Learn Your Special Education Laws, Special Education Rights, and Share IEP Goal Ideas

Feb 19
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by Jess

To develop IEP goals (and, in some states and situations, objectives) that are meaningful, measurable, and manageable, requires a  preliminary step that too many IEP Teams rush though: Writing a quality Present Levels section (“present levels of academic achievement and functional performance”) of the IEP. This section forms the basis and justification for all goals and objectives. In turn, the goals and objectives form the basis for all services and placements.

Because goals and objectives are so critical to obtaining the services your child needs, and to monitoring his progress, it’s critical to understand the flaws that characterize so many goals and objectives. Below are some of my comments, slightly edited, from two brief evaluations I did of a third grader’s IEP. The name is fictionalized and I have the parent’s permission to use the materials.

Comments on the School’s Goals and Objectives

Goal from Draft IEP: “Tom will accurately decode words at a third grade level.”

Comment on Goal: This goal can be interpreted as meaning that by June 2011 Tom need only to read a few beginning third grade words to have achieved this goal. Given Tom superior intelligence and high motivation, I doubt this is what the school meant; nevertheless, from what is written, this interpretation is valid.

Here’s a suggested goal that might better serve Tom and the school: “By June 2011, Tom will orally read three previously unread 250+ word passages from an end of third grade book with 98% word recognition accuracy and 90% comprehension.” These figures, 98% word recognition accuracy and 90% comprehension, are a standard for independent level described in many graduate-level texts on reading disabilities. Achieving this standard will get Tom ready for fourth grade. Anything less will inadequately prepare him for fourth grade, which will probably lead to a myriad of avoidable problems.

The Independent Level. This is the level at which a student can read successfully without assistance…. The student’s accuracy in word recognition while reading orally should be 98% or higher…. The reader should be able to answer 90% or more of the questions correctly. [Leslie, L., & Caldwell, J. (2006). Qualitative Reading Inventory-4. Boston: Pearson, p. 25.]

Objective 1 from Draft IEP: “Tom will demonstrate the ability to orally read a narrative passage containing silent consonant words taught in [class] with 80% accuracy.”

Comment on Objective 1: This objective is unclear about the level of the passage; will it be a second grade passage or third grade passage? This objective is unclear if the 80% refers to all the words in the passage or to only 80% of the silent consonant words (which would make the passage difficult to write). If Tom gets 80% of the silent consonant words correct, but only 70% of the other words, has he achieved the objective? Its unclear. As this objective is a short-term objective, it would help Tom’s parents to identify an expected date of achievement; knowing this would help them keep track of Tom’s progress. Specifying a target date should not be difficult as it’s something his teachers will be planning for.

Another problem with this objective is the 80% level. In reading, 80% word recognition accuracy in context refers to a child’s frustration level, the level that should be avoided. But the objective aims to place Tom at his frustration level. Here are a few typical quotations about the frustration level:

Frustration Level. “The frustration level is that level at which the student should not be given materials to read …. Students at their frustration levels are unable to deal with the reading material…. The criteria for the frustration level … are word recognition scores of 90 percent or less.” (pp. 82-83). [Johns, J. L. (1988). Basic Reading Inventory, 4th ed. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt]

The Frustration Level. At this level, the student is completely unable to read the material with adequate word identification or comprehension…. Accuracy of word recognition is less than 90%…. Teachers should avoid materials at this level. [Leslie, L., & Caldwell, J. (2006). Qualitative Reading Inventory-4. Boston: Pearson, p. 26.]

Objective 2 from Draft IEP: “Tom will demonstrate the ability to orally read a narrative passage containing common prefixes taught in [class] with 80% accuracy.”

Comment on Objective 2: This objective is unclear about the level of the passage; will it be a second grade passage or third grade passage? This objective is unclear if the 80% refers to all the words in the passage or to only 80% of the common prefix words. If Tom gets 80% of the common prefix words correct, but only 70% of the other words, has he achieved the objective? As this objective is a short-term objective, it would help Tom’s parents to identify an expected date of achievement; knowing this would help them keep track of Tom’s progress. Specifying a target date should not be difficult as it’s something his teachers will be planning for.

