These are the tough, uncomfortable meetings they are the experts and quite frankly, they have already determined the outcome of the meeting. This is when you need to be tough, not rude, but tough. It is important that parents become informed and involved in their child’s education. There are many sources of information and support in your state. However, the more skills you have and the more information you learn, the better you can advocate for your child. Over the past few years we have found that parents tend to make some common mistakes during the Individual Education Program (IEP) meeting. The following is a list of the common mistakes and some suggestions for avoiding them
:1. Believing the professionals are the only experts.
It can be very intimidating to sit at a table with several educators and professionals. Professionals/Educators do bring a great deal of knowledge and experience to the table. Although most parents do not have a background or degree in education, they have a great deal of knowledge and experience regarding their child. Parents are experts in their own right; they also provide historical information and the big picture from year to year. They know what works and does not work with their child and can be a great asset to the IEP team. Parents have an intuitive sense as to what is appropriate for their child. After working with parents for nine years, we are still amazed at how parents are usually intuitively correct about what will work for their child. We encourage parents to follow their hunches. If something does not sound right, check it out. Usually after some research, parents will discover their hunch was correct.
2. Not making requests in writing.
Any request a parent makes needs to be in writing. This includes requests for assessments, IEP meetings, correspondence, related services, etc. Written requests are important because they initiate timelines that the school district must follow in response to your request. This will also create a paper trail. When you write a letter be sure to send it certified mail. When you have a discussion by phone with a school official, write a letter that briefly outlines what you talked about. Documenting your conversations helps prevent miscommunication. Documenting requests (i.e., teaching assistant, speech, etc.) for the IEP committee clarifies to the committee what you are requesting and allows you to use your own words (as opposed to the note taker paraphrasing your request). We encourage parents to type exactly what they think their child needs and list why they think it is educationally necessary. This helps parents think through why they are requesting a service for their child. Have the IEP committee record the written request as part of the IEP minutes. At this point, the IEP committee has one of two choices: the committee can accept or deny the request. If the committee denies the request, then they must follow the procedural safeguards in IDEA and provide written notice of why they are denying the parents’ request. This method makes it difficult for an IEP committee to tell parents “no” without thinking through the options. If the request is not written down, the school district is not obligated to provide the service. Make sure you write it down.
3. Not being familiar with Prior Notice of the Procedural Safeguards (34 CFR 300.503)
All sections of the Procedural Safeguards are important to parents. This particular section gives parents some leverage during the IEP meetings. Whenever parents make a request for their child in the IEP meeting, the IEP committee is required under Prior Notice to provide the parents with written notice with a reasonable period of time. The notice must include the following: A description of the action proposed or refused. An explanation of why the agency proposes or refuses to take the action; A description of any other options that the agency considered and the reasons why those options were rejected.; A description of each evaluation procedure, test, record, or report the agency used as a basis for the proposed or refused action; A description of any other factor that is relevant to the agency’s proposal or refusal. We have found many instances where a parent requests an assessment or service only to have the IEP team tell the parent it cannot be done. By making all requests in writing and by requiring the IEP team to provide Prior Notice, the parents make the team accountable for its decisions. This practice also takes issues out the emotional areas, allowing all team members to focus on IDEA standards.
4. Requesting a related service instead of an assessment that supports the need for a related service.
Many times parents will request services such as speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy, etc. in the IEP meeting. Frequently the IEP committee will respond by stating that the student does not need the service. We recommend that parents do not request the service but request the assessment that supports the need for the related service. For example, instead of requesting speech for your child request a speech assessment. Only a certified or licensed professional is qualified to determine if a child needs or does not need a particular related service. As in #2, list the reasons why you think an assessment is educationally necessary for your child and submit your request to the IEP committee as part of the IEP minutes.
5. Accepting assessment results that do not recommend the services you think your child needs.
Sometimes parents receive assessment results that do not accurately describe their child and/or do not recommend the amount and duration of services the parents think the child needs. Under 34 CFR 300.352. Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE), parents of a child with a disability have the right to obtain an independent evaluation at public expense if they disagree with the results of the school’s assessment. When the parent requests the IEE (in writing) the school has one of two choices: they may either provide the IEE in a reasonable period of time or they may take the parents to a due process hearing. When an IEE is agreed upon, parent and school must come to an agreement as to who is qualified to assess the student. The examiner for an IEE cannot be employed by the school district . Parents should request the school district’s policy on guidelines and qualification for their examiners.
