Tag Archives: IDEA

Writing IEP Goals for Behavioral Issues

Update (4/11/13):  The link below to our former Ning community no longer works. We have moved our IEP goal-writing forum to http://kps4parents.org/main/community-outreach/iep-goal-forum/.


Writing IEP goals for behavioral issues can pose a particular challenge. Unlike academic goals, which should be tied to State standards for academic performance and more easily lend themselves to measurable language, behavioral goals aren’t tied to a pre-described set of criteria of what students should learn; at best, they relate to rules about what students should not do at school.

Behavior has been poorly dealt with in our school over the decades since mandatory schooling was first implemented back during the Industrial Revolution. Mandatory schooling itself was used as a behavioral intervention to address a huge juvenile delinquency problem that arose after child labor laws were passed that prevented parents from putting their children (as young as 6) to work in the factories. This left large numbers of unsupervised children roaming the squalid, poverty-stricken streets of the inner city factory workers’ neighborhoods. Suffice it to say that they often came up with some pretty inappropriate ways of keeping themselves occupied.

Child advocates at the time pushed for mandatory schooling to take these trouble young people and convert them into quality citizens of a growing young nation. As seems to be the case with every age, innovations in business and industry were applied to the concept of large-scale public education and the current system was designed to emulate the assembly line. Teachers were regarded similarly as workers on an assembly line, passing students from one grade to the next (except those that failed QC). More and more so, teachers were increasingly women looking for less dangerous work than what was available to them in the factories. Being that the women at the time had fewer rights than men and were often not knowledgeable in the ways of self-advocacy and the assertion of their rights, they were often more easily exploited as workers than male teachers. So, just as the workers on the assembly lines of the factories began to engage in collective bargaining and organized labor unions, teachers began to do the same. At the time, these unions served to protect workers and teachers alike from exploitation. Today, it’s a different political climate.

Nonetheless, taking the lead from the business world, the assembly-line nature of public education began pushing children through the system, many of whom who were already causing problems because of their behaviors. I mean, it was their behaviors that led to mandatory schooling in the first place. The response to their behaviors by the adults responsible for educating them was fairly typical for the times: spare the rod and spoil the child. It was highly punitive. Children were punished for inappropriate behaviors but there was no effort to systematically teach them the appropriate behaviors they should have engage in, instead. In other words, the interventions at the time focused on the structures of the behaviors – that is, what the child had actually done – as opposed to the functions of the behaviors – that is, why the child had done it. This left many, many children with unresolved issues and no means to see them addressed, causing the perpetuation of troubling conditions.

In defense of the educators at the time, these children’s parents were often even less capable in rendering proper guidance to their children. Factory workers often worked 14 to 16 hour days before going home to horrible living conditions in a crammed up tenement with their ten kids and were in no position to offer effective parenting and guidance at the end of the day to that many children. They were dependent upon the public school personnel to help them during the daytime with their children’s needs.

Fast forward to today and you still have an assembly-line type system in the general education setting. In fact, unless something is “wrong” with you such that you require special education, you aren’t entitled to an education tailored to the way you actually learn. Behaviors are still largely dealt with in a reactionary fashion with punitive responses to inappropriate behaviors after they have already occurred, though there is a burgeoning movement to finally implement positive behavioral interventions on a school-wide basis rather than on a child-by-child basis. Even still, all schools maintain disciplinary records for each student, which speaks to the culture of public school administration and its perception of children who behave inappropriately at school. If there still weren’t such a punitive mindset, they would be called behavioral records or something else non-judgmental.

Just because a kid does something that’s inappropriate doesn’t automatically mean that the kid wanted to do something bad or wrong; very often it’s the situation that the child just doesn’t know what else to do, is engaging in trial and error to try to meet a want or need without thinking things through (which may not even be possible depending on the stage of childhood development the kid happens to be in at the time), or is crying out for help in whatever ways will be heard. Behavior is largely a function of communication; the trick is being able to understand the message.

So what does all of this have to do with writing behavioral goals? Well, a lot. It’s difficult to write behavioral goals for many people because they are still caught up in the antiquated punishment model of behavioral intervention, which evidence shows may curtail a specific behavioral incident in the short-term, but does nothing in the long-term to prevent problem behaviors from developing again or growing worse and more sophisticated over time. Because so many people in public education have been trained to look at behaviors as challenges to their authority rather than signs of things that need to be addressed, it’s hard for them to conceptualize the proper formatting of behavior goals. Parents usually have no formal training in this area either and get caught up in the momentum of the punitive mindset, not necessarily sure that the schools’ approach is appropriate but not knowing what else to suggest.

The thing with behavior goals is that they have to describe what a student is supposed to do in order to determine that the goal has been met. But, most people still think in terms of what the student should not be doing and will write things like “By 12/10/09, [Student] will decrease vocal outbursts in the classroom by 90% as measured by observation,” which is a poorly written goal on an uncountable number of levels. What the goal should do is describe and target the appropriate replacement behavior. So, it could read something like, “By 12/10/09, [Student] will use his break card to request time away from noisy distractions, take his work to a pre-designated quiet area, and complete his work with no more than one verbal prompt per occasion in 4 of 5 consecutive occasions within a 2-week period.”

Now, here in this example, it’s implied that the reason the child was engaging in noisy outbursts because he was becoming overwhelmed by noisy distractions presented by others. This is significant! Most behaviors are engaged in to either get something or get away from something, regardless of whether those behaviors are good or bad. Behaviors serve specific functions to the individuals who engage in them. Purists in the field of behavioral sciences tend not to really classify behaviors as good or bad, but more in terms of appropriate or inappropriate to the circumstance, adaptive or maladaptive, or successful and unsuccessful. Reinforcers are those things that occur once a behavior has been engaged in that increase the likelihood of the behavior being engaged in again. Consequences are those things that occur once a behavior has been engaged in that are likely to decrease the likelihood of the behavior being engaged in again. Consequences are not automatically presumed to be punishment.

Think about it. If you’re at a restaurant and want fettuccine alfredo, you don’t say, “Give me a t-bone steak, please.” You ask for the fettuccine alfredo. If you were to ask for a t-bone steak, and the waiter brought you a t-bone steak instead of fettuccine alfredo, the consequence of receiving a t-bone steak would decrease the likelihood of you asking for a t-bone steak the next time you wanted fettuccine alfredo. Getting the t-bone wasn’t punishment. It was just the natural consequence of you asking for something other than what you really wanted.

