As I reflect on the prior IEP season one common theme continues to jump out at me. You can’t request additional services for your child if there isn’t a written goal that the service will help the child achieve. This is crucial for parents to understand. A well written IEP starts with an accurate Present Levels of Performance (PLOP) that outlines the child’s strengths and needs. If additional assessments are necessary to accurately update the child’s PLOP then make sure the request is made with ample time for the assessments to be performed prior to the annual IEP date. Once you have an accurate picture of the PLOP make sure you write a goal for every area of need. You would be surprised how often goals are not written to address every need and parents will have a very hard time justifying additional services without a goal.
When Parents call looking to hire a Special Education Advocate they normally start at the end. The conversation might sound something like this:
- My son is currently getting an hour a week of resource specialist support but it’s not enough; or
- My daughter needs additional speech services; or
- My son needs behavior support in the form of a 1:1 aide.
These are all the outcomes the Parents are looking to achieve but at this point I don’t have any information that will help me determine the likelihood of success. It’s my job to take the parents back to the beginning and review all the information before making a recommendation. For instance, if a child has difficulty with speech this doesn’t mean there should be only one speech goal but rather the IEP Team should dig deeper into which components of speech the child needs help with. This could include articulation, pragmatic speech, receptive speech, expressive speech, voice disorders and vocabulary just to name a few. Once you determine which components of speech the child needs help with you should write a goal for every component. For example, in a recent IEP the Team wrote four speech goals for David (His real name has been changed):
- David will be able to use grade appropriate vocabulary in retelling a story in 8 of 10 opportunities with 80% accuracy as measured by data collection;
- David will increase correct use of conversation strategies by using appropriate social skills to communicate ideas in a small group, in 8 of 10 opportunities with 80% accuracy as measured by data collection;
- David will eliminate vocally abusive behaviors (i.e clearing his throat excessively, yelling, whispering, etc.) provided a variety of visual and auditory cues (i.e. inside voice) at least 70% of the time during a structured task, given opportunities.
- David will share information and ideas, speaking audibly in coherent complete sentences during oral expression activities in a small group, in 8 out of 10 opportunities with 80% accuracy as measured by data collection.
Once you write the goals the next question is what type and amount of services are needed to accomplish the goals in the IEP. In the example above the School only offered 60 minutes of group speech a week. At this point we had an easy argument as to why additional speech services should be required. Considering the child has four speech goals it would be impossible for the child to accomplish these goals with only 60 minutes a week of therapy. It would not have been such an easy argument if the IEP only had one goal.
As this example shows if you think your child needs additional services always remember to start at the beginning. First, update your child’s present level of performance. Next, write multiple goals for every area of need including all of the components. Lastly, use the present levels of performance and goals to justify additional services. If parents remember to work from beginning to end they should have a much more productive IEP meeting.