6. Allowing the assessment information to be presented for the first time at the IEP meeting.
Parents are entitled to have the assessment information explained to them before the IEP meeting. we encourage parents to have the person who administered the assessment give them a copy of the report and meet with them to explain the report several days before the IEP meeting. This enables the parents to think through the information before making decisions for their child. If all IEP decisions are based on the information from the assessment, it only makes sense for the parents to be knowledgeable and informed about the assessment results in a way they can understand.
7. Accepting goals and objectives that are not measurable.
Measurable goals and objectives are paramount for your child’s IEP. Without measurable goals and objectives, it is difficult to determine if your child has had a successful school year. In working with parents, we have encountered many IEP goals and objectives that are not measurable. All goals and objectives should come from assessment data. Assessment has four different components: 1) Formal assessment (i.e., WIAT, Woodcock-Johnson, Brigance), 2) Informal assessment (i.e., classroom work), 3) Teacher/parent observation, and 4) Interviews. After the information has been collected about the student it is compiled into an assessment report. Recommendations on how to work with the student are listed toward the end of the report. If you receive an assessment report that does not give recommendations for potential goals and objectives, the assessment is not complete. After the assessment has been completed, the IEP committee determines the student’s present level of performance (PLOP) and states what the student is currently able to do. The committee then develops the IEP goals and objectives. The goals state what the student is expected to accomplish by the end of the year. Objectives break the goals down into increments. For example: PLOP Based on the Brigance and classroom work, Johnny is currently able to read on a fourth grade level with 90% mastery. Goals By the end of the school year Johnny will be able to read on a fifth grade level as measured by the Brigance and classroom work with 80% mastery. Objectives By October 1, Johnny will be able to read on fourth grade, second month level with teacher assistance as measured by the Brigance and classroom work with 80% mastery. By January 1, without teacher assistance, Johnny will be able to read on a fourth grade, sixth month level as measured by the Brigance and classroom work with 80% mastery. A method of determining if your goals and objectives are measurable is to ask someone who is not on your IEP team to read them (i.e., a teacher, another parent, advocate, etc.). Then ask “Hypothetically, if you were to go into the classroom, would you be able to see my child working on these goals and objectives?” If someone outside of your IEP team cannot answer “yes”, then your goals and objectives are not measurable.
8. Allowing placement decisions to be made before IEP goals and objectives are written.
Many times after assessment is discussed, the IEP committee will determine the child’s placement. Goals and objectives are always written before placement is discussed. To ensure that the child is placed in the Least Restrictive Environ-ment (LRE), the IEP committee must determine: Which of these goals and objectives can best be met in the general classroom? With any remaining goals and objectives that cannot be met in the general class-room, the committee determines: Which of these goals and objectives can be best met in the general classroom with modifications and support? This line of inquiry continues until all placement options have been decided upon for all the goals and objectives. The committee must always start with the LRE and then work toward a more restrictive environment only as necessary. IDEA is very clear that the IEP committee must always consider the general education classroom as the first option for students with disabilities.
9. Allowing your child’s IEP meeting to be rushed so that the school staff can begin the next child’s IEP meeting.
This practice is particularly common at the end of the school year when educators are frantically trying to have IEP meetings for all the students who receive special education services. IEP meetings may be held one right after another. There is no problem with this practice as long as the members of the IEP team feel that all issues have been adequately discussed. Many times, however, parents feel rushed. It is important that all issues are adequately addressed before ending the IEP meeting. When the educators have not planned adequate time to address all relevant issues, request that the IEP team meet again at a more convenient time to further discuss your child’s education.
10. Not asking a lot of questions.
It is very important to ask questions and lots of them. Educators use many terms and acronyms specific to special education. Parents may become confused when these terms are used during the IEP meeting. This can add to the frustration that a parent may already be feeling when they do not under-stand what is being said. It is important to ask what the terms or acronyms mean. Unless a parent has a background in special education, they are not expected to know the terms and acronyms. Informed decisions cannot be made when parents do not understand what is being discussed.
The Law: The Backbone of the IEP
According to 34 CFR 300.22 an individualized education plan (IEP) is defined as a written statement for a child with a disability that is developed and reviewed in a team meeting. The IEP specifies the individual educational needs of the child and what special education and related services are necessary to meet the child’s educational needs.This statement is further defined in 34 CFR 320(a) which requires the document contain a statement of a child’s present level of academic achievement and functional performance including how the child's disability affects the child’s involvement and progress in the general education curriculum. The regulation provides that performance should be written in objective measurable terms to the extent possible and that the present level of performance (PLOP) should be directly related to the to the other parts of the IEP.
The law also provides that the document contain a statement of measurable goals including both academic and functional goals that are designed to meet the child's needs that are a result of the disability to enable them to participate and be involved in the general education curriculum and are designed to meet each of the child’s educational needs. 34 CFR 300.320(a)(2).