But, what if you don’t know the name of the dish you want? You can describe it to the waiter (“Yes, I’ll have those flat noodles with the creamy sauce and that spice that’s usually only used in snickerdoodles and spice cakes,”) and hope he understands, or you can just order something else that really wasn’t what you wanted just to avoid the embarrassment of not knowing the name of your favorite dish in front of your dinner companions and the waiter. At that point, though, your behavioral priority became avoiding embarrassment rather than getting the food that you wanted. When cast in that light, inappropriate behaviors start to make more sense.

With our example goal here, the only way we could have known why the child was engaging in the inappropriate behavior of verbal outbursts in the classroom was to have conducted an appropriate assessment of the child’s behavior. This assessment, in this example, would have revealed that the child – who has ADHD and an auditory processing disorder – was getting auditory overload whenever the noise level in the classroom increased during busy activities and, being highly distractible to boot, was incredibly challenged to remain on task. The verbal outbursts were the result of his frustration at not being able to concentrate and being so caught up in the moment of being overwhelmed and lacking in coping skills that it didn’t occur to him to ask his teacher to let him do his work some place more quiet. We’re talking about a child with compromised learning skills, here, not a 45-year-old adult with years of experience at effectively solving problems.

The goal describes the desired outcome, but what probably also needs to be in this child’s IEP is a positive behavior support plan that spells out what his issues are and how to deal with them. The only purpose the goal serves is to measure whether or not he acquired the replacement behavior over the course of the goal’s annual period. In our example goal above, the use of the break card has to be explained somewhere.

Sometimes IEP teams unnecessarily knock themselves out trying to write a succinct enough goal that captures all of the relevant elements without it becoming the world’s longest run-on sentence when something like a particular strategy must be employed. My favorite solution to problems like this is to develop a separate protocol that gets attached to an IEP as another page of the document and then have the goal refer to it.

For example, our example goal being used here refers to a break card but doesn’t make clear what that is or how it should be used. The goal could be re-written to read: “By 12/10/09, [Student] will use his break card according to the protocol found on page 12 of this IEP to request time away from noisy distractions, take his work to a pre-designated quiet area, and complete his work with no more than one verbal prompt per occasion in 4 of 5 consecutive occasions within a 2-week period.” Then page 12 of the IEP could be a one-page description of the protocol. In the alternate, if a positive behavior support plan is also attached to the IEP and the break card system is described in it, then the goal could reference the positive behavior support plan.

The important thing is that the goal has to be customized to fit the unique circumstances of the child involved. We get a lot of hits on our web site from people looking for pre-written goals, but I’m telling you that this is totally the wrong way to go about it. You’re not going to find canned goals that fit a particular circumstance involving a particular child, particularly when it comes to behavior. The goal has to target the specific area of need as identified in the present levels of performance and describe in measurable terms exactly what the student has to do in order to demonstrate mastery of the targeted skill. The goals of any child’s IEP have to be tailored to his unique needs and you don’t get a customized outcome with “off-the-shelf” goals. Rather than looking for pre-written goals that will fit a specific child, look for examples of goals and learn to understand the process and the logic behind how goals are written.

With behavior goals, target the acquisition of the desired behavior rather than dwell on reducing the undesired behavior. Gather baseline data on how often the child engages in the desired behavior at the time the goal is written and the degree to which he is expected to engage in it at the conclusion of the goal, which should be an increase over how often he engages in it at the beginning.

For example, if the baseline is that the student does not currently use a break card system to appropriately remove himself from a noisy and distracting environment to a quiet place where he can complete his work, then our example goal above represents a marked improvement. If the child begins using his break card system to escape the noisy, distracting environments and completing his work in a quiet area, then he’s not standing in the midst of the chaos yelling his head off.

By engaging in the appropriate replacement behavior, he inadvertently ceases to engage in the inappropriate behavior. Once he realizes that he is being met with a more beneficial outcome by using the break card system than he was by yelling out in class, he’ll have no reason to go back to yelling out in class. Over time, the skill can be refined to the point that the student is able to afford himself the trust of his teacher to excuse himself at his own discretion, without the need for overt signals to the teacher like break cards, to a quiet area to do his work and no one will think anything of it. A behavior goal in this area of need will eventually no longer be necessary.

I’ve seen kids overcome behavioral challenges in a year or less with good behavioral supports. I’ve also seen kids fall deeper and deeper into a hopeless pit of despair in the absence of good behavioral supports. And the degree of disability has little to do with it. It’s all about the quality of the behavioral interventions, including the goals. As long as the goals target the desired behaviors, are written in a measurable way that relates directly to relevant and accurate present levels of performance, and work in tandem with any behavioral protocols and/or a positive behavioral support plan in the IEP, you should be met with success.


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KPS4Parents Interviewed by LRP

I was recently approached by John Haughey, writer and editor for LRP Publications, for our input regarding a due process decision arising from a case in Chicago. For those of you unfamiliar with LRP, it is the publication powerhouse that supplies information regarding special education law, policy, and practices to public education agencies and the attorneys who represent them.

LRP maintains, through its website http://www.specialedconnection.com/, the most comprehensive database of special education due process decisions from around the country, as well as state and federal appeal cases. With a subscription rate for full access at around $2500 per year, only the well-financed generally have access to this otherwise difficult to access public information.

Even so, many attorneys who represent students with special needs and their families will choke down this subscription fee for access to case decisions that provide appropriate authorities for their own work. Other products of LRP Publications are reviews of special education decisions and articles that discuss the subtle or not so subtle nuances of special education law.

Which brings me to the Chicago case about which Mr. Haughey, who is a very nice man, asked to interview me. KPS4Parents very much appreciates the opportunity to lend perspective from the child and parent side of the issue to LRP’s work. For many who work with families of children with disabilities, and who are leery of LRP because of its strong affiliation with the public education agencies and their attorneys, we hope you appreciate that LRP was actively reaching out to hear the child and family side of the issue.

While the way our comments were reported doesn’t provide the full context in which what was quoted was said, we stand behind what Mr. Haughey wrote of our input. Unfortunately, because this article is copyrighted by LRP Publications and you have to be a subscriber to their site to see it, we can’t give you access to the whole thing. However, LRP was kind enough to agree to let us audio record my interview with Mr. Haughey and we were given consent to quote Mr. Haughey’s quotation of me from his article.

The Chicago case was one in which a special education student was awarded compensatory education in the form of placement in a private school for children with learning disabilities at public expense after his school district was found to have denied a free and appropriate public education, or FAPE, to him. In this case, it seems, the school district had placed so much of an emphasis on placing this student in the least restrictive environment, or LRE, that it had failed to consider whether he could actually receive educational benefit in a general education setting.