Another problem with this objective is the 80% level. In reading, 80% word recognition accuracy in context refers to a child’s frustration level, the level that should be avoided. But the objective aims to place Tom at his frustration level. Here is another typical quotation about the frustration level:

Frustration Level. This is the level to be avoided; however, for diagnostic purposes, it is helpful for teachers to know what this level is so that they can avoid giving students reading material at this level. The fact that a child has reached his or his frustration level is evidenced by the child’s … inability to pronounce 10 percent of the words on the oral reading passage. [Rubin, D. (1997). Diagnosis and correction in reading instruction. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, p.  169].

Suggested Goals and Objectives (Partial List)

Word Recognition Goal 1: By the end of third grade, Tom will independently read new 3rd grade narrative materials (DRA 38) at an independent level (99% word recognition accuracy).

  • Word Recognition Objective 1: By the end of the 2nd marking period, Tom will independently read new 3rd grade narrative materials (DRA 34) at an instructional level (95% word recognition accuracy). He will achieve this with new materials on 3 successive occasions.
  • Word Recognition Objective 3: By the end of the 4th marking period, Tom will independently read new 3rd grade narrative materials (DRA 38) at an independent level (99% word recognition accuracy). He will achieve this with new materials on 3 successive occasions.

Reading Comprehension Goal 1: By the end of third grade, Tom will independently read new 3rd grade narrative materials (DRA 39) at an independent comprehension level (90% accuracy).

  • Reading Comprehension Objective 1: By the end of the 2nd marking period, Tom will independently read new 3rd grade narrative materials (DRA 34) at an instructional level (70-89% reading comprehension). Reading orally, he will achieve this with new materials on 3 successive occasions.
  • Reading Comprehension Objective 3: By the end of the 4th marking period, Tom will independently read new 3rd grade narrative materials (DRA 38) at an independent level (90% reading comprehension). Reading silently, he will achieve this with new materials on 3 successive occasions.

Goals and objectives like these—meaningful, measurable, and manageable—make life easier for teachers and parents. Monitoring of progress is straightforward. The likelihood of misinterpretation is minimized. Teachers and parents can quickly identify and respond to any lack of progress.

Comments

It’s imperative that Tom reach a comfortable end of 3rd grade independent reading level (which is roughly equivalent to a 4th grade instructional level) by June of grade 3. Here’s one reason:

Reading proficiently by the end of third grade … can be a make-or-break benchmark in a child’s educational development. Up until the end of third grade, most children are learning to read. Beginning in fourth grade, however, they are reading to learn, using their skills to gain more information in subjects such as math and science, to solve problems, to think critically about what they are learning, and to act upon and share that knowledge in the world around them. Up to half of the printed fourth-grade curriculum is incomprehensible to students who read below that grade level…. And three quarters of students who are poor readers in third grade will remain poor readers in high school…. Not surprisingly, students with relatively low literacy achievement tend to have more behavioral and social problems in subsequent grades and higher rates of retention in grade. The National Research Council asserts that “academic success, as defined by high school graduation, can be predicted with reasonable accuracy by knowing someone’s reading skill at the end of third grade. A person who is not at least a modestly skilled reader by that time is unlikely to graduate from high school.” [Feister, L (2010). Early Warning: Why Reading at the End of Third Grade Matters. Baltimore, MD. Annie E. Casey Foundation, p. 10]

This column was originally published by Gary G. Brannigan, Ph.D. & Howard Margolis, Ed.D. in www.reading2008.com/blog . They also coauthored Reading Disabilities: Beating The Odds, a book to help parents identify reading difficulties, understand special education laws, work with schools, and, if necessary, challenge them to get their children needed services. It was listed as one of the three best books about education in 2010 by Psychology Today, and is available at  www.amazon.com & www.reading2008.com . Also look for their forthcoming book, Simple Ways To Maximize Your Child’s Potential, due out in mid 2011.

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IEP Goals And Objectives: Are These Any Good?

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