When the IEP is presented, there is a clear, present flow. The areas are presented as areas of concern and are aligned with the assessments given in order to further explore any deficits the child may have. When the assessment results are presented, these specific areas are discussed with more detail, looking closer at the specific areas in which the child struggles. This may be gathered using standardized assessments, in an initial and triennial IEP, or from an informal assessment. From there, the goals are written to address each area of concern.
The IEP includes a student’s present levels, identifying their current performance in all academic areas. A critical component when addressing the present levels is the focus on addressing the IEP goals that were written the previous year, and giving specific evidence to support whether or not the child has met each goal. At the annual or triennial meeting, the parents will already have an idea of goal progress, as continued goal updates are received (generally along with the report card calendar), throughout the year. A well-written goal progress update will not only specify whether or not the goal was met, but will also include at what level of proficiency the child is currently performing. You may request to view the IEP goal assessments that were used to establish the present levels in an effort to achieve a stronger understanding of your child’s performance level.
While goals are aligned with your child’s areas of needs as determined by the assessments, remember that the IEP goals are a mere snapshot of your child’s progress, and do not encompass all they will be working on in the coming year. At times, writing too many IEP goals can actually hinder the process, as it becomes difficult for the special educator to balance the academic needs, as well as track progress appropriately. The ‘SMART’ acronym is often used to describe how a well-written goal is formatted: It should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time based. The following graphic gives more detail regarding the critical elements of a strong IEP goal.
When presenting an IEP, particularly an initial or triennial review, it’s imperative that the team considers a variety of evidence in order to determine eligibility. While a formal assessment battery (educational testing) and psychological testing (IQ test) are the norm, follow-up testing as well a standardized test in the specific area of weakness may also be given in addition to the academic battery. The assessment summary reports should not only summarize the tests given and the scores/percentile rankings, but should also identify testing observations and classroom observations, specifically those applicable observations aligned with the area of suspected disability.
Finally, the key to a successful IEP is growth from year to year. Through the process, it should be clear that the child is growing both academically and behaviorally. While this does not necessarily mean that all skills are on grade level, but rather skills are moving in that direction and the goals are written in order to help bridge that gap. If a child struggles in a specific area, the goals year-to- year should focus on encompassing new standards and skills that build upon one another. If the goals seem repetitive year after year and the child is not progressing, this may be a sign that the child is not receiving an educational benefit, and therefore the program and services should be evaluated.
Colleen Arnold, Founder of Arnold Advocacy LLC, is a special education advocate, working with families across Marin County to empower students with learning differences through strength-based solutions for both school and home. Colleen specializes in working with students with learning disabilities, autism, attention differences, as well as those with behavioral challenges.