I was one of several people from around the country interviewed for Mr. Haughey’s article. Also interviewed were a public school principal in Wisconsin and a special education attorney in New Hampshire. While I had the benefit of reading the decision issued by the Illinois Hearing Officer, I did not have access to the transcript of the hearing or the evidence, so I have to take the decision at face value. That said, I know from personal experience that hearing officers are extremely challenged to get all the fact exactly right, so I was still left with some unanswered questions after reading the decision.

It was an interesting read, nonetheless, and what I want to focus on here is the case as represented by the hearing decision. I offer our sincere respect to the family involved in this case, particularly considering that the case reflected in the decision is probably not exactly reflective of the case the family attempted to have tried. I also offer our most emphatic support of the student in this case because it was this young man’s life about which this case resolved. He is the one who will have to live with the consequences of what this case did and did not yield on his behalf. So, to the extent that I’m about to talk about this case as though the decision is 100% reflective of the facts, and I’m about to use it as a generic example for the benefit of others, please do know that we very much understand that this was really about one boy and his right to learn to read, write, and do math and very much appreciate that this family stuck its neck out in an effort to effect change.

The decision in the case at issue here reflected a number of shortcomings that the LRP article, which was brief, did not go into. One of the issues was that the assessment data fell far short of the mark and this young man’s IEP teams were without the data necessary to make informed decisions regarding what was or was not a legitimate offer of a FAPE based on his unique learning needs. So, there was this first undermining of the process that ultimately made it impossible for the rest of the process to be properly executed.

The decision doesn’t specifically speak to whether the parents’ participation was meaningful in the IEP process, but I would argue that an IEP meeting denies meaningful parental participation if the information necessary – that is, data that explains what the student’s needs are – is not made available to the parents so that they can make informed decisions. Likewise, most parents are clueless regarding what data is necessary and how that data should be used. They are left to trust the judgment of school officials who may or may not understand their obligations under the law to special education students.

What was implied by this decision was that the school officials believed it was more important to place a child with an above-average IQ in the general education setting regardless of what his actual learning needs were than to examine the full continuum of placement. The decision suggests, and LRP’s article comes right out and asserts, that there was an emphasis placed on the LRE requirements more so than on what constituted a legitimate offer of a FAPE. I have to question this interpretation to a certain degree. That’s not exactly what I got out of reading this decision.

Yes, it’s true that, according to the decision, the District asserted that it only offered placement in the general education setting because it perceived that setting to be the LRE and that the student didn’t require a more restrictive placement. That may have actually been true.? Where the District may have fallen down was not necessarily?where the services were being provided but whether the proper services were being provided at all. The decision doesn’t address this consideration.

If you go back and look at our blog posts of the past and read the articles regarding the IEP process, you quickly come to understand – if you didn’t already know this – that services and placement are the last things discussed by the IEP team. What drives the selection of services and placement is the goals. The goals describe your intended outcomes of intervention and services and placement are the vehicles by which the goals are meant to be achieved. To the extent that the child can receive services such that his goals can be achieved in the general education setting, placement in the general education setting with non-disabled peers should occur.

In the Chicago case, it was not clear from the decision that there was any examination of what services could have been provided in the general education setting that could have seen the child benefit from his education. The decision reflects that only accommodations and modifications were made in the general education setting, not that services were pushed in or provided as supplemental supports.

Now, that said, this had apparently been going on for a while. As a result, the student had failed to receive educational benefit for years. By the time his case got to hearing, he was due compensatory education to make up for the years of lost educational opportunity and, at that point, the only real way to provide him with that kind of remedial support was to put him in a very restrictive setting, that being a private school for children with learning disabilities.

There very well may have been a time when placement in general education with appropriate supports and services would have rendered educational benefit and prevented all of this from ever happening. But, we’ll never know. The decision doesn’t speak to what would have been a FAPE for him in the past. It only speaks to the harm done by the District’s inappropriate offers of only accommodations and modifications in the general education setting for this student and the fact that compensatory education is now due to the student as a result of that harm.

This brings me to the next consideration: the use of the term “LRE.” As we’ve stated in blog articles before, the LRE?- the least restrictive environment – is the setting in which the student can receive educational benefit with the most exposure to typical peers and the typical school experience as possible. It’s relative to the student’s unique needs. This was the aspect on which I was quoted by Mr. Haughey in his article for LRP Publications.

Mr. Haughey wrote that I said, “LRE is relative — relative to the needs of the child,” which is true. Mr. Haughey went on to write: “Zachry advises parents to ask these questions in determining if the general ed placement is appropriate for their child: ‘Is it going to achieve the outcome you are looking for Are we leveling the playing field, or are we putting him on a completely different playing field?'” ?This advice actually was intended for the entire IEP team, not just parents.

Mr. Haughey also wrote that I said that parental pressure often can allow institutional bias for mainstreaming to go unchallenged, but did not include the context in which my statement to that effect was actually couched. This is something I want to clarify before my words are used to fuel the anti-parent bias that already pervades the public school community, and which some attorneys who represent public education agencies actually exploit for their own financial gain.

It is true, and I’ve written in our blog on this before, that most parents really do not understand the special education process. That’s one of the reasons we publish our blog in the first place. It’s also true that far too many professionals in special education really do not understand the special education process, either, which is another huge reason we publish our blog.

People on both the school and the parent sides tend to put placement before everything else, treating special education as a place rather than a service, even though placement is only one aspect of a special education student’s program and the last thing the IEP team should consider. So, again, we have this case out of Chicago and the attention that LRP is giving it that both focus on the placement more than anything else and I can’t help but wonder about the message this is sending to the folks in the public education community. Does this reinforce the false notion that placement is the only really important thing to talk about and that present levels of performance and goals are just procedural fluff?

It is also true that there are a great many parents out there who, in the process that parents follow in coming to terms with being told that their children have handicapping conditions, are in a stage of denial and, in their ignorance, think of special education as a place rather than a service to help their children learn. These parents view special education as a label – a “Scarlet Letter” – that will brand their children as though it is somehow advertised who and who is not on an IEP.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t insensitive clods in the public education system who have no sense of student confidentiality, but for the most part, public school employees do not go around blabbing students’ personal business to the other kids. Generally speaking, kids with learning disabilities and other “hidden” handicaps blend in with everyone else and no one knows they’re on IEPs unless they tell their peers themselves.