The document must also include statement of the special education and supplementary aids and related services to be provided for the child or on behalf of the child. In addition, a statement of the program modifications or supports for school personnel that will be provided to enable the child to advance towards making progress toward their annual goals, be involved and progress in the general education curriculum and participate in extracurricular and other non-academic activities and to be educated with non-disabled peers must be included. 34 CFR 300.320(a)(4). There must also be a statement and explanation as to why the child will not participate with children in the regular classes and activities.
In addition, the law requires that a statement regarding the accommodations and/or modifications a student needs to participate in state and district wide assessments. In the case of a student that the IEP team feels requires evaluation on an alternative assessment, a statement essentially explaining why they will not participate, the effect this will have on their education and graduation, why the selected assessment is appropriate and why this assessment was chosen must also be included. 34 CFR 300.320(a)(6).
Finally, the law requires that students with disabilities need to be educated in the least restrictive environment for the student. If the student is not being educated in the regular classroom then an explanation as to why needs to be included in the IEP. 34
CFR 300.114. Further, a continuum of alternative placements must be presented and the determination of the child’s ultimate placement must be based on the child’s IEP, determined annually and be as close to the child’s home as possible. 34 CFR 300.114, 34 CFR 300.115.
What the Law Really Means
Although the law provides an outline with respect to what an IEP should contain, like all areas of special education law, this is subject to a great deal of interpretation. However, one thing an IEP is not is a true contract. Unlike a true contract where there is generally an agreed upon outcome, an IEP is a document that contains what all parties hope will be the outcome. Because there are is no guaranteed outcome a determination of whether the IEP is a success and whether the goals have been adequately met is often subject to a great deal of discussion and/or disagreement. In order to attempt to avoid any misunderstandings regarding expectations and the meaning behind the expectations, the IEP must be written in a manner that captures the intent of the parties as clearly as possible. In addition, because an IEP is a document that “travels” and is often carried from one year to the next, or from one school to the next it must paint the clearest picture of the student as possible. So the question is how to do you do this?
One of the first things that a parent or advocate needs to do is to make clear to the IEP team that although they know the child well, the next person may not and as such, details regarding how a child learns, their strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes need to be described in detail. Surprisingly many IEP teams balk at this, claiming that they will “share” what the child needs with the next teacher. This is sometimes due to difficulty on their part in figuring out what to include. Often a teacher does not realize that their teaching method or classroom management style is not something that other teachers replicate. Thus, prior to attending an IEP meeting it is important to develop some understanding of what is going on in the classroom itself. One effective way of doing this is to come to the IEP meeting with a list of questions. These questions should include asking the teacher(s) when and where the child is most successful and when and where he/she is least successful. A description of these environments and activities needs to be noted on the IEP. These basic questions should be followed up with more pointed and detailed descriptions of what it “looks” like when the child is successful and unsuccessful. It is often very interesting to hear what individual teachers do that allow student’s to be successful. In addition, using questions as a means of eliciting information that maybe lacking from the IEP serves two purposes: it allows you to control the meeting to some degree, and because you are asking a question and not “telling” the school team what you want it tends to reduce the amount of defensiveness on the part of the teacher and school team.
Practice Pointer: Prepare a list of questions prior to the meeting and provide them to the school in advance. This allows them the opportunity to prepare and gives them an idea of what your expectations are with respect to the meeting.
Example: John is an 11-year-old child with ADHD who has qualified for services under the eligibility category of other health impairment (OHI). He is currently in the 4th grade and his annual IEP is being held in January.
The above example is often the degree of detail some IEP teams feel is sufficient. However, it tells you nothing about the child. A better statement that is developed using questions as a means to elicit more information may be following;
John is a 4th grader who struggles with attention and impulsivity. He is most successful in activities that are clearly defined. He does well when any verbal direction is paired with a visual. When he is asked to complete a novel task he requires repetition of directions to ensure he is aware of the expectations. However, once it is clear that he is aware of what to do he is able to complete grade level work. John does well when he is given movement breaks and the classroom teacher allows him to complete tasks he perceives as difficult (math) standing up in the back of the room. Although he is able to complete group work, he needs to be monitored at times to ensure that he does not become off task. John is least successful when he is asked to write. He has a difficult time organizing his ideas and does best in a small group when being asked to complete any writing assignment. His favorite subjects (and where he needs the least assistance) are science and social studies. He struggles of maintain focus during independent reading and math.
This description provides a basic roadmap for any teacher who works with John. It describes how his disability affects his performance and allows for the school team to be proactive in determining what resources are necessary for him to be successful.
