Back to School Series: 3) Goals and the dynamic IEP

Wait, let's back up. All plans have starting points so that they aren't built on thin air. Before we can write any goals we need to know what data needs to be in the 'foundation' of the IEP. This foundation is known as the present levels of academic achievement and functional performance (PLAAFP) and it is the required basis for goal writing. 'Present levels' means data that has been reported during progress monitoring, evaluation or other means of collection and, most important- is current. Today's goal cannot be based on last year's data. IEPs must be updated at least annually so new goals must be informed by recent data. Once the PLAAFP has been written by the ARD committee, including your parent input, goals can be developed.

Considerations for the PLAAFP

What unique needs does your child have and are they described accurately? Consider the value of input: narrative that reflects IEP team opinions is not objective, but observations may provide important information. Areas of strength will most likely not need goals because no change is needed. The rule is that goals must address every area of need because skills inform each other-especially where a child has numerous needs. The team must know where the child is starting out, otherwise they will not know what resources should be provided to the child- the next step after goal development. A simple example might be a child with speech skills that are 4 years below grade-level (but ability that is average) needing more hours a week for instruction than a child with a smaller gap because gap closure can reasonably be projected to take longer.

IEP Miranda Warning

Some functional goals such as counseling goals for behavior will need a clearly described PLAAFP statement. If issues arise regarding violations of the Student Code of Conduct, the PLAAFP establishes knowledge of challenges or extent to which a student with a disability has self-control. For example, if a student is cognitively impaired before taking medication at the beginning of the school day, there can be a window for conduct violations such as accidentally walking onto school property with a prescription that is a controlled substance. Parents can put this concern in the PLAAFP. If the child cannot demonstrate appropriate social responses to authority figures, this should be documented too. Where a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) is indicated, frequent reporting to evaluate the effectiveness of the plan is a priority. If a goal is disconnected from the present level for a deficit behavior skill, then behaviors can regress or escalate. The student is not the problem when the BIP doesn't work to intervene before the behavior occurs. So, it follows that academic and functional IEP goals without a described starting measurement may not be able to prove any improvement..

Apply the SMART standard

You may have heard this many times: Specific, measurable, active (action-oriented), relevant and time-limited. It is the measurement part of the goal development that often presents problems. Assessments and rates can be used for measurement-and tests: baseline, unmodified tests where feasible. For example, a test that has had random questions related to the TEKS removed is not useful information. The omitted questions should be part of the score because the child did not have the skill to answer them. The omission is important information. Goals have to be aligned with grade level content because they are supposed to aim at closing the achievement gap-this practice can give the parent an idea of what is expected for non-disabled peers. In Texas-the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS describes the the curriculum objectives. This does not mean the goal should state 70% mastery of a general education curriculum goal. That would be an expectation for all students and not meet the SMART standard for special education students.

Progress Monitoring- Is your child on track?

Be clear on how progress monitoring is being reported and what instruction is associated with changing the skill level. If your child is making no progress, the IEP team should reassess the methodology and appropriateness of the services. After all, the team agreed that the goals are achievable. It is important to remember that a parent is not limited to one annual ARD meeting and lack of progress should be addressed in a timely fashion at ARD. Goals that are mastered early should be rewritten and progress monitoring should be frequent enough to determine if a goal is aiming too low, the PLAAFP is inaccurate, or other elements of the IEP need to be revised.

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