So, the parental fear of the child being labeled is often a rather irrational one. But, it’s also a natural stage of the process that every parent goes through. Sometimes it’s a fleeting moment before the parent moves to the next stage towards acceptance and proactive involvement, but sometimes parents get hung up at this stage for a while – or even indefinitely.

Like the stages of grief, how long a particular person spends at each stage of the process depends on that person’s individual growth and development as a human being. It’s unfair and inaccurate for school personnel to presume that all parents are in denial. Most parents of children with special needs experience at some point a great deal of relief of finally understanding what is going on with their child so they can start constructively coming up with a game plan. They get past the denial at some point.

But, while parents are in that denial phase, they are often resistant to the application of the term “special education” to their children, particularly if they are in denial at the time that their children are found eligible for special education services. They envision the proverbial “retard room” from their childhood educational experiences and can take any identification of eligibility for special education as a condemnation of their children’s potential. This is truly unfortunate. Within this context, it is true that parental pressure often can allow institutional bias for mainstreaming to go unchallenged, as Mr. Haughey reported.

Sometimes, however, it is the student’s bias that’s the problem, which Mr. Haughey and I discussed during the interview, as well. Sometimes the student doesn’t want to be placed in a more restrictive setting out of embarrassment, but is also embarrassed in the general education setting by not being able to keep up with peers. In a situation like this, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. That’s a really hard problem to overcome and usually comes down to the parents telling the student, “Look, this is the way this is going to go down and you’re just going to have to deal with it,” regardless of what the placement determination turns out to be.

In other instances though, and from what I could gather from reading the Decision in the Chicago case such was the situation there, the parents don’t really care so much about where services are provided so long as their kids get the help they need. The Chicago case seemed to me to be about a family asking for help for their son and not getting it, and the denials for help by the District being based on an inappropriate application of the LRE requirements.

Truthfully, what I suspect but would need evidence to know for sure, is that the District probably didn’t want to pay for the intensive remedial services this student needed and used the LRE as an excuse to deny them. Otherwise, no one at the District had a clue about what LRE really means and requires. Special education noncompliance tends to arise out of ignorance, petty politicking, or a combination of both. As with any due process case, we’ll never really know all of the truth about this situation, but we appreciate the opportunity to examine it and hope that my analysis provokes thought on the part of others to make the special education system better.

California SLPs Sometimes Confuse Legal Requirements

Today’s posting will hopefully lay to rest a misunderstanding that seems to plague special education in California. I can only presume that, like many other “urban myths” that root themselves in special education lore, at some point in time, somebody somewhere in California conducted a training seminar on speech-language assessment and services within special education and miscommunicated something that has now led to speech-language specialists throughout the state making improper conclusions to the detriment of some children in need of speech-language services.

The problem is this: the distinction between who is found eligible for special education on the basis of a speech-language impairment (“SLI”) and who qualifies for speech-language services as a student already eligible for special education under any other category. Eligibility for special education as SLI is not required in order for a child otherwise eligible for special education to receive speech-language services in order to benefit from his/her IEP.

The critical piece of legislation, which gets erroneously cited in speech-language assessment reports all the time, is 5 CCR  3030(c). Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations Section 3030 describes all of the criteria for each of the eligibility categories under which a student may qualify for special education and related services. These categories include Specific Learning Disability (“SLD”), Other Health Impaired (“OHI”), Emotionally Disturbed (“ED”), and many others, including SLI. The critical thing to understand here is that the 3030s describe who can receive special education and on what basis, not what services they will get.

What ends up happening, though, is a child will be assessed for special education purposes and a speech-language assessment will be conducted. In the course of the overall assessment, even though the child is found eligible under some category other than SLI, because he did not score below the 7th percentile on two or more speech-language assessments, the speech-language specialist will determine that he doesn’t qualify for speech-language services according to 5 CCR   3030(c). It is a complete and utter misapplication of this Code, which deals strictly with eligibility under SLI and not what services an otherwise eligible child should receive.

A typical example of this would be a child who is eligible for special education pursuant to 5 CCR   3030(g) for autistic-like behaviors (in special education in California, a medical or psychological diagnosis cannot be made by the school psychologist, so this section of the code provides alternative language and defines the criteria by which a special education eligibility category can be identified for a child exhibiting the symptoms of autism), but who is relatively verbal. While his scores may hover just above the 7th percentile on the speech-language tests he was administered, they are still very low and his low language functioning compounds his other problems arising from the other needs arising from his handicapping condition.

In this example, anyone in their right mind can see that the child needs pragmatic (social) language intervention and help with idiomatic and figurative (non-literal) language. He doesn’t have any friends, he doesn’t get jokes, and he doesn’t understand clichs and colorful sayings, such as “Clear as mud.” This makes it difficult for him to participate in group projects with peers and understand the writings of Mark Twain. He needs goals that address these areas of need and speech-language services in order to benefit from his IEP.

No subsection of 5 CCR  3030 drives the selection of services that any child gets, only whether or not a particular child is eligible and, if so, under what category. The IDEA mandates that children who are eligible for special education, regardless of what category they qualify under, receive whatever supports and services are necessary in order to afford them a FAPE.

Specifically, the federal regulations found at 34 CFR  300.320(a)(2) state that IEPs must include for each child measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals designed to meet the child’s needs that result from the child’s disability to enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum and meet each of the child’s other educational needs that results from the child’s disability.

An eligible child is a child who requires, as a result of one or more handicapping conditions, special education and related services in order to receive educational benefit. 34 CFR  300.39 “Related services” is described at 34 CFR  300.34. In none of this is there anything that suggests that the only way that an otherwise eligible child can receive speech-language services is if he is also found eligible as SLI.

In fact, 34 CFR  300.304(c)(6) states that, when evaluations are conducted for special education purposes, they must be “sufficiently comprehensive to identify all of the child’s special education and related services needs, whether or not commonly linked to the disability category in which the child has been classified.” Congress understood when it crafted the IDEA that you don’t individualize a child’s program by resorting to “cookie-cutter” strategies that are based on a kid’s eligibility category.

The IDEA is the skeleton of special education law. It establishes the basic framework and minimal standards. It is left to the states, if they want any federal special education dollars, to add the flesh to the bones by creating their own state-level legislation that explains how each state will implement the requirements of the IDEA. While states are free to add more obligations to their schools than what the IDEA requires, they are prohibited from reducing the protections offered to students and parents under the IDEA lest they sacrifice their funding.