Present Level of Performance
There is no area more important in an IEP than the present level of performance (PLOP). Depending on the LEA this information may be included in the beginning of the IEP or embedded in the goal area. Notwithstanding, this allows the IEP team to describe the child’s strengths and weakness vis-à-vis each area of need. Often the school team will create a PLOP that is very vague and essentially meaningless. Many times the PLOP will state something to the effect that, “John enjoys writing” or “John needs to improve his organizational skills”. Wherein this might be accurate, it is hardly explanatory when it comes to how John’s education is effected by his needs or his strengths. The PLOP needs to be the “roadmap” to understand the goals and ensure that anyone working with the child understands the basis for the goal.
So how do you determine what should be in the PLOP? The first step to developing an effective PLOP is to review whatever data is available. For example, if a child already has an IEP then look at the progress that has been made on their current goals. If he or she is making sufficient progress in a particular area then include the data to support that progress. Thus, if the team is considering a goal addressing time on task and John has recently made progress in doing this on a previous goal, the specific amount of time he has been able to stay on task needs to be included in the PLOP along with any other accommodations to do so. This is another instance when reviewing the previous IEP
progress reports with the proposed goal and developing a list of questions can help better shape the PLOP. In addition to information and data obtained from progress reports, each goal should include baseline information with regard to each area of need. For example, if a child requires prompting to complete a task or if the proposed goal contains any level of prompting, the PLOP should contain the child’s current level of prompting, the type of prompting (verbal, gestural, etc.) and a description of what this prompting looks like, when it is most likely to be needed and when not. This ensures that everyone on the team is clear with respect to where a child is when the IEP is drafted and where and why the team expects him/her to go.
In addition to information such as prompting levels, the results of any educational testing should also be included. This includes both formal and informal testing. For example, if a child has a reading deficit testing some form of objective data indicating what level they are reading should be included. Further, this data should be further disaggregated to set out where the child is in each area of reading in order to determine what their actual strengths and needs are in relation to comprehension, decoding and fluency.
Practice Pointer: Before attending an IEP meeting make yourself familiar with all aspects of any area of need your child/client may have. For example, in the area of reading find out what assessments, if any, the LEA does to determine if a child is struggling. Many districts use the Developmental Reading Assessment or the Qualitative Reading Inventory as a means to identify struggling readers in elementary school. A quick Google search will give you some idea of what assessments may be available and what they assess. Often just asking the question will be enough to “give you the upper hand” in an IEP meeting and advise the school team that you need to be taken seriously.
Information included in the PLOP needs to be sufficiently narrow. The information needs to state the specific areas of deficit. For example, if recent testing indicates that a child is below grade level in math, the strengths area needs to reflect what the child can do or what is a relative strength for them in that area. Broad statements regarding either strengths or weaknesses are not appropriate and do not help the person reading the goals understand what a child may need with respect to achieving the goal.
Johnny is a young man who receives services under the special education classification of autism. He currently in the seventh grade and demonstrates difficulty in the areas of reading (fluency and comprehension) as well as social skills, pragmatics, writing and mathematical computation. (This child is NOT on an alternative assessment.) The following is the proposed present level of performance for his reading goals and math goals.
Strengths: Johnny likes to read nursery rhyme books
Revised PLOP: Reading
Needs: Johnny needs to improve his reading comprehension. Johnny needs to improve his fluency
Strengths: Johnny is able to complete basic addition subtraction and multiplication and division problems. He is able to solve simple one-step word problems
Needs: Johnny struggles with abstract math concepts such as variables and patterns. He also struggles with completing multi-step word problems.
Strengths: Johnny enjoys reading and going to the library. He is able to self- correct when reading. He is able to decode two syllable words. He will attempt to decode and unfamiliar word. He is able to maintain reading fluency until he loses focus. Johnny is able to identify the main idea and concrete details. Johnny is currently decoding at a 4th grade level. Johnny is at a 3rd grade level for comprehension. He is reading 94 wpm.
Needs: Johnny has difficulty deciding three syllable unfamiliar words. He needs to decode multisyllabic words. He needs to learn comprehension strategies to increase his comprehension. Johnny needs to increase the type of comprehension strategies he employs.
Practice Pointer: When possible put the student’s current reading level broken out by decoding, fluency and comprehension in the PLOP. This is especially important in the case of students who have a wide disparity in the various components of reading.
Strengths: Johnny is able to complete basic addition subtraction and multiplication and division problems. He is able to complete double digit addition and subtraction without regrouping. He is able to solve simple one- step word problems. He understands basic fractions (e.g., 1/2, 3/4). Johnny is able to tell time to the hour on an analog clock. He is able to match time on a digital clock to an analog clock to the 5 minutes. Johnny understands time as it relates to a concrete activity. He is able to identify the common coins and their respective amounts. Johnny is able to count groups of coins that are of the
same denomination. He is able to understand the concept of equivalencies.
