Comprehensive Inclusive Education: General Education & the Inclusive IEP

Comprehensive Inclusive Education: General Education & the Inclusive IEP

TIES Center, Haring Center on Inclusive Education, University of Washington, College of Education

Introduction and Rationale

A group of students working together on a project.

The planning process described below is intended to support the creation and provision of a curricular and instructional program based on the acknowledgment that:

  • each child is a general education student.
  • the general education curriculum and routines and the Individualized Education Program (IEP) comprise a student’s full educational program.
  • the IEP for a student qualifying for special education services is not the student’s curriculum.

Curriculum and instruction based upon these principles are often not in place for students with the most extensive needs, including those with significant cognitive disabilities (Wehmeyer, Shogren & Kurth, 2021). Therefore, this process focuses upon application for those students. Students who qualify to receive special education services, especially those with more intensive needs, have ended up with the IEP being their program and being seen not as a general education student but as a special education student only, when in fact, each and every child is a general education student. In addition, when a student qualifies for special education services, those services are to be provided in collaboration with general educators to support access and progress in the general education curriculum AND on their IEP goals. The IEP is intended to support a student’s progress in general education curriculum and routines, as well as other essential skills that support a student’s independence or interdependence across school, home, and other community environments. A comprehensive inclusive education program based upon these principles is important because without that focus, a student’s learning opportunities and school and post-school outcomes are diminished. In order to create an effective comprehensive inclusive education program, collaboration between general educators, special educators, and families is needed.

This planning process is based on a vision and expectation that each student can actively participate, belong, contribute, and learn in the school and larger community. These expectations benefit each individual student as well as the larger community, resulting in more diverse, vibrant, and caring environments that embrace and celebrate the contributions of each to the whole.

IEP Planning Process

1. collaborative conversation. 2. Creating an Inclusive IEP. 3. Education Day-at-a-Glance. 4. Ongoing collaboration.

The planning process consists of four parts:

  1. An initial collaborative conversation between general and special educators and the family to address the context and content of general education curriculum and instruction, as well as support for students with extensive needs as a member of the general education classroom. 
  2. A discussion of specific considerations for creating an inclusive IEP. This discussion will include the student’s IEP team, including special education, general education, family, specialized instructional support personnel, student, and peers.
  3. Based upon the outcomes of the inclusive IEP discussion, an “Education Day-at-a-Glance” is created and shared with all members of the team.
  4. The team, including teachers, family members, and specialized instructional support personnel, will agree upon a process for ongoing collaboration during the year and support of one another and the student.

Inclusive IEP Planning Worksheet

See the planning worksheet to guide you and your team through this process. 

Part 1: Initial Collaborative Conversation

3 overarching learning components:

  1. participating in routines and transitions
  2. engaging in grade-level academics and other essential skills
  3. interacting with others
1. At any time during the year before the team engages in the IEP development process, ensure that there have been initial collaborative conversations between: 
  • general and special educators and the family to ensure understanding of the assumptions underlying the comprehensive inclusive education program and why they are important.  Those assumptions are:
    • Each child is a general education student.
    • The general education curriculum and routines and the IEP comprise a student’s full educational program.
    • The IEP for a student qualifying for special education services is not the student’s curriculum.
  • general education and special education teachers about the expectations and routines in the general education classroom and the general education standards, units, and objectives that will be addressed across the school year. (It is recommended that this discussion happens prior to the beginning of the school year and is summarized at the IEP meeting).
  • general education and special education teachers and the family of the student with extensive support needs focused on how the student communicates, their strengths, interests, present levels of performance across general education content areas and other essential skills, and effective instructional strategies including peer support. 
  • the family and teachers to provide an opportunity for the family/student to share their vision related to the student working, living, playing, and contributing to the community now, and in the future. 