What this means for speech-language services to special education students in California is that the IDEA basically says each eligible child must get whatever he/she needs in order to receive educational benefit, regardless of what type of services are required and regardless of the applicable eligibility categories. That’s the whole concept of individualizing a child’s education plan based on his/her unique educational needs.

There is nothing at the state-level that reduces this federal mandate, nor could there be unless California were to choose to go it alone to cover its special education costs and we all already know that California can’t pay its bills even with the federal funding it receives. It absolutely cannot afford to give up its federal special education funding.

We’re curious to know if there are any other state-level debacles involving misinterpretations of the law happening elsewhere. Readers are encouraged to post comments to this posting about such misinterpretations that may be occurring where they live.

Behaviors that Interfere with Learning

Federal and state laws provide guidance to educators regarding their responses to children with disabilities who exhibit behaviors at school that interfere with their own learning or that of others. But, how do you determine whether a behavior meets the regulatory standard for triggering these provisions of the law?

 

I worked on a case just over a year ago in which the student had been found eligible for special education as only OHI (see our new acronym glossary) on the basis of her ADHD even though she was also clinically depressed and receiving psychiatric treatment outside of the special education process. We’d first attempted to get the District to also find her eligible as ED, but the District created an offer of services and placement that seemed at the time to be legitimately intended to address all of her issues regardless of her eligibility category, so we didn’t make a big deal about the secondary eligibility category after a while, which we later regretted.

 

The services offered to the student included on-site counseling with the school psychologist assigned to our student’s campus. The problem was, as nice and well-intended as the school psychologist was, she was grossly under-qualified to provide adequate mental health support to a tenacious young lady with a psychiatric disorder. Without making a single effort to coordinate push-in mental health services by qualified psychologists and therapists so that she could remain in the LRE, the school district kept pushing a COE-operated special day school for students with emotional problems, even though it wouldn’t find our student ED.

 

The parents refused to consent to the COE placement on a number of grounds, not the least of which was that their 13-year-old daughter who engaged in loud, over-sexualized dialogues with whomever would listen would have been the only girl in her class of 13 emotional disturbed teenagers. Those poor boys wouldn’t have stood a chance. She would have stood that class on its ear in the first five minutes.? No one would have benefitted from that arrangement.

 

We thought we had things worked out. The IEP seemed like a step in the right direction once we got it all wrapped up. The goals were measurable. Everyone had a game plan and people were assigned to contend with specific issues. But, our student had needs that were too severe and demanding for the staff assigned to her case, as it turns out, and entirely beyond her control. Her biochemistry was a train wreck. Her psychiatrist was challenged to find a blend of medications that worked properly. She was experiencing side effects from some of the medications. She was far more difficult and mouthy than usual for several months while the attempts to develop the proper medication regimen were being made.

 

At some point, she said the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time and got sent to the office to talk.  While sitting in the office waiting to be seen, she loudly announced that she and her boyfriend should just come to the school with guns and blow everybody away.? She was immediately sent home and school site taff instantly initiated expulsion proceedings.

 

In accordance with federal law, a Manifestation Determination IEP meeting was called to ascertain whether or not the student’s behavior was a result of, or was significantly impacted by, her disability. Her parents and I thought it was pretty self-evident. The girl’s various handicapping conditions, including those for which she was being treated outside of the special education system, were documented in various reports and letters from her treating doctors and therapists over the years as well as the district’s own assessment reports.

 

 

However, when we got into the meeting, it very quickly became clear that the meeting already had a pre-determined outcome. It was a total sham. The principal had collected letters from this child’s teachers vilifying her for the record, many of which described her as “disturbed” and “irrationally angry,” which, of course, were the untreated symptoms of her mental health disorders. Combine this state of mind with the poor impulse control that come part and parcel with many cases of ADHD and a smart mouth, and you’ve got one of the most difficult children in special education to serve.

 

 

She was too much for the school psychologist, who really was not qualified to serve her needs, as it turned out. In California, where this case took place, school psychologists are not, by default, real psychologists. The title is a misnomer.

 

All that is required to be a school psychologist in California is a Master’s degree in school psychology and a special credential, much like a teaching credential, issued by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. There is no license from the California Board of Psychology, which licenses holders of PhDs and PsyDs as clinical psychologists, or the Board of Behavioral Sciences, which licenses holders of Master’s degrees and PhDs in Educational Psychology to practice as educational psychologists.

 

As a result, California law, specifically 5 CCR  3030, fails to require any kind of clinical diagnoses by school psychologists and, instead, provides non-clinical criteria by which children are found eligible for special education. This is the case even when the school psychologist involved also happens to be a licensed clinical or educational psychologist.

 

Because most school psychologists in California are not qualified to render DSM-IV diagnoses, such diagnoses are not used in the special education process at all unless conducted under the auspices of a mental health evaluation by a licensed psychologist acting in that capacity and not in the capacity of a school psychologist. Mental health evaluations are done through interagency agreements between local school districts and county mental health agencies.

 

 

The problem with our student’s situation was that the school psychologist who was supposed to be providing her with in-school counseling support was not a mental health professional and as much as she tried to do the best she could, she simply wasn’t trained or equipped to contend with needs as severe as our student’s. And, she was more than willing to admit it. She was a good person. However, the district chose to stand behind the principal of the school who clearly hated our student and simply wanted her off the campus forever.

 

 

I’m not going to take the position that this child’s behavior should have somehow been tolerated. It was atrocious and had no place in a learning environment. The point that kept getting lost on the district, though, was that her behavior was being influenced by her medication changes and her defective processing. Her judgment was impaired by her biology plus a cocktail of psychotropic drugs that weren’t quite working out. 

 

 

She was crawling inside her own skin most of the day. This made her agitated and easily set off, which still didn’t make the behavior okay; but knowledge of what she was going through should have led the adults involved to come up with an appropriate offering of supports and services that would help her overcome these feelings and function more successfully at school. These could have included the district consulting with her treating psychiatrist to make sure that everyone knew what was going on, as well as everyone involved working collaboratively towards common outcomes and responding consistently across all settings to her behaviors.

 

 

That’s not what happened, though. What happened was that the district decided to limit its examination of whether the behavior resulted from, or was impacted by, her disability to only her ADHD. The district argued that she had only been found eligible for special education as OHI on the basis of her diagnosed ADHD and, therefore, the examination was limited to that disorder only. We argued that the IDEA requires that once a child is found eligible under any category, all of the child’s educational needs must be met even if they are not normally associated with the disability for which the child has been found eligible.