Needs: Johnny struggles with abstract math concepts such as variables and patterns. He also struggles with completing multi-step word problems. Johnny needs to understand and apply content vocabulary. He needs to understand place value. He needs to understand estimation. Johnny needs to recognize fractions. He needs to tell time on an analog clock to the five minutes. Johnny needs to understand time span (the time it takes to complete activities). Using manipulatives Johnny needs to determine the value of a group of mixed coins. He needs to learn to link the concepts of equivalencies to the practical application. Johnny needs to understand how to estimate using money. He needs to understand how to make change. He needs to determine the amount of money he will need to make a purchase.
Practice Pointer: Many times the school team will balk at teaching skills that are well below the grade level content strands (i.e., time and money in middle or high school or toileting or personal hygiene skills). These are important life skills and must be included in the IEP. Often by reminding the IEP team that the purpose of IDEA is to prepare a student for post-secondary education, employment and independent living as well as the obligation to remediate in all areas of need, the IEP team will agree to address these skill areas. However, if the school team continues to refuse to include them then the parents’ concern should be noted in the IEP and prior written notice should be requested - this also often will force the IEP team to include the area of concern. Parents should note that prior written notice requires the LEA to produce and document a reason why an action is denied or proposed. Many times LEA’s do not have a good explanation as to why they refuse to include something in an IEP. By asking for prior written notice you force them to really think about why they are rejecting something and whether or not it is “legal”.
Goals - What Needs To Be Included
Although the PLOP is arguably the most important part of the IEP, the goals are what drive the IEP itself. Goals are exactly what they say they are - goals for the student to attempt to obtain during the duration of the IEP. The goals need to reflect the area of needs that have been identified by the team. However, often the goals appear to have very little to do with the needs as outlined in the PLOP. For example, in the needs area of the PLOP the team may have listed a number of very specific needs but, the goal that is drafted is either very vague of only addresses parts of the identified needs. The goals need to “match” the needs area identified by the team.
Needs: Johnny struggles with abstract math concepts such as variables and patterns. He also struggles with completing multi-step word problems. Johnny needs to understand and apply content vocabulary. He needs to understand place value. He needs to understand estimation. Johnny needs to recognize
fractions. He needs to tell time on an analog clock to the five minutes. Johnny needs to understand time span (the time it takes to complete activities). Using manipulative Johnny needs to determine the value of a group of mixed coins. He needs to learn to link the concepts of equivalencies to the practical application. Johnny needs to understand how to estimate using money. He needs to understand how to make change. He needs to determine the amount of money he will need to make a purchase.
Proposed Goal: Johnny will improve his math skills by solving multi-step practical math problems with 80% accuracy on 3/4 times assessed quarterly
Johnny will demonstrate understanding of place value to the hundreds places with 95% accuracy on 4 out of 5 sample measured quarterly.
Johnny will demonstrate regrouping of three digit numbers using both addition and subtraction with 90% accuracy on 4/5 times assessed quarterly
Using paper and pencil tasks Johnny will determine the time on an analog clock to the 5 minutes on 4/5 trials as measured quarterly
Using manipulative, paper pencil, real world situations Johnny will count a mixed group of coins and determine correct change 4/5 times as measured every 2 weeks.
Given 3 rational numbers Johnny will compare and order fractions in a given set from least to greatest with at least 80% accuracy on 3/4 assessments quarterly
Johnny will solve multi-step word problems by identifying and defining key words, identifying the appropriate operation, setting up the problem and solving with 80% accuracy on 3/4 assessments quarterly.
A note was placed in the general concerns portion of the IEP explaining that the team recognizes that Johnny needs to develop an understanding of elapsed time, but felt that he needs to be able to accurately read an analog clock before this skill could be attempted.
As is evidenced by the previous example, when the cited needs are set out in individual goals rather than a broader statement, it becomes much clearer to anyone working with the child what type of progress is expected. In addition, by adding the information regarding why an area of need is not being addressed it further clarifies what the “plan” is for the child going forward.
In addition to making sure that the goals are clear and match the areas of need, it is also important to note if a goal is being carried forward from a previous year or if a particular goal area is being dropped. If the team feels that a goal a child is working on is appropriate to continue into the following year it is a good idea to explain the rationale behind this. This is important for two reasons. First, it acknowledges that the child may not have made enough progress on the goal and allow the team to consider a different approach. Second, it also allows the parent to document any lack of progress in order to preserve their concern while still moving forward with the IEP.
