Tag Archives: data

New Video: Understanding Special Education Assessment Reports

Now is the time to start preparing for next school year’s IEPs.

Our latest video is one hour and ten minutes packed full of information regarding the purpose of special education assessment, the special education assessment process, the types of tests that can be used, and what to look for in a report’s interpretation of its data.

The low one-time purchase price of $8.99 helps cover our costs of producing parent training videos and providing services to families who otherwise can’t afford our help.


This video will give you important guidance about special education assessments so you can make informed decisions as the most important member of your child’s IEP team: the parent. Protect your right to informed consent and meaningful parent participation in the IEP process by educating yourself as much as possible about your child’s unique needs and the special education process. We are proud to bring you this resource and hope you find special education assessments a lot easier to understand once you’ve watched it.

Evaluating the Efficacy of the LRE

Click here to listen to the podcast version of this post.

I attended an IEP meeting recently that really brought home for me the complex nuances of determining what placement, or blend of placement options, represents the Least Restrictive Environment (“LRE”) for an individual student with an IEP. Not only are there the academic factors, there are the social/emotional factors of a particular configuration of services and placement to consider as well.

But, it goes beyond that. A truly honest evaluation of LRE also looks at the culture of the school, if not the entire school district, where the placement is to occur. What constitutes the LRE for a child according to best practices is not necessarily what’s realistically achievable in a school district that does not consistently apply best practices throughout its general education settings.

Many times, for example, a full inclusion program doesn’t fail because the child was unable to respond to appropriate pushed-in support in the general education setting. Full inclusion often fails because of weaknesses in how a school district has set up its general education programs in the first place, into which students with IEPs – who have all kinds of legal rights and protections that the general education students don’t have – then?try to integrate. The failure can be just as much because the general education setting is inappropriate for the general education students, much less a student with special needs.

Personally, I think every child should receive an individualized education. You shouldn’t have to have something “wrong” with you to be taught in a manner most consistent with how you are most likely to experience educational success.

However, our public education system was developed 100 years ago during the Industrial Revolution and emulates the assembly line. Trying to achieve individualization in a setting configured for mass production is an exercise in futility. Full inclusion, therefore, can fail because the effort to individualize for a fully included special education student in the general education setting runs counter to the mass production mentality of general ed.

So, what can happen is that parents will successfully advocate, they think, for full inclusion – or at least increased mainstreaming opportunities – only for the whole thing to go horribly awry once implemented. Afterwards, smug school district personnel will sit in IEP meetings throwing I-told-you-so’s into the parents’ faces, as though it was an outrageous mistake to push for full inclusion and?the parents should have known better.

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Science-Based Decision-Making in Special Ed

Last month, I wrote an article for Special Education Advisor, a blog operated by some folks located in Chatsworth, CA who are?dedicated to helping parents of children with special needs. You can see the article by clicking here.

The title of the article is “Tying the Science of Special Education to the Law.” Both science and law are fact-based disciplines (or are supposed to be), so this is a big issue for KPS4Parents, these days.?I’m not going to repeat the whole thing here. You can link to it to see what I wrote.

The point is that there is a huge disconnect between the science of special education and the law of special education. As KPS4Parents approaches its 10th year of operation, we are looking at how best to focus our efforts based on what we’ve learned so far and this seems to be the critical nexus where our attention should be focused.

Somebody scientific informed the development of the IDEA. Congress couldn’t have come up with language like “measurable annual goals” and “present levels of performance” without someone who understands the science of it all chipping in.

One of the issues we’re looking to combat on a systemic level is the watering down of the term “measurable” by the public education system. There is only one definition of “measurable” and it doesn’t include ballpark estimations framed as percentages of accuracy. Real percentages are calculated from measurable data. IEPs are required to be reasonably calculated to render meaningful educational benefit, which, again, means using reliable empiricism.

School districts try to argue that they are not bound by the same degree of rigor as scientific research, but the term “measurable” comes from the use of empirical methods ??la science. Hello!!!!!