 

 

Even if, arguendo, she really hadn’t met the eligibility criteria of ED, she nonetheless carried a clinical diagnosis of depression for which she was receiving medication in addition to her severe ADHD. Looking at the language of the statute, it seemed pretty straightforward to us: we had to determine whether the behaviors were the result of, or were impacted by, her disabilities, not her eligibility category(ies). And, her disabilities included ADHD, depression, and possibly bi-polar disorder, for which she had a provisional diagnosis.

 

 

It was never our intent to suggest that her placement remain unchanged or that everyone should pretend like what she did never happened. We simply believed that expelling her for something that wasn’t entirely within her control, being that it was, at least in part, a manifestation of her disability and depriving her of intervention, was counter-intuitive to what the situation required. We needed to beef up her programming, not kick her out of school and place the burden on her parents to figure out how to remediate her educational delays themselves. The school was just sick and tired of dealing with her and simply wanted her gone.

 

 

The whole thing ultimately got resolved in a confidential settlement agreement that achieved a more appropriate placement without expulsion. She also got her meds straightened out shortly afterwards, which made a huge difference in the success of her program.

 

My point here is that we got burned by accepting the earlier argument that “Once she’s in, she’s in and we have to serve all her needs regardless of her eligibility category; you don’t need us to find her ED to give her what she needs.” We didn’t push for the ED eligibility category back when we first realized that she qualified for it because we believed the district was nonetheless making a good faith effort to address all of her needs, including her behavior.

 

 

It wasn’t until later that we realized that our trust had been abused. The reason the district didn’t want to find her eligible as ED on the basis of her diagnosed depression was to leave itself what it thought would be a loophole it could exploit to get rid of her down the line and force the COE placement on her parents, which it again tried to do at the manifestation determination meeting.

 

 

On the record, the district vehemently denied that it had done any such thing, though it still couldn’t reconcile its story against the evidence otherwise also available on the record. Assessment reports, the hate letters collected by the principal from the student’s teachers, incident reports, comments on her report cards, IEP meeting notes and indications of teachers’ and parents’ concerns, audio recordings of IEP meetings – all of it captured the symptomology of the very things with which she had been diagnosed as well as our initial attempts to add the ED eligibility to the IEP prior to our decision to let that issue go.

 

 

The record also made clear the kangaroo court-style nature of the manifestation determination meeting. The district would have had some explaining to do had the case gone to litigation.

 

 

Children who have behaviors that interfere with their own learning and/or that of others are some of the most difficult students to serve. We’re going to devote several postings to the topic of behavior because it is such a complex issue. There are so many considerations and even more theories of how things should be done that it becomes confusing and overwhelming even to people who have been working with these issues for a while.

 

Both the IDEA and Section 504 have rules about how behaviors are to be dealt with when they involve children with disabilities. You can download the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights’ notice regarding appropriate interventions under Section 504 and the ADA by clicking here.

The IDEA’s implementing regulations include 34 CFR 300.304(b)(3), which states that the schools must use “technically sound” tests that “may assess the relative contribution of cognitive and behavioral factors, in addition to physical or developmental factors.” [Emphasis added.]? 34 CFR 300.4(c)(10)(iii) states that, as a related service, psychological services include “obtaining, integrating, and interpreting information about child behavior and conditions relating to learning.”

 

34 CFR 300.324(a)(2)(i) states that IEP teams must give consideration to special factors, including behavior. It literally reads: The IEP Team must … [i]n the case of a child whose behavior impedes the child’s learning or that of others, consider the use of positive behavioral interventions and supports, and other strategies, to address that behavior.”20 USC  1415(k) explains when a child’s placement can be changed on the basis of behaviors and describes the process by which the determination is made regarding placement when behaviors are the issue at hand.

State laws can vary. In California, we have The Hughes Bill (5 CCR 3001 and 3052).It’s pretty specific about what can and cannot be done.

Minnesota has some pretty straightforward regulations when it comes to identifying and serving children with behavioral problems. (See MAR 3525.1329.) Indiana’s special education rules contain language that define behavior-related terms and spell out processes for assessing and serving the behavioral needs of children with disabilities. (See Title 511 Article 7 Rules 32 – 47 and search the PDF using “behavior” as your search term.)

 

Research your own state’s rules and regulations to learn more about how the behavioral challenges of special education students are supposed to be responded to by schools in your area. You can access your state’s department of education, which should have a link to an online source for the rules and regulations, or at least a method of ordering a hard copy of them, by going to the US Department of Education’s directory of state agencies.

 

Please be sure to subscribe to our feed so that you can receive our next few postings, which will also be dedicated to dealing with behaviors that interfere with learning. If you have any comments or questions, please do post them.

Placement & the Least Restrictive Environment

We’ve mentioned placement and Least Restrictive Environment (“LRE”), in previous postings. Today’s posting focuses specifically on these aspects of special education.

 

As discussed previously, placement is the last decision made by an Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”) team and is that setting in which a student’s measurable annual goals can be met using the services determined necessary by the IEP team and which is the least restrictive when compared to all other possible educational settings in which the goals could be met using the services determined necessary. In other words, once you’ve figured out goals and services, the IEP team has to examine all of the possible settings in which the services could be provided and the goals met, then pick the one that is the least restrictive.

 
“Least restrictive” is a relative term specific to the individual child. What may be least restrictive for one child may not be least restrictive for another. The language found at 34 CFR ? 300.114 states that:  “To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities … are educated with children who are nondisabled;”  and “Special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.”

What this means in plain English to parents is that if your child’s needs can be met in the regular education setting with push-in supports, the regular education setting is the LRE. The public schools cannot segregate special education students from the regular education setting purely on the basis that these students have disabilities. The needs created by their respective disabilities have to be so severe in nature or so unique to serve, that the necessary services cannot feasibly be pushed into the regular education setting and met with success.

So, how do you know when it’s time to consider pull-out options or alternative placements to the regular education setting? It all depends on the child.

Let’s say, for instance, that you have a teenage daughter with significant social anxiety. She’s become a recluse and refuses to go to school at all and refuses to go places with the family except at night with a hoodie pulled over her head. Her IEP includes a behavioral goal targeting attendance, since this is an area of measurable need that requires specific attention in her IEP.

Clearly, regardless of how academically capable she might be, you’re not going to successfully place her on a comprehensive high school campus in a whole bunch of different classes throughout the day and passing in the halls between classes, much less lunch and PE.  A very small class with pushed-in mental health services on a continuation school campus may be more appropriate.