Finally, the goals must also reflect any transition plans included in the IEP. This applies predominately to students who are of a transition age. When drafting goals, the transition plans should drive the goals. For example, if a student is planning to live independently and is lacking in the ability to care for their personal needs (i.e., toileting) a goal needs to be added to address this in order to allow the student to pursue their transition objectives. This is an often forgotten aspect of the IEP. Many times the transition plan is discussed in a vacuum with little coordination between the proposed goals and the desired outcome set forth in the transition plan. In the case of a younger student who is not of “transition” age, a discussion and relation of goals to outcome is still extremely important. In the case of a student with significant needs, a discussion of what long-term outcomes the parents foresee is important. If the student’s rate of skill acquisition is slow and the goal is to be as independent as possible then the pre-cursor skills to this goal needs to be introduced early and worked on consistently. Parents of younger children need to be make the IEP team is aware of what they see as their child’s future and discuss what skills are going to be necessary to achieve this goal.
Another key component in developing IEP goals is the measurement of the goals. In many cases this is not a subject of much discussion. However, depending on the skill being taught, the child’s learning style and the perceived outcome/benefit of the goal this is very important. In discussing measurement there are three aspects that must be considered: accuracy, frequency and the means by which the data will be gathered. Accuracy addresses how well a student must perform the “task” in order for mastery to be obtained. In general, accuracy for academic goals is about 80%. (There is no hard and fast rule with respect to this, however, most reading programs consider a student to have mastered a skill if they demonstrate the skill approximately 80% of the time.) The level of accuracy will vary from student to student and skill to skill. For example, if safety is the issue then level of accuracy needs to be close to 100%.
Practice Pointer: If the school team proposes and accuracy level less than 80% parents should ask where the child is currently with respect to that skill. If the child is at about a 40-50% accuracy rate when the IEP is drafted then it is theoretically reasonable to expect an 80% accuracy rate in a year’s time. However, if a child’s rate of skill acquisition is much slower or if the child current rate of accuracy is lower than 50% then a lower goal may be appropriate. If this is the case, then the current accuracy rate must be stated in the PLOP in order to establish a baseline. Also, if there is some variable such as decreased prompting that may affect the accuracy rate this must also be reflected in the PLOP (e.g., the team has agreed that the accuracy rate of 50% is
appropriate due to the expectation that the task will be done independently and the student currently requires at least 1 prompt).
Frequency refers how often the data will be taken. This again varies depending on the skill being taught. With respect to academic goals it may be as simple as measuring progress and taking data at a frequency rate of 3 out of 4 assessments per quarter. In the case of a skill that the IEP team wants to ensure that the student can demonstrate when asked, a cold probe may be appropriate. If consistency is the goal then data taken on consecutive trials may be appropriate. In determining the frequency of the data collection the team must be clear on what their expectations are of the child and the mastery of the skill.
Finally, how and in what form the goal will be measured must be discussed. This is one of the most important parts of the IEP. It is what will demonstrate progress or lack thereof. Thus, it is extremely important to ensure that the parent and the school understand what is going to be used to measure progress. Some tools that are commonly used are data sheets, work samples, anecdotal notes, observation, class participation, and informal assessments. In general, there are no prescribed methods of gathering data but it is often extremely helpful to ask for progress to be measured in a manner that is easy to see if progress is being made.
Practice Pointer: If at all possible avoid anecdotal notes as a means of determining progress. Objective measures such as data sheets, rubrics, assessments or informal tests (DRA, etc.) are often the best means to determining progress. These measures are generally very prescribed and remove any ambiguity with respect to whether a student has achieved the given task. There are certain types of goals that will require less concrete measurement tools. These generally include social and emotional goals that are based largely on observation.
Accommodations - Standard versus Non-Standard
Accommodations are essentially what a child needs to “level the playing field” with respect to their non-disabled peers. In general, many LEAs have a list of commonly used accommodations for an IEP team to “choose from.” In many cases IEP teams are under the impression that these are the only accommodations available for a student. This is not the case. A student with disabilities is entitled to individual accommodations that will allow them to access the curriculum. These are not limited to an arbitrary list. In some cases accommodations may include some very unique and creative items. For example, some accommodations may include allowing a child to stand or move while completing a task or chewing gum. Notwithstanding the type of accommodations a student requires, these accommodations must be offered across all settings without the requirement of having a student request them. The exception to this is when the IEP team specifically states that the accommodations are limited in some way.
