Individualized Learning Plans Fact Sheet

Download the PDF ILP Fact Sheet

An individualized learning plan is both a document and a process that students use – with support from school counselors, teachers, and
parents – to define their career goals and post-secondary plans in order to inform the student’s decisions about their courses and activities throughout high school. Many states have adopted policies that require all middle and/or high school students to develop and maintain an individualized learning plan in order to make schools more personalized and improve student outcomes.

What is a Quality ILP?

Based upon several years of research investigating the nature and use of ILPs in states across the U.S., the National Collaborative on Workforce & Disability for Youth (NCWD/Youth) and its partnersi have developed the following definition of quality ILPs:

  • A document consisting of: (a) course taking and post-secondary plans aligned to career goals; and (b) documentation of the range of college and career readiness skills that the student has developed.
  • A process that enhances the relevance of school and out-of-school learning opportunities, and provides the student access to career development opportunities that incorporate self-exploration, career exploration, and career planning and management skill building activities.

How and when are individualized learning plans used?

The individualized learning plan is not a one-time activity but an ongoing process by which the student defines, explores, and then refines his or her interests and goals throughout high school. Students usually begin using an individualized learning plan in middle school, typically during the 8th grade, to guide their decisions about high school courses and start a process of career and college exploration.

Developing an individualized learning plan starts with a student, working with a school counselor, to identify their career interests, personal strengths, and work values. Schools that require an individualized learning plan typically provide students with access to computer-based interest and skill inventories; however, tools similar to those used by most schools are readily available for free on the Internet. The U. S. Department of Labor provides several free career exploration tools in both paper and computerized formats at:

An individualized learning plan is not the same as the federally-mandated individualized education program (IEP) for students receiving special education services. Students with disabilities and their families can use the ILP as a tool in developing the transition-planning sections of the IEP

Research Findings

The ILP research studies by NCWD/Youth and its partners indicate that ILPs show promise as an effective strategy for delivering quality career
development opportunities that improve several student outcomes. Students who were more engaged in ILP activities reported stronger  goalsetting skills, increased motivation to attend school, and increased academic self-efficacy which leads to better academic achievement, stress and health management, and readiness to engage in career decision-making. Teachers, school counselors, and family members highly value ILPs and believe that it helps students become more focused learners who complete more challenging coursework in order to reach their self-defined career and life goals.

How and When are Individualized Learning Plans Used?

Promising practices for engaging in ILPs include regularly scheduled activities conducted during advisory periods. ILPs appear to be more effective when they are regularly reviewed and updated beginning in middle school and continuing through and beyond high school. In this way, ILP  activities occur regularly throughout the academic year rather than just once per year. As a process, quality ILP activities provide opportunities for youth to engage in three phases of skill development: self exploration, career exploration, and career planning and management Self-exploration activities develop students’ ability to identify career interests, skills, and work values. Career exploration activities develop students’ ability to connect their interests, skills, and values to a range of career options, identify the school courses and employability skills needed to enter careers of interest, and identify corresponding post-secondary pathways. Career planning and management activities help students develop a range of skills related to acquiring job search skills needed to secure employment; developing career readiness skills (both generalizable, i.e. soft, and career-specific skills); and developing the traits, work habits, and behaviors needed to navigate career changes and pursue growth opportunities
throughout a lifetime.

Increasingly, schools are relying on web-based career information systems to support the implementation of ILP activities. Web-based career information systems incorporate ILPs as an ePortfolio that allows youth to catalogue, store, and share various ILP and career development activities. States are beginning to develop and use grade-level benchmarks to document the competencies youth should acquire through ILP
activities as a way to track the impact ILPs have on academic and post-school indicators.

An individualized learning plan is not the same as the federally mandated individualized education program (IEP) for students receiving special education services. Students with disabilities and their families can use the ILP as a tool in developing the transition planning sections of the IEP.

What information is included in an individualized learning plan?