 

 

As another example, let’s say you have an 11-year-old son with delayed cognition, impaired attention, and mild autistic like behaviors, most of which involves perseverative thought, ritualistic behaviors, and inappropriate dialoging skills. While it would be possible to push an appropriate curricular program into the regular education setting, the reality is that the inattention could easily make the regular education setting highly distractible to this young man and his behaviors could require constant adult redirection. It could quickly become an exercise in frustration for everyone involved and derail not only this young man’s receipt of an education, but also that of his classmates. But, if you don’t know for sure that this is what will happen, you should at least try it. Then, at least, if things don’t work out, you know you that your decision to move the child to a more restrictive setting is informed and everyone knows that a less restrictive setting proved unsuccessful.  You should never presume the worst automatically when considering placement options.

 

A young man like this might actually benefit from spending at least part of his day in either a Resource Specialist Program (“RSP”) or a Special Day Class (“SDC”) setting. Perhaps, his day would end up being divided among the regular education, RSP, and SDC settings. That’s the thing about placement: you can mix and match components to come up with the most appropriate combination for each individual child. But, this requires flexibility on the part of the public education system and special education placements designed with this mix-and-match type of planning in mind.

 

It has been my unfortunate experience in many situations that placements have been offered by public education agencies based on what they already have in place rather than that necessarily serves as the LRE for a particular student. In fact, almost one year ago, we launched web site devoted to this very issue regarding the schools located in San Luis Obispo County, CA, http://www.slocoesdc.info.

 

This web site was inspired by the cases of children coming from tiny rural K-8 districts in SLO County that only offered placement up to RSP. Students of these tiny districts who needed more intensive placements than RSP usually had only one other choice: a Severely Handicapped SDC operated by the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education (“SLOCOE”). Of course, this wasn’t appropriate if the students weren’t severely handicapped.

 

There were no in-between placements being offered or created to meet the needs of students who needed more than RSP but not so restrictive a level of intervention as a Severely Handicapped SDC. While neighboring districts offered Learning Handicapped SDCs, SLOCOE did not and neither did these children’s home K-8 districts. Some of these children would have been most appropriately placed in a Learning Handicapped SDC but were not placed in these classrooms due to inter-agency politics, even when these Learning Handicapped SDCs were operated on the same campuses as the Severely Handicapped SDCs to which they were being bused every day.

 

When http://www.slocoesdc.info failed to facilitate productive discussions between local schools and parents to address this serious placement issue, KPS4Parents filed a compliance complaint with the California Department of Education (“CDE”) against San Luis Obispo County Special Education Local Plan Area (“SLOSELPA”) alleging that the full continuum of placements was not being made to all the children served by public education agencies within SLOSELPA’s jurisdiction, as is required by State law. The matter remains pending at this time and, according to our last conversations with CDE, its Focused?Monitoring and Technical Assistance?(“FMTA”)?Unit is working with SLOSELPA to address this concern.

 

The point, here, is that placement and the LRE requirements are complex issues that involve constantly changing needs that public education agencies have to address from one school year to the next. Creating cookie-cutter solutions isn’t the answer. There are people working in public education who actually think that placement is (or should be) driven by the IQ score of the student. There remains entrenched in some public education agencies the mentality that actually educating children with special needs is an unachievable goal and an utter waste of time and resources and, as such, warehousing such children and minimizing their expense to the public agency is the most prudent form of administrative stewardship that can be exercised.

 

There are sometimes teachers and other school site staff who just don’t want to have to work as hard as the situation actually requires. So long as they go through the motions and enough kids leave their classrooms knowing at least something more than they knew when they first arrived, these “educators” believe they have earned their paychecks and no one can expect any more of them than that. 

 

I once had a student we represented enrolled in a mainstream computer class where she was receiving a “C” as her grade. She was, however, bombing out all of her other mainstream classes. Thinking that maybe the computer teacher had found some way to get through to her somewhat, we invited him to this young lady’s IEP meeting so he could share his insights with the rest of us. Unfortunately, once he got to the meeting, he admitted that he gave “Cs” to all of the special education students who enrolled in his class because they at least showed up and he didn’t know what else to do with them. The young lady’s special education case carrier, who was also her RSP teacher, was horrified. 

 

There wasn’t much need for me to stick around after that. The school site special education team jumped all over the situation, reassessed this young lady to figure out what was going on, and developed a much more appropriate IEP after that.

 

Reassessment is often a perfectly appropriate way to respond to a failed placement. If a special education program fails, it’s because there was a variable that either wasn’t known or was ignored as was, therefore, left unaddressed. In many instances, the variable simply was not identified, making reassessment or additional assessment necessary.

 

Everything in special education is dependent upon thorough, accurate assessment data. It’s the foundation upon which present levels are identified, goals are written, services are selected, and placement is chosen.? Assessment conducted in an effort to ascertain why a child is not responding to intervention should include observations and analyses of the settings in which the child is succeeding and not succeeding. That way, when the IEP team sits down to revise the IEP, it has data about all kinds of things that will help in determining what placement is the LRE.

Writing Measurable Annual Goals – Part 1

In our last posting, we talked about present levels of performance. If you haven’t read that yet, read it first before reading today’s posting because you have to understand present levels before you can understand goals. More to the point, you have to understand what a child’s present levels of performance are before you can start even thinking about writing goals.

As stated before, your present levels of performance are your stepping-off points. If an IEP were a race, your present levels would be the starting line and the annual goals would tell you where the finish line is. The annual goals of an IEP describe your desired outcomes- what it is the IEP team believes a child is capable of learning over the course of a year.

Goals are written every year but assessment is only required once every three years. This means that unless additional assessment is done in between triennial assessments, you’re only going to have fresh baseline data from standardized assessments once every three years. The other two years, you’re going to have to pull your present levels from informal assessments and the child’s progress towards the prior year’s IEP’s goals. I’m going to start out with the very beginning of the process, when a child gets an IEP for the first time and move forward from there.

Beginning with the initial assessment data, the IEP team has a fresh body of data to work with that, if the assessment was done properly, tells you pretty much everything that’s going on with a particular child. It will identify the child’s relative strengths and weaknesses, including the areas of deficit that need to be tackled by the IEP. The goals should tackle the areas of deficit for sure.

Some challenges a student faces may not warrant specialized instruction so much as they may simply require accommodation. For example, a child with a circadian rhythm disorder may receive as an accommodation an alternative schedule to the regular school day. That by itself has no bearing on the content of the child’s instruction. The curriculum doesn’t change on the basis of the child’s disrupted sleep/wake cycle. But,when instruction is provided is changed on that basis.

If the same child also happens to be severely autistic, then you’re looking at the content of the instructional component and not just when it’s being offered. Goals address what it is that you’re trying to teach the child. Accommodations help you get around obstacles that would otherwise interfere with pursuit of the goals.

For example, let’s say you have a 5th grade student with average to above-average intelligence who has an auditory processing disorder, a visual processing disorder, ADHD, and a physical anomaly of his hands – he’s missing the distal interphalangeal joints (top knuckles) of his index and middle fingers on both hands. Let’s say that this child also has a history of behavioral challenges in the classroom.

Comprehensive assessment reveals that the student has problems with visual tracking and saccadic eye movements This means that as he reads, his eyes do not smoothly jump from word to word. He has to visually re-orient every time he leaves one word and tries to fixate on the next. This also impacts his writing as he tracks what he’s trying to put down on paper.

However, his writing is further compounded by the physical anomaly of his hands. So, as he’s trying to watch his words go down on paper, his whole arm starts to hurt because he can’t do the fine finger manipulations necessary to achieve letter formation. He’s got to move his whole arm and upper body.

However, yet again, these combined processes are even further compounded by the fact that the child has an auditory processing disorder. Reading is an auditory process until the reader has memorized enough words on sight, thereby building a huge sight-word vocabulary. Children still learning to read or with relatively low reading skills will still have to think about how a relatively complex word sounds when they write it.

All of us do that to a point. We all can throw down “the” and “is” without any thought, but “sphygmomanometer” is another issue. Even after all these years following my 11th grade vocabulary class, I have to sound that one out.

So, imagine this child trying to receptively read the questions on a worksheet while his eyes are jumping everywhere but where he needs to look and process what the visual symbols sound like (which is an unnatural act in the first place) when he has a hard time processing sounds. It’s a gamble as to how much of what he read he’ll comprehend accurately.

Then have him write something about what he just read while trying to formulate his output based on the sounds of language in his head, which he has to translate into visual symbols that he writes backwards and upside-down because that’s how he saw them, while also trying to move his fingers, hand, wrist, and arm in a way that will produce legible handwriting.

Add in the distractibility, impulsivity, and inattentiveness inherent in ADHD, and then ask yourself why this child engages in behavioral outbursts every time he’s given a paper-pencil task. He’s attempting to avoid a tortuous experience. He’d rather get in trouble and get sent to the office than be put through that hell.

The goals you write for a child with needs like this are multifaceted. The problem a parent can face with a child with these kinds of needs is that you run up against a bias on the basis that he’s actually a pretty smart kid and?it may be?easier for the adults at school conclude that he’s just a poorly behaved little monster and nothing more. None of his multiple disabilities by themselves are all that severe. But, when you put them all together,?they create a recipe for disaster.

A child with these kinds of issues needs therapeutic intervention to address the underlying foundational skills that support academics. His goals need to include visual tracking, cross-Corpus Callosum communication of data presented through the auditory array, and exercises to build strength in his arm to withstand the additional work the arm has to do to support handwriting (taking into account that accommodations will also be provided to eliminate handwriting where it’s not necessary to the mastery of the curriculum). He also needs goals in reading, written expression, math (particularly for lining up problems properly so that calculations are accurate), keyboarding, organizational skills, self-advocacy, and behavior.

Because services are only provided to support IEP goals, it is imperative that all areas where services may be needed are discussed in terms of whether or not a student needs goals in those areas. If you’re thinking the student might need speech-language services, then you have to ask “What deficits does the child have in speech-language? What skills need to be taught in order to eliminate or reduce those deficits?” The answer to the second question gives you your material for your goals. If you can’t think of a skill in a particular domain that needs to be taught, then there isn’t a goal to propose. If there’s no goal to propose, there’s no service in that domain to provide.

Better yet, don’t go in thinking about what services a child needs. Figure out the goals first and then figure out what services are going to be necessary to see the goals met. That’s the proper format, anyway.

My point here is that not all goals are going to be rooted in academia and it’s not esoteric to write goals that tackle things like cross-Corpus Callosum communications. The brain is divided into two hemispheres?- the left and right. The two hemispheres are joined together by a neurological bridge of sorts called the Corpus Callosum. When both sides of the brain are involved in processing, the data between the two sides travels back and forth across the Corpus Callosum. This is also referred to as interhemispheric communications or interhemispheric processing.

If a child struggles with tasks that require cross-Corpus Callosum communications between the two hemispheres of the brain, as is often the case with auditory processing, then exercises that cause the brain to practice that kind of neurological activity are therapeutically warranted. This can include having the child bounce on a personal exercise-style trampoline while alternating between hands throwing balls up in the air and catching them. The child could also use a program such as Earobics, Fast Forword?, or Interactive Metronome.

But, if any programs are used, such as those mentioned above, goals need to be written describing what the desired outcome is for the use of each program. The goals will need to target the deficit areas for which the program is being provided based on the baselines that were measured during assessment.

Once you get a solid IEP written with sound, measurable goals, then it’s just a matter of providing the services that will see the goals met and collecting sufficient data along the way to measure how much progress the child is making. Once the year is up and it’s time to write a new IEP, the child’s present levels should be known in terms of the progress made towards the goals worked on for the last year. If you had a sufficient body of goals in all areas of unique educational need that were well-written and generated empirical data that tells you exactly where the child stands versus where he was a year ago, you’re in pretty good shape for writing the IEP for the year coming up.

If the child has made so much progress that it’s time to tackle a whole new skill set that’s the next level up from the goals he just finished, you may need to collect new baseline data in the area of the next skill set. When you’re scaffolding up from foundational skills such as letter-sound recognition, for example, to putting series of letters together to form sounds that are parts of words, you’re really jumping from one type of mental processing to another.

It is one thing to figure out the respective sounds made by “T” and “P” but it’s another thing to stick a vowel in there, string them all together, and come up with top, tip, and tap. Heaven help you when someone throws in an “S” or an “R” and you’ve got to do consonant blends like stop and trap. Because these next-level steps call upon the brain to do something more complex than what it did before, you’ve got to figure out exactly how well the brain can handle that kind of processing before embarking upon a goal so you know how much complexity is reasonable to expect at the end of a year’s worth of work.

Our next posting will actually focus on measurability, specifically. We already talked about this quite a bit when we covered Present Levels of Performance. In our next posting, though, we’ll focus on the formatting of properly written goals and share some resources with you for goal writing.


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