to identify the overarching themes based on the suggestions and concerns raised by both cohorts. Upon consensus, the themes will be put forth for final review, and recommendations will be made to DESE. This cycle will then be repeated for the second part of the ISERS document.

In addition, the IEP Improvement team has identified fifteen Core Stakeholders who will facilitate group discussions to ensure that group numbers remain small and to encourage continuous participation from all stakeholders. The Core Stakeholders will have their first meeting as a group in January 2021 before the January 13th session.

December 08, 2020

As we begin the month of December, multiple Stakeholder Engagement sessions have transpired, resulting in feedback from a diverse body of stakeholders reviewing the ISERS document. The groups are on track to finish reviewing and providing input on the current draft of the ISERS document by mid-January. EDCO Collaborative has begun the process of analyzing the data which has been collected through written individual responses, meeting notes from the breakout discussions, executive summaries from each session, and survey feedback. Preliminary data on the feedback indicates that there have been parallel themes across the groups.

With approximately 300 stakeholders participating, the size of the meetings has consistently grown from the first meeting in September. To ensure a meaningful discussion about the process at each meeting and to accommodate all stakeholders, EDCO has added additional sections. This will keep the meeting numbers smaller and provide more opportunities for stakeholders to participate consistently.

November 24, 2020

The second cohort for the IEP Improvement Project has joined in the process of reviewing documents and providing recommendations for improvement. This new cohort includes a cross-section of educators with representation from special education teachers, general education teachers, administrators, and related service providers from more than 80 districts, schools, and collaboratives across the Commonwealth.

Participating Early Adopter districts are also included in this new cohort for stakeholder engagement. They include: Blackstone Valley Regional Vocational Technical High School, Carver Public Schools, Chelsea Public Schools, Clinton Public Schools, Foxborough Regional Charter School, Groton-Dunstable Regional School District, League School of Greater Boston, Lenox Public Schools, Malden Public Schools, Marblehead Public Schools, Mashpee Public Schools, Medfield Public Schools, New Bedford Public Schools, Norton Public Schools, Perkins School for the Blind, Pioneer Valley Regional School District, Quabbin Regional Public Schools, The Guild for Human Services School, and Waltham Public Schools.

The new stakeholders are meeting every other week to catch up with the existing cohort of representatives from approximately thirty advocacy groups, parental groups, and state organizations that began the process in September 2020. Stakeholders from both cohorts will convene together starting on January 13, 2021 and will continue to convene for the rest of the document review and feedback process.

November 12, 2020

The IEP Improvement Project is well underway and expanding its outreach to educators across the state. In the recruitment phase, The IEP Improvement Team received an impressive number of competitive applications for the Early Adopter Cohort. Nineteen schools and districts representing the Commonwealth geographically and demographically were selected and notified last week of their acceptance. This network of schools and districts includes charter schools, approved special education schools, and a regional vocational technical school.

In addition, nearly 200 new stakeholders were recruited to join in the Stakeholder Engagement groups. These groups will continue to grow as the Early Adopters identify stakeholders within their schools and districts who will also participate in the Stakeholder Engagement groups.

October 1, 2020

The IEP Improvement Project is underway with stakeholder engagement meetings consisting of parents, advocates, and legal representatives convening monthly. More than 60 stakeholders from across the Commonwealth have met to begin the task of providing essential feedback and recommendations on the IEP process. This review has focused on providing feedback on draft guidance documents. As we look to expand the stakeholder engagement group, we are currently recruiting educators representative of all demographics across the state to join in this process.

We are also seeking schools and districts to participate in our work with the early adopter cohorts.

How Can I Participate?

  • Stakeholder Engagement Group — Stakeholder engagement groups will include representation from schools, districts, state organizations, parents, advocacy groups, practitioners, and the legal community. To sign up for the Stakeholder Engagement Group, please complete this sign up form.

  • Early Adopter Cohort — The IEP Improvement Project will select early adopter districts and schools through an application process. These schools and districts will also receive grant funding. To apply to the Early Adopter cohort, please go to this link and complete the application form. All applicants for the Early Adopter cohort and any interested parties can also download a hard copy of the survey .

The deadline to apply for either group has been extended to Friday, October 30th. EDCO will be contacting all applicants by November 2nd and the orientation sessions will be held in the latter part of the week. Please email for additional information.

October 1, 2020

Three IEP Improvement Project Prongs:
1. Guidance documents (drafted by DESE)
2. Stakeholder engagement and feedback on guidance documents
3. Professional development (coming soon)
Collaboration among and between all three prongs to continuously refine guidance documents and professional development

Based on the research and recommendations outlined in previous updates and posted on the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's (DESE) website, DESE shifted its project activities to focus on improving the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process, prior to any efforts to pursue an IT solution.