Often IEP teams are hesitant to provide a lot of accommodations. Reasons for this reticence range from it “not being fair” to other students to a concern that the child will
become too dependent on the accommodations. Neither of these concerns is valid. Accommodations have no bearing on other students. They essentially attempt to level the playing field so students with disabilities have the same access as their non- disabled peers. With respect to the concern that a student may become dependent on the accommodations and then not be able to function in a post-secondary environment is unfounded. If a student decides to attend college they may identify themselves as a student with disabilities and receive accommodations. Thus, many of the accommodations a student used throughout their educational career may continue to be offered in the post-secondary environment.
Practice Pointer: Accommodations are important in a student’s day-to-day education. However, they are also very important with respect to testing and to post-secondary education. It is important to remember and to keep any useful accommodations in place during a student’s high school career. The College Board and the ACT will provide the student with accommodations for their tests. This includes the AP exams. However, these must applied for by the parents with supporting documentation provided by the school. It is a good idea to apply for these accommodations the summer before a student’s freshman year for PSAT/SAT and prior to the student’s junior year for the ACTs. In addition, students who plan on attending a post-secondary school may qualify for accommodations based on what is in their current IEP and any testing required by the college or university. Generally, colleges and universities want to see testing within approximately two years of graduation. Thus, if a student is in the process of undergoing a reevaluation within that period it may be wise to request updated psychological and or educational testing.
Testing has become a hot button issue in education in general. However, for students with disabilities testing presents some very specific issues. As a rule, students are tested on the same standards as their peers. However, they are entitled to accommodations in order to access the test. In some jurisdictions students with disabilities are able to demonstrate proficiency in a variety of formats. These may be via a portfolio type presentation or alternative assessments. These vary from state to state but in every state there is some sort of alternative assessment for students with very significant cognitive disabilities. Students accessing these assessments are a very very small percentage. According to guidance from the US Department of Education, these students comprise only 1% of the special education population. Despite this very small number many LEAs have and continue to find children who struggle academically or behaviorally eligible for these alternative assessments and educate them on an alternative curriculum. The basis for these decisions is largely that the students will never pass a grade level content assessment so therefore they should be assessed and educated using the alternative curriculum so they will “feel and be” successful. This is wrong. A student should not be taken off the “regular curriculum” and grade level assessments merely because they are behind or the school is concerned they will not pass the test. Doing this robs a child of their education and ultimately may limit their opportunities. Only students with significant cognitive disabilities should be considered for this assessment.
Practice Pointer: In states that have a consent requirement parents and advocates should consider not agreeing to placing their child on an alternative assessment in early elementary school. This is especially true if it is not entirely clear why the child is not being successful. For example, many children with autism will not test well and have a number of behaviors that interfere with their ability to demonstrate their skills. It may appear that they have a significant cognitive disability when they are very young, but if behaviors are controlled and the child is retested they may no longer be considered significantly cognitively disabled. However, due to a decision made very early on they have “lost” a significant amount of exposure to the curriculum. It is virtually impossible to “make up” what has been lost at that time.
Least Restrictive Environment
The term “least restrictive environment” is among one of the most debated phrases in education. What is considered to be the least restrictive environment for one person may be considered a far more restrictive environment to another. Often a discussion of what constitutes the least restrictive environment is glossed over by the school system with District staff stating where and how goals will be worked on. It is very important that this does not happen. There needs to be a documented discussion on where and how parents see their child being educated. If a parent feels very strongly that a child needs to receive the majority of their education in a general education environment the reasons for their desire need to be documented. For example, in the case of a child with an intellectual disability in a secondary school environment the school team may automatically make a determination that the student’s goals need to be worked on in a more self contained environment with similarly functioning peers. This might be convenient for the school team and may be where the skills may be more easily taught, the family may want their child to be included more in the general education environment. In many cases the family may want their child to be included to some degree in order to learn how to function in a world that may move faster than they are able to process. Also, many families feel it is very important for their children to be in a variety of different environments in order to develop social skills and experience different teaching and learning styles.
Many parents who do push for their children to be educated in a lesser restrictive environment are given a great deal of push back. In order to counter this it is important to remind the school that the law requires that a child is to be educated with his or her general education peers to the maximum extent appropriate and if they are not then an explanation as to why they are not must be included in the IEP docment. In addition, there must be discussion of what supports can be put into place to allow the child to participate more fully in the general education environment. This discussion, the school’s response, as well as the parents’ response needs to be clearly documented in the IEP in order to preserve the parents’ concerns.
Practice Pointer: In discussing the LRE it is very important that all parties listen. Wherein it may be more convenient for the school to educate a child in a more segregated environment it also may, at times, be in the best interest of thechild. Often a school may have a very valid reason for not wanting to educate a child in the general
education environment. However, no child should be completely segregated from general education peers if they are not attending a separate special education school.
