Tag Archives: present levels

Podcast: Placement & the Least Restrictive Environment

On January 1, 2009, we originally published “Placement & the Least Restrictive Environment”. Throughout this 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 “Placement & the Least Restrictive Environment.”

Podcast: Present Levels of Performance

On December 12, 2008, we originally published “Present Levels of Performance – What They Are & Why We Need Them”. Throughout this 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, “Present Levels of Performance – What They Are & Why We Need Them.”

Podcast: Why Placement Isn’t Where You Start

On December 11, 2008, we originally published ““Why Placement Isn’t Where You Start: Understanding the IEP Process.” As we move through the 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, “Why Placement Isn’t Where You Start: Understanding the IEP Process.”

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.

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.