Shifting from the original conceptualization of an IT solution as the tool for change, DESE's IEP Improvement Project is now comprised of three main areas of work: the development of guidance documents, stakeholder engagement, and professional development. DESE has embraced these three integrated strands of project work to drive change in special education practice.

  1. Guidance Documents

    Education for all students — especially those with disabilities — is primarily about results. Schools are most effective in achieving positive results for students when educators and administrators continuously seek to learn about and improve evidence-based best practices with fidelity. In support of districts' and schools' continuous learning, the IEP Improvement Project is drafting a suite of resources which builds on evidence-based practices and procedures, current DESE guidance, and existing DESE trainings. The Project will:

    This suite will provide guidance from referral to exit and will provide role-based tools for general and special educators, families, and students.

    Stakeholders will provide feedback about the suite of resources through both the stakeholder engagement strand and the professional development strand. Early adopters will provide further refinement and operationalization of these resources.

  2. Stakeholder Engagement

    In consultation with DESE, EDCO Collaborative is designing and implementing an extensive evidence-based stakeholder engagement program to obtain valuable feedback which will lead to important changes in IEP development and special education practice at all levels.

    Starting in August 2020 and continuing throughout the fall, EDCO Collaborative is convening stakeholders — inclusive of parents, teachers, administrators, related service provides, advocates, students, and other interested individuals — to obtain authentic and relevant feedback on resources and tools designed to re-envision the special education process from referral to exit. Stakeholder feedback will include recommended edits and revisions to existing and proposed resources, as well as recommended solutions to identified issues related to supporting districts and schools in using those resources.

    For more information, or to get involved in this consultative process, please contact Dana Mullaley at EDCO Collaborative: (339) 222-5633 or .

  3. Professional Development

    The Department is committed to advancing professional development that will support all districts in implementing the improved IEP process developed to improve opportunities, achievement, and positive outcomes for all students with disabilities. To accomplish this, DESE is working with a vendor to support and assist district teams to evaluate their current practices, create a plan for change, implement the new IEP process with fidelity, and implement high-leverage special education instructional practices.

    CAST, the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy, the Federation for Children with Special Needs, and BlackPrint Education Consulting are combining their expertise and experience to improve the IEP process among a cohort of early adopter schools and districts. The team — which is referred to as the Students and Families First Coalition, or SFFC — brings together experts in special education, inclusion, and instructional effectiveness; improvement science; family engagement; and culturally responsive practices.

    The SFFC team will support schools to achieve four main goals:

    • Participants will be able to use various data sources to identify areas for improvement in the IEP process and improve outcomes for students with disabilities.
    • Participants will collaborate with all stakeholders to create a strategic IEP improvement plan relevant to the school context.
    • Participants will strategically implement the new IEP process.
    • Participants will use high-leverage instructional practices to ensure that students with disabilities achieve academic success.

    The Department and SFFC are committed to supporting districts and schools across the state. Through this project, they will develop resources and professional development designed to provide effective practices and techniques to assist individuals in applying these practices throughout the entire IEP process.

January 17, 2020

On 1/17/2020, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) received an update about the Massachusetts Individualized Education Program (IEP) Improvement Project. For more information regarding this briefing, we invite you to review the memorandum provided to the Board. (See page 2)

January 10, 2020

Is Special Education the Right Service?: Referral, Evaluation & Eligibility Guide

On 1/10/202, Special Education Directors were emailed an updated partial-draft of Is Special Education the Right Service; Referral, Evaluation & Eligibility Guide (ISERS) for their review. If you didn’t receive this email, you may request a copy of ISERS by contacting the Special Education Planning and Policy Development Office at .

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) appreciates the feedback you have provided so far on the Massachusetts IEP Improvement Project. Extensive stakeholder outreach regarding the draft-document, which will include multiple opportunities for your feedback, will be announced soon.

April 24, 2019

On 4/23/2019, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) received an update about the Massachusetts Individualized Education Program (IEP) Improvement Project. For more information regarding this update, we invite you to review the memorandum and presentation provided to the Board.

December 20, 2018

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has received AnLar's 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. For more information regarding AnLar's research and proposed recommendations, we invite you to read two documents : 1) a cover letter from Senior Associate Commissioner Russell Johnston and 2) AnLar's five-page Executive Summary of its full report. To request a copy of the full report, which is in excess of 150 pages, please contact the Special Education Planning and Policy Development Office at or call 781-338-3375.

May 7, 2018

In May we invited families, students with IEPs, and other interested parties to complete a survey. The survey was available in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Haitian Creole. The survey helped us learn more of your thoughts about the IEP development process, and the technology districts/schools currently use.

May 1, 2018

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) appreciates the feedback you have provided so far on the Massachusetts IEP Improvement Project. As a field, you have provided a tremendous amount of feedback over the last few years - all the input you have provided so far has helped us make critical decisions to move the work forward. DESE is conducted additional research to update initial information driving the IEP Improvement Project. In order to complete this research, DESE contracted with AnLar, a Washington, D.C. based consulting firm. AnLar's role is to partner with DESE to complete research that will inform and assist MA to improve current outcomes-based IEP development and implementation processes. AnLar is also partnering with the Center for Educational Leadership and Technology (CELT) to research IT solution options that facilitate these processes.