The individualized learning plan documents a range of information specific to the student and his or her school and state that students, parents, and school personnel can use to guide decision making and monitor the student’s progress toward goals. The ILP may include the following
information specific to the student: skills, abilities, hobbies, and accomplishments; current and past classes and activities; grades and test scores; examples of student work; results from career, college, and interest assessments; personal goal statements; activities designed to develop the student’s selfexploration, career exploration, and career planning and management skills; college and financial planning activities; and contact
information for parents, advisors, teachers, mentors, and other supportive adults. For students with disabilities, the ILP may also include plans for providing accommodations the student and his/her family view as necessary to achieving future career goals.

To ensure the student’s plans for high school and beyond align with available options, development of the plan involves reviewing school and state specific information, including high school graduation requirements, high school course options, and postsecondary education and training programs. It is important to help students learn how to search for local job opportunities and find community-based resources and services relevant to their personal needs.

More information and resources on implementing quality individualized learning plans are available online at: www.ncwdyouth.


i NCWD/Youth’s partners in the ILP research studies include: the Institute for Educational Leadership Center for Workforce
Development, Boston University School of Education, University of Wisconsin–Madison Center on Education and Work, University
of Minnesota Institute on Community Integration, PACER Center, Social Dynamics, LLC, and Altarum Institute. The research studies
were funded by the Office of Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor.

State Examples

How Students & Schools Use Individualized Learning Plans

Students in Louisiana begin exploring careers during middle school using an online career information system called LA ePortal. During the 8th grade, they create their individualized learning plans, called an Individual Graduation Plan, which is a 5-year education plan they update each year until graduation. School counselors assist students in creating the plan, which must be reviewed and signed by a parent or guardian on an annual basis. LA ePortal enables students to explore career clusters, learn about graduation requirements, build a portfolio or resume, research job opportunities, and create their ILP. To extend their career and college exploration beyond Internet research, students also participate in a minimum of six career development activities per year such as community service and discussions with guest speakers. Specific Tools: LA ePortal Lifelong Learning System,

In South Carolina, students start career exploration in 6th grade and create an Individual Graduation Plan in 8th grade, which they revisit annually until graduation. The plan defines the students’ career and academic goals and associated plans for high school courses and career-focused learning activities. The plan is used to develop and monitor the student’s pathway towards meeting high school graduation requirements. Schools are required to provide guidance and career exploration activities throughout high school that align with the plan. Each high school has a career specialist, funded by state appropriations, who works with the guidance counselors to assist students and parents with Individual Graduation Plan development. Specific Tools: South Carolina College & Career Planning System, powered by Kuder®,

Students in New Mexico develop their first ILP, called the Next Step Plan, in the 6th grade in consultation with school advisors and their parents. Students review their personal interests, course options, career pathways and the state’s graduation requirements with the advisor and together they set annual academic goals. Parents must review and sign the plan each year. During the 12th grade, students indicate their post-high school plans by formally documenting their acceptance into a postsecondary program of study, training program, or the military or by providing other evidence of their plans for the future. Specific Tools:  Sample Next Step Plan templates:

In Washington, students create a High School and Beyond Plan during the 8th or 9th grade year and revisit it frequently throughout high school. The plan includes the student’s course selections for high school and what he or she plans to do in the year following high school graduation. Other student information in the plan may include personal stories, a description of the student’s learning style and extracurricular activities, and goals for high school and postsecondary education. Schools may use the Navigation 101 online career development system and accompanying curriculum to guide student advisory meetings. Occurring two to four times per month, advisory meetings are a one-on-one session in which a student meets with his or her adult advisor (a role that could be filled by school personnel) to work on career development and college planning activities. Schools that elect to use Navigation 101 are required to: hold regular advisories with all students; obtain parents’ signatures on the students’ plans; conduct student led conferences; and use student course taking requests to inform course offerings and master schedules. Specific Tools: Kuder® Navigator and Direct Your Future curriculum,

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