This is often the most contentious discussion during any IEP meeting. Placement refers to where the child is going to be educated and what is the least restrictive environment. Placement should always be the last element discussed in an IEP meeting since it is supposed to be determined by the goals and services a child needs. However, often times the school comes the IEP meeting with a placement already in mind. This is also true to some extent with parents, but in either case a decision regarding where a child will be educated must be made by the IEP team at the meeting otherwise it is considered pre-determination.
Many placement discussions are the culmination of many IEP meetings and discussions regarding a child’s needs. In many cases the parents don’t feel the school is meeting their child’s needs and want him or her educated in a different environment - a private school. In some cases parents minimally participate in the IEP meeting until this point and then become adamant that their child’s needs are not being met in the current placement. These situations rarely result in the outcome that the parents want. If a family is unhappy with a child’s current placement and believes that they require a different placement then the focus of the IEP meeting needs to be on the goals and services the child requires.
In advising clients my first question is always - “what do you want for your child?” If the goal is a private placement or a change of placement I begin looking very closely at what the child can do, has done and what they need to do. In addition, I educate myself on the services and supports that are available in the school the child is attending and the school system itself. Using this information I attempt to develop IEP goals and services that I know will be difficult for the current school to implement with fidelity.
Note, this is not an attempt to make the child fail, but as discussed earlier, often school will not include all areas of need in an IEP or will make the goals sufficiently vague that progress appears to be being made. This is why developing very strong PLOPs is so important. If the description of what a child can and cannot do is very detailed then writing goals that reflect these specific needs with very clear outcomes is easier. Often the number and the exceptions tied into these goals with respect to progress will paint a daunting picture for a school and force them to really consider whether they can meet the child’s needs in the particular setting. The same is true if you are trying to obtain a less restrictive placement.
In many cases, however, despite creating an IEP that appears to be impossible for the school to implement schools will insist that they can continue to meet the child's needs. In this case parents need to ensure they understand how progress will be measured and request the raw data on a regular basis as a means to see if the child is really making progress. Parents are entitled to the data being used to measure goals when they receive the child’s progress reports. However, schools will often agree to send the raw data home on a more regular basis. Again, this request and the school response
must be documented in the IEP or via prior written notice. The goal behind obtaining and reviewing the is data is twofold: it makes the school much more aware of what they are working on and whether the child is really making progress and it provides qualitative data to demonstrate if a child is not making progress in their current placement.
Practice Pointer: In developing an IEP parents and advocates need to look at the process in two ways. The first is to draft the best possible IEP for the child. The second is to develop a “paper trail” if a consensus with the school team cannot be reached. It is important that during the process of developing the IEP that parents and advocates work to develop a potential due process case. Parents and advocates need to be acutely aware that if a concern or request is not documented in the IEP then it “doesn’t exist.”
Parental Concerns/Everything Else
In most IEPs there is a section for parental concerns and/or information about the child that does not “fit” anywhere else in the IEP. Often this includes information such as what medication a child is taking, any medical conditions that are relevant to the child’s education, etc. Information that the parents feel is important to help teachers better work with their child. It is also where parents can record their concerns and disagreements with the IEP. If a school refuses include parental concerns there may be an argument made that the parents were denied their ability to meaningfully participate in development of the IEP.
In addition, this section of the IEP can be used to further explain accommodations that are not entirely clear in the IEP itself. If a child is using a particular program for reading or math it should be noted here.
Practice Pointer: Often schools will be reluctant to name a particular program teaching methodology. One way to overcome this reluctance is to explain that by specifying the methodology in the “catch all” portion of the IEP you are not tying it to a goal, but merely providing information to anyone working with the child about what has been done in the past and what is working. Making this goal clear to the school team often will assuage any fears District IEP team members have about being tied to a particular program and often they will agree to include the information.
The information contained on this website is not intended as legal advice but to provide a general understanding of the process from a purely educational perspective, as it pertains to special education for students with disabilities, parents of students with disabilities and attorneys who are new to special education practice.
This website or links to articles is not intended to and should not be substituted for legal advice of any sort and should not be relied upon as legal advice. The information on this website should not be relied upon with the expectation of an automatic or even an improved chance of a prevailing party decision in a special education due process hearing, nor does it promise or warrant any particular result if the educational tips contained herein are followed whether they are used as written or used as modified by you or an attorney .
To attain legal advice as to the individual circumstances of your individual case, please consult with an attorney of your choice who is licensed in your state and knowledgeable about special education matters and the individualized history and facts of your particular case.
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