It has always killed me that our public schools expect 3rd graders to produce science fair exhibits that include a hypothesis, methods (including for measurement), and results in a manner consistent with scientific method but the same school districts that teach this will do everything they can to exempt themselves from the same standards of accuracy when it comes to their duties to educate children with disabilities. Why specialists with advanced degrees think they are?held to a lower standard of technical accuracy than the average 3rd grader is beyond me.

In any event, this is going to be something to which I’ll be devoting a lot of attention. I’ll be doing a lot of research and posting my findings as I go along. I may also be assisting in the development of a legal treatise on the subject, which could be constructive in preventing and resolving special education legal disputes in which measurability is at issue.

If you have any background knowledge on how the scientific terminology of the IDEA ended up in the regulations, please share! You can post your feedback below.

Data Sheets for IEP Goals Must be Individualized, Too

09/25/2011 – UPDATE! Instead of resorting to paper-based data tracking sheets, consider using Goalbook instead. Now in beta – sign up for your free account today at http://goalbookapp.com.

One of the most common search queries that puts people on our web site is for data sheets to use to measure a child’s progress towards his/her IEP goals. The fact that people are looking for pre-written data sheets speaks to the larger issue of anything in IEPs being canned or pre-written.

The term “IEP” stands for Individualized Education Plan. Individualized. As in, tailored to the individual. You don’t tailor an IEP by using pre-written, canned content.

That isn’t to say that you can’t use a basic skeleton of pre-written material as your starting point, but just as goals have to be tailored to the individual needs of the child, the data sheets that measure progress towards that goal must also be tailored to suit the goal. It depends on how the goal is formatted as to how the data sheet should be devised.

For example, if you had a goal that read: “When given a worksheet of 10 single digit subtraction problems per trial, [Student] will accurately calculate the correct answers with at least 80% accuracy in 4 of 5 consecutive trials within a 2-week period as measured by work samples,” then you don’t need a data sheet, per se. You’re using work samples to measure progress towards the goals.

That said, the scores on each assigned worksheet could be conveniently tracked on a single data sheet just to keep the outcomes all in one place. If the worksheets are already required of the student as part of his/her math curriculum, then presumably the grades on each will be recorded by the teacher in a grade book or a computer-based grade tracking system, as well.

But, if you have a “stranger danger” goal that reads: “Following the pre-teaching of one social story per trial, where each social story pertains to a unique situation that calls for [Student] to determine when he should say something to another person, [Student] will appropriately role play speaking or refraining from speaking to the other person as appropriate and what he should say when speaking in 4 of 5 consecutive trials within a three-week period as measured by data collection,” you’re going to have to have a data sheet.

A data sheet could include a table that has a column for the social story titles, a column for the date that each social story was presented and role played, a column indicating how many role-plays it took for the student to correctly give an appropriate response, a column indicating how many prompts were necessary for the student to correctly give an appropriate response, and a column for teacher comments. It might look like this:

Title Date # Role Plays # Prompts Comments
Stranger Wants Money for Beer 09/12/09 2 3 verbal, 1 gestural The first time through, [Student] needed prompting, but after we discussed how he might have handled the situation differently following 1st role play, he was able to complete 2nd role play w/o prompting.
Clown is Giving Out Balloons at the Mall 09/15/09 4 5 verbal [Student] had a hard time grasping that, at age 18, getting a balloon from a clown in the toddler play area at the mall is not age-appropriate. He understood what the role-play required, but he really wanted the balloon and it took 4 role-plays before he demonstrated the desired response. I’m not sure he would respond appropriately in the actual situation.

Just as goal-writing can be likened to science experiments, so can data sheets. Think about every science fair experiment you did as a kid in school. What was required? You had to delineate the steps of each experimental trial and collect data on your outcomes. This is no different. Your data sheets should collect data on what you’re trying to measure, which means you’re going to have to tailor them to each goal for which they are written.

