“Develop IEP Goals.” Where do I start?

Parents and some (typically newer) teachers who are told to develop IEP goals for their child or student find out quickly how difficult it can be.  According to special education attorney Peter Wright, parents and teachers frequently ask him how to write IEP goals and objectives.  What is so difficult about placing goals in an IEP?

The IEP—Individualized Education Plan—is governed by the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), a federal law that governs special education.  Too often, people start thinking immediately of goals that might sound great but are not specifically tailored to the child.  So “read and comprehend well” from a parent, or “read at xyz level” from a teacher, look like laudable goals, but are they appropriate?  How do you know what is appropriate when developing goals?

First Step.  Before anyone starts developing goals for a child, the IDEA requires that the IEP team know the child’s “present levels of academic achievement and functional performance.”  (See IDEA Sect. 1414(d)(1)(A)(i)(I).)  Often referred to as “present levels,” these indicators will dictate where the IEP team goes from