We are explored more deeply the technological aspects of a new IEP. To do so, we are implemented a wide-reaching stakeholder engagement process, which included a survey, focus groups, and interviews.


Updates to MA Electronic IEP Request for Information (RFI)


MA Electronic IEP Request for Information (RFI)
The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Special Education Planning and Policy Development Office and the Executive Office of Education (EOE) is announcing a recently posted Request for Information (RFI). The purpose of this RFI is to elicit the advice and best analysis of knowledgeable persons in the vendor community to enable us to craft a potential future solicitation for a modernized electronic system and processes for developing and implementing Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for students with disabilities in the Commonwealth.


We appreciate the field's continued support for and interest in the IEP Improvement Project as a means of improving educational outcomes for students with IEPs. The Department's development of process flows and best practice tools and resources in consultation with the Executive Office of Education's Information Technology (EOE-IT) team is continuing. Currently, we are working together to identify an appropriate IT strategy for development of the online system. New best practice guidance and resources will be provided by the Department as they are developed. We are hopeful that interested districts may be able to begin using an online IEP development system early in school year 2016-2017.


The Department has received over 500 responses to the IEP Improvement Project survey. Thank you for taking the time to respond and provide valuable feedback. The Department has removed the survey link in order to analyze the responses. New information will be posted on this webpage as it becomes available. The ImproveIEP email address continues to be monitored, so please feel free to email to offer your suggestions.


DESE has received several inquiries about the IEP Improvement Project and the anticipated roll out of the eIEP system. Due to factors outside the control of the Department, the initial training and testing with early adopters is delayed until the Spring of 2016. If you have any comments about the IEP process or form, please do not hesitate to provide input using the electronic questionnaire. For further information and directions for using the electronic questionnaire, please refer to the post below that is dated 12/23/2014.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
These FAQs are based on feedback provided by diverse stakeholders from across the state. This document will be updated throughout the project. Thank you for your continued input!


The Department has spent much of the fall creating representative models that illustrate the content and functionality that this online system may include. Based on your input, the first several sections of the IEP development process are now online and ready for your feedback. To view the screenshots and help us improve the online IEP system, please provide your feedback using the link at the bottom of this update.

The Department encourages you to display and discuss the screenshots with colleagues at events such as parent advisory council meetings, staff meetings, professional organization convenings, etc. The questionnaire has been designed so that you may submit feedback individually or as a group.

While these representative models are intended to spark initial conversation about the content, logic, and functionality of the new online IEP system, please note that these models do not yet represent the full scope of the new IEP process and form.

Additional work over the next several months will bring new developments, including:

  • Differentiation for students in specific age groups: The final version of the new IEP process and form will be differentiated by age group, with specific forms to better meet the needs of students ages 3-5, 5-14, and 14-22. However, the samples we are releasing now include only the process and form for students ages 5–14. Please include feedback for any of the three age groups in the questionnaire. The link to the questionnaire is located at the end of this update.
  • Additional sections of the IEP form: The current representative models include much of the new IEP development process, including the vision statement, key parent information (including strengths and challenges), evaluation results, and access and participation supports. However, much of the form is still in design. Leave your e-mail in the questionnaire, and we'll let you know when additional sections are ready for your feedback.
  • Case management flow: While the new online IEP system will include case management functions similar to those of other online IEP providers, these representative samples include only the initial design of the IEP Team process itself. Again, if you leave your e-mail in the questionnaire, we'll reach out when samples of this additional functionality are available.
  • An interactive web system: At this stage in the design process, you will see screenshots rather than interactive forms. We've designed these images to give you an idea of the functionalities that we hope to build into the new system. Descriptions are provided alongside each image to further explain the functionalities so that you can get a fuller picture of what the system will look like when developed.
  • Flow chart — This document provides an overview of the order in which the current representative models are introduced. Each step in this flow chart corresponds to one or more representative models — each highlighted step has been targeted for feedback in the questionnaire. Also included are additional steps currently in design. The corresponding additional models will be posted to this webpage in the future for your feedback.

  • All current representative models — If you would like to view all 29 of the screenshots that have been developed so far, feel free to browse this document.

Thank you very much in advance for your valuable feedback!


Thank you to the more than 550 stakeholders who have provided initial feedback regarding the creation of a new online IEP system. The IEP Improvement Project team here at DESE is hard at work creating representative models showing possible content and system functionality. These models will soon be posted to this website for your feedback!

In the meantime, take a look at this PowerPoint , which provides more information on the details of the project.

Feel free to submit your e-mail comments to .

Last Updated: January 20, 2021

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