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Podcast: Understanding Assessment Data

On December 6, 2008, we originally published “Understanding Assessment Data.” As we move through the beginning of the new school year, KPS4Parents is recording many of our past text-only articles as podcasts so that busy parents, educators, and interested taxpayers can download them and listen to them at their convenience.

As always, feel free to comment on our content. We appreciate the input of our readers and listeners to bring you the information you seek. You can either comment below or email us at info@kps4parents.org.

Click here to download the podcast “Understanding Assessment Data.”

Present Levels of Performance – Where They Come From and Why We Need Them

We’ve discussed and provided a basic definition of present levels of performance in previous postings, but I really want to focus in on them in today’s posting because they are so critically important and so often over-looked. I’ve encountered IEPs that didn’t have them at all. I’ve also encountered IEPs that had such vague and non-specific present levels statements that they served no useful purpose whatsoever.

34 CFR ? 300.320 requires statements of present levels of performance as well as measurable annual goals. This is one of those things about the law that requires some reverse engineering and common sense. While the federal regulations do not spell out what all the elements of properly written present levels statements are, because they describe what a child can and cannot do at the time an IEP is written and because the goals describe what the child should be able to do one year from the date the IEP is written after receiving services, you can deduce that the present levels statements and the goals have to directly relate to each other.

In essence, your present levels are your “befores” and the goals are the “afters” that you’re aiming for. Measurability is required of goals so that you can tell if the student has made any progress or not, but that also requires that you knew where he/she was as of the start-date of the IEP as a point of reference. The progress a child is making over the course of the annual period covered by the goals has to be compared back against the present levels that were written at the time the IEP was developed.

For example, let’s take something easily measured like reading fluency. Reading fluency is basically how fast someone can either recognize on sight or decode a word while reading?- in essence, how fast can the person read (which doesn’t necessarily imply that the person understood what was read). Fluency is purely a measure of how fast a person can read off the text on the page.

Let’s say a child starts out at the beginning of an IEP with a fluency of 80 words per minute with first grade level text. The present levels of performance statement would read something like, “When provided with five consecutive passages of 150-200 words at the first grade level within a two-week period, [Student] demonstrated a reading fluency rate of 80 words per minute.” That’s pretty straightforward. The goal might read something like, “[Student] will read a passage of 200-250 words at the second grade reading level per trial with a fluency rate of at least 120 words per minute in 3 out of 5 consecutive trials within a two-week period as measured by teacher-recorded data.”

I don’t want to delve too deeply into the science of goal-writing right now; that’s an upcoming posting. But, because goals directly relate to present levels statements, I have to give an example here simply to make the point that without solid present levels, you have no idea whether a student’s performance towards a particular goal represents growth or not.

If you didn’t already know that the child read first grade level text at 80 wpm, then you wouldn’t know that second grade material at 120 wpm was an improvement. Where would you be?- where would the child be?- if you wrote a goal targeting 120 wpm and it turned out the child could already read 120 wpm? That’s not progress. That’s stagnation. What if the child actually read at only 10 wpm at the time the goal was written? Is it realistic to expect a fluency rate of 120 wpm after one year’s worth of intervention in a situation like that?

Because goals must be measurable, and because they refer back to the present levels of performance, the present levels themselves must be measurable. This really shouldn’t be that hard to accomplish if the last body of assessments were properly conducted and reported and all the present levels and goals from the time the assessments were conducted forward were properly written. But those, unfortunately, are big “ifs.”

I took the following example from the IEP of a student whose case we helped take to due process?a few years ago: “[Student] can copy anything. She is writing her first and last name on her own with few errors. She voluntarily writes ‘Daddy.’ She loves to write on the white boards.”

This is one of my favorite examples of how not to write a present levels statement. It was written for a seven-year-old with Down’s Syndrome and very serious holes in her knowledge due to poorly designed programming over a period of years. When I first read this child’s IEP and came across this language, I said to her father (rather sarcastically, I’ll admit), “She can copy anything? Like, the Mona Lisa? Wow! That’s amazing!”