Part 2: Discussion of Considerations to Create the Inclusive IEP

diver group of adults meeting in a library

2a. Identifying Goals based on the Three Major Learning Components 

All students, regardless of whether they have a disability or not, have learning opportunities throughout the day related to three major learning components: 

  • Participating in Routines and Transitions 
  • Engaging in Grade-Level Academics and Other Essential Skills 
  • Interacting with Others            

These components are important in the education of all students and contribute to supporting the realization of belonging, active participation, contributing, and learning in the short and long term. In order for the student’s IEP to be viewed as part of (rather than the whole of) their educational program, use the three major learning components to frame and develop no more than six-to-eight IEP goals that address priorities for the student as a member of general education.  

The question prompts for each of the three major learning components in the next table can be useful for developing inclusive IEP goals as well as special education supports, service delivery, and specially designed instruction (SDI). There are also questions to ask the student for their input. The student may also wish to invite some classmates to participate in the discussion. Often friends have perspectives that enhance learning and connection to others.

Participating in Routines and Transitions(1-2 goals)

What are the key routines and transitions in the general education classroom and across the school day?

What skills/goals could the student be supported to achieve that would enable them to independently/ interdependently engage in general education classroom and school routines and transitions? For example: 

  • materials management
  • transitions between activities
  • general classroom operation (for example, lunch count, attendance)
  • being prepared, starting, and ending tasks
  • going from large group to small group activities
  • transitions within the building, as well as coming to and leaving school

Student Questions (possibly with help from family or peers)

  • What does a day look like for you? What is your schedule and routines?
  • What helps you best be a  part of your school community? Home? Larger community?
  • Are there other activities you would like to join?
  • Are there other routines you’d like to take on? Why would you prioritize those activities?

Engaging in Grade-level Academics & Other Essential Skills (2-3 goals)

What are the big ideas, essential vocabulary, and skills taught in reading, math, writing, social studies, and science this school year? (Refer to your state standards or )

What big ideas, essential vocabulary, and skills could be prioritized that would enable the student to make the most progress in the curriculum in each content area? See sample goals/ objectives below.

What are essential skills that the student needs that will enable better access to the curriculum and support independence/ interdependence across environments? (For example, foundational academics, technology, self-advocacy, self-agency in terms of behavioral supports needed.)

Student Questions (possibly with help from family or peers)

  • What are some classes, subjects, or activities you enjoy and feel successful being a part of?
  • What are some classes, subjects, or activities you think you would enjoy, but maybe have not yet tried?
  • What are some classes or subjects that feel more challenging?
  • What makes those classes more successful or challenging?
  • What helps you best learn and participate at school? At home and in the community?

Interacting with Others  (1-2 goals)

What skills/goals could the student be supported to achieve that would enable them to independently/ interdependently interact and communicate with others to:

  • self-advocate, have their needs met?
  • engage in learning tasks?
  • socialize and build friendships?

Student Questions (possibly with help from family or peers)

  • What do you enjoy most about school?
  • What activities do you enjoy outside of school?
  • Share about your friendships and relationships.
  • Do you feel like you would like more/different friends and relationships in addition to those you already have? If so, why?
  • What are your interests?
  • How do you prefer to communicate with others?
  • If you had a choice, would you prefer doing activities with large groups or small groups of people?

 Example of a goal and short-term objective: (goal may be adapted based on individual’s strengths/needs and baseline present levels of performance): 

Goal: When given a general education class setting, “student” will master a minimum of 2 essential understandings/big ideas, 2 vocabulary words/terms, and 2 facts/concepts/skills within each unit of study in English Language Arts (ELA), across a quarter as measured by classroom assignments/activities and teacher made assessments.

Short Term Objectives

  • “Student” will demonstrate understanding of a minimum of 1 big idea, vocabulary word, or a fact/concept/skill via probe questions/activities conducted twice per week in the context of daily assignments/activities during ELA, as noted by staff records by ________. 
  • “Student” will demonstrate understanding of a minimum of 2 big ideas, 2 vocabulary words, and 2 facts/concepts/skills via probe questions/activities conducted twice per week in the context of daily assignments/activities during ELA, as noted by staff records by _______.

2b. Do the family, student, or peers see opportunities for addressing any of these priorities outside of the school day?

Overarching Priority Areas: 

  • Participating in routines and transitions
  • Engaging in grade-level academics and other essential skills
  • Interacting with others

If so, how, where, and when?

2c. Inclusive Service delivery/LRE Considerations

Are any special education services provided outside of the general education class? If so, why? 

  • The team will want to consider how to creatively offer most special education services within the general education classroom, delivered in a flexible way. (For example, using general education teachers, intervention teachers, peers, paraprofessionals, and special education teachers.)
  • If special education services are not provided in the context of the general education classroom, are flexible learning environments that benefit all students provided? (For example, general pod areas outside the classroom, small group breakout spaces, individual instruction areas for all students.)

2d. Inclusive Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) /Supplementary Aids and Services  

  • How is data being used to inform instruction? 
  • What are the least intrusive supports that can be provided to allow the student to experience success in the general education classroom?
  • Things to consider include:
    • physical accessibility of school/classroom
    • instructional accommodations (engaging in instruction and activities)
    • social/behavioral/communication supports
    • collaborative support (specifically identify any capacity-building support that will be provided to school staff, families, or peers; Kurth et al., 2019)
  • If personnel supports are identified as necessary (for example, 1:1 paraprofessional support), consider how supports might be systematically faded in favor of more natural supports such as classroom paraprofessional support, assistive technology or natural peer supports. 

2e. In summary, as the team considers the whole educational program that has been created, ask these three questions 

  1. Will the student experience membership?
  2. Will the student be actively participating at school?
  3. Will the student be learning the grade-level general education curriculum?  

Part 3: Develop the Education Day-at-a-Glance 

group of diverse young students on the playground

3a. The Education Day-at-a-Glance provides a format for the team to:

  • connect the IEP goals and data collection opportunities to the daily schedule, with IEP goals prioritized across the whole day, and 
  • assess which supports/accommodations are most likely to be used across the schedule to support access and learning.               

The Education Day-at-a Glance supports effective collaboration among all general and special educators, including specialized instructional support personnel. Everyone can work from the same information which is provided in a concise, targeted way, making it easily communicated when schedules/plans change.

3b.  Develop a data collection plan

Goals are embedded into the daily schedule on the Education Day-at-a-Glance so that all team members know when and where data collection opportunities exist.  The team will want to determine how frequently data will be collected in order to monitor student learning and achievement and to determine the effectiveness of the instruction and support that are provided. See sample data collection sheets. 

Sample data collection sheets

Part 4: Ongoing Education and Support

A teacher assists two students who appear to be male with an assignment. The teacher is bent over their desk working intently. One student appears to have a disability.

In order to ensure that the work completed in Parts 1-3 of this process is continually reviewed and revised as needed, the following ongoing collaborative conversations and support tools would be beneficial:

  • Over the course of the school year, the team will also benefit from the participation of the special educator during grade-level planning meetings in order to understand the grade-level content focus, unit expectations, activities, and evaluation strategies that will be used. The special educator will be able to identify IEP goals that connect to each general education unit. The general education team and the special educator will be better able to revise, identify and put into place adaptations and/or accommodations in the Education Day-at-a-Glance, as neede, that will support the student’s access and progress in the general education curriculum and the IEP goals. 
  • Use of the 5-15-45 Tool as a template to support co-planning to create accessible lessons for all, whether teachers have 5, 15, or 45 minutes. The classroom environment (curriculum design, instructional strategies) may create barriers that include: (a) reduced student interest or engagement; (b) lack of adequate opportunities for students to gain background knowledge about the topic, or; (c) inflexible options for students to show what they know. As the team reviews student data, and identifies any barriers to learning and strategies for reducing the barriers and teaching the content, other students or the whole class may also benefit from use of those strategies. 


School communities that support the belonging, active participation, contribution, and learning of each and every student enhance a sense of community. The collaborative conversations and action planning described above are well worth that outcome.

How These Parts Fit Together

Here are some tips for understanding the flowchart shown below:

The olive green, double-lined boxes are related to the General Education curriculum.

The purple, dashed boxes are related to the individual student strengths, needs, and present levels.

The solid green boxes are the integration of knowledge about the grade-level, general education curriculum and a student’s individual learning needs.

The blue boxes are collaborative processes. Here are the links for each process:

This graphic is a visual of the content described above in the article. The graphic is divided into four parts and depicts the steps that an instructional team, including the parents and student, would go through to create an inclusive IEP and support its implementation across the year. 

Part 1 is focused on initial collaborative conversations. The general and special educators meet at the beginning of the school year and use the "Start Your Collaboration Out Right!" tool. The general educator brings knowledge about the grade-level, general education standards to this meeting. The special educator also meets with the parents and the student to understand the long term vision for the student and to discuss the three overarching learning components. Together, they share ideas about the student's strength and areas for growth that they want to focus on. 

Part 2 focuses on developing the IEP. The special educator shares the student's present levels based on data related to the three overarching learning areas. Together with the general education teacher, the parents, and the student, they develop the 6-8 IEP goals that align with the three essential learning components as well as determine accommodations and modifications. 

Part 3 is where the team completes the Everyday at a Glance form that shows where IEP goals and data collection fit into the daily schedule in the general education classroom. 

Part 4 focuses on ongoing collaborative conversations between the general education teacher, special education teacher and parents throughout the year. Through regular meetings, the General Education teacher brings the in-depth knowledge of the essential learnings for each unit for all students. The Special Education teacher brings the in-depth knowledge about the student's IEP. Together they identify barriers to learning and consider how to remove them, including implementing accommodations and modifications, so the student learns the essential components of the unit. They have regular ongoing check ins, using the 5-15-45 Tool to help guide their discussions, to ensure that they coordinate support throughout the school year.


Terri Vandercook TIES Center, University of Minnesota

Jessica Bowman TIES Center, University of Minnesota

Gail Ghere TIES Center, University of Minnesota

Cassie Martin University of Washington Haring Center for Inclusive Education

RinaMarie Leon-Guerrero University of Washington Haring Center for Inclusive Education

Jennifer Sommerness TIES Center, University of Minnesota


  • Ghere, G., Sommerness, J., & Vandercook, T. (2020). Planning for instruction both at school and distance learning: The 5C Process (DL #17). In TIES Distance Learning Series (No. 17). Retrieved from TIES Center website:

  • Kurth, J. A., McQueston, J. A., McCabe, K. M., Johnston, R., & Toews, S. G. (2019). Types of supplementary aids and services for students with significant support needs. The Journal of Special Education, 52(4), 208–218.

  • Wehmeyer, M. L., Shogren, K. A., & Kurth, J. (2021). The state of inclusion with students with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the United States. Journal of Policy & Practice in Intellectual Disabilities, 18(1), 36–43.

All rights reserved. Any or all portions of this document may be reproduced without prior permission, provided the source is cited as:

  • Vandercook, T., Bowman, J., Ghere, G., Martin, C., Leon-Guerrero, R., & Sommerness, J. (2021). Comprehensive Inclusive Education: General Education & the Inclusive IEP. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, TIES Center.

TIES Center is supported through a Cooperative Agreement (#H326Y170004) with the Research to Practice Division, Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education. The Center is affiliated with the National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) at the Institute on Community Integration (ICI), College of Education and Human Development, University of Minnesota. The contents of this report were developed under the Cooperative Agreement from the U.S. Department of Education, but do not necessarily represent the policy or opinions of the U.S. Department of Education or Offices within it. Readers should not assume endorsement by the federal government. Project Officer: Susan Weigert

The National Center on Educational Outcomes leads the TIES Center partnership. There are six additional collaborating partners: Arizona Department of Education, CAST, University of Cincinnati, University of Kentucky, University of North Carolina – Charlotte, and University of North Carolina – Greensboro.

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