Despite the legal requirement that each child in special education have an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) with a Present Levels section (“present levels of academic achievement and functional performance”) that’s complete, up-to-date, and sufficient to develop meaningful and measurable goals (and in some cases, objectives), parents often complain that the school members of the IEP Team refuse to create such a Present Levels section. They complain that school members rush through the section or stonewall them by refusing to provide information that’s current, valid, and functional. All they get are standardized test scores from achievement test batteries like the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test or the Woodcock Johnson Psychoeducational Battery. (Such scores are insufficient to develop quality goals and objectives.)
If this is happening to you, here are four possible reasons why you’re having so much trouble.
Possible Reason.The school members of the IEP Team don’t know how to develop a Present Levels section that’s complete, meaningful, and functional. They’re used to developing Present Levels that are superficial. Possible Solution. They need substantial training. Since this will take considerable time, time your child can’t afford to “lose,” time that will delay the delivery of a quality program, you have to quickly provide a draft of the Present Levels section to put in the IEP. This may require having a private expert(s) review the current information and draft a Present Levels. As a member of the IEP Team, you can offer a draft.
Possible Reason.The district’s evaluations failed to supplement norm-referenced data from standardized tests with instructionally-relevant functional information. In reading, functional information might include a list of initial blends your child struggles with (e.g., sl in slip, br in brush) or a statement of his instructional level, the level book he comfortably reads and benefits from with his teacher’s immediate help. The district may have failed to get this information because it failed to administer a comprehensive test of letter-sound applications (phonics) or informal reading inventories plus probes of how well your child read from books at different grade levels. Possible Solutions. To remedy this, first you need to estimate your child’s current instruction levels; anything easier is probably his independent level, the level he can succeed at if he doesn’t get help; anything harder is his frustration level, the level he can’t handle, the level to avoid. Perhaps last year’s teachers could provide fairly accurate estimates. Second, you need to quickly get functional evaluations in areas lacking sufficient information; this is the information needed to develop goals and objectives. If the district’s reading specialist or learning consultant cannot do this quickly, you need an independent or private evaluation. Often, such supplemental testing takes less than two hours.
Possible Reason.School members of your child’s IEP Team have overwhelming caseloads. They feel pressured to rush through evaluations and IEP development. Possible Solution. Form a parents group to lobby for quality special education programs. Have the group share its concerns with upper level administration and the school board. Be polite, but persistent. After four or five rebuffs, don’t disappear. Be easy on people, but tough on the issues.
Possible But Rare Reason. To wear you out and send a message to other parents: “Be satisfied with what we give you.” In my experience, this happens, but is rare, despite the accusations of some parents. In fact, my experience is that most people in education do their best to help children. Possible Solution. Hire an attorney who specializes in special education law and has an outstanding record of success. I know this is expensive, and most parents don’t have the thousands of dollars needed, but representation by an attorney (not an advocate) is important. If your case has obvious merit, it creates power. It communicates that you’re serious and you’re willing to exercise, through the courts, your legal powers. If many parents in your district are experiencing similar problems, consider organizing a parents’ group, hiring an attorney to represent the group, and requesting an investigation by your state’s department of education. Also, consider newspaper stories, written in ways that protect the identity of your child and family.