Here are the major failings of this present levels statement: the word “anything” is wholly inappropriate. Additionally, there is no way to know what the author of this present levels statement meant by “few” errors. How many is that? What kind of errors? Could she write her name with or without prompting? With or without a model? Plus, the language that she could write her first and last name with few errors was, verbatim, the same language in her present levels statement of her writing goal written one year prior, which suggests that she failed to make any progress over that one year’s time.

Her whole IEP was written like this. I can’t fathom why the District didn’t settle the case; if I’d been the District’s director of special education, I would have been mortified for this case to go before a Judge.

I distinctly recall sitting in the hearing and watching the Judge shake the IEP in the air at the Program Coordinator from the District who was testifying at the time, demanding, “You just testified that it’s your job to make sure IEPs are written properly by your staff.? How do you explain yourself?” She started to cry. He’d had a box of tissue brought in right before she began her testimony and shoved it in her direction as he threw the IEP back down on his table in disgust. The parent and I certainly felt vindicated. We’d made that same argument at the IEP level and it hadn’t gotten us anywhere.

Conversely, here is a properly written present levels statement from a real IEP: [Student] has difficulty recognizing and explaining how words are related, as demonstrated on the CELF-4. His responses tend to be vague and do not identify the most important elements. Word Classes Total: Percentile Rank 1, WC Receptive PR=2, WC Expressive Subtest PR=4. Verbal analogies and quantity vocabulary are areas of particular need for [Student]. He also confuses words that are phonologically similar (e.g., cricket, crooked). He needs to learn to hear the differences in the sounds of the words and recognize salient information.”

Granted, it took a lot to arrive at an IEP with great language like this in it, but once it was all said in done, this child’s IEP was truly a document worth enforcing and we were able to avoid litigation altogether. He’s being doing great ever since.

That was from a couple of years ago. Here’s another good example of sound present levels statements taken from a recent IEP for a student that I attended earlier this month: “[Student] has difficulty comprehending his own reading and that of others. He is often unable to answer surface questions about the story he or others are reading aloud. When a simple passage is read to [Student] and he is asked to answer 10 comprehension questions [Student] answers 4 out of 10 correct. When [Student] has read the passage and asked to answer 10 comprehension questions in writing [Student] correctly answered 6 out or 10 questions.?An SRA reading/comprehension assessment found [Student] answering 4 out of 40 comprehension questions.”

You will note that the present levels statements I’ve cited as being relatively good are much longer than the one I cited as being bad. But, just because a present levels statement has a lot of words in it, that doesn’t mean it really says anything of value. It’s easy to say a lot of nothing with a lot of words.

You will notice that these good present levels statements include numbers. It’s important to appreciate the logic of basing IEP goals on empirical data. Measurability, which is required of annual goals, means that you have to count something. IEPs have to be reasonably calculated to render educational benefit. You can’t count or calculate anything without numbers.

Imagine hiring a contractor to build a privacy wall along the side of your property. If the contractor came out to your house and “eyeballed it” rather than taking measurements and diagramming out his work in advance, and failed to mark out with stakes and string where to dig for the foundation of the wall according to his measurements and diagrams, what would be the likelihood of you actually letting this guy tear up your yard, pour concrete, and stack bricks along your property line? What do you think the finished wall would look like if the contractor were to just “eyeball it” along the way rather than have taken measurements and worked off of them throughout the project?

If you wouldn’t dream of letting a contractor “eyeball it” on a wall in your yard, why on Earth would you trust anything less empirical with your children’s or your students’ educations? There is no room for vague, wishy-washy language when it comes to describing what a child can and cannot do at the time an IEP is written. That is the foundation upon which everything else is built.

I hope this information helps you better understand present levels of performance. Please do comment and let us know if you have questions about anything discussed in today’s posting or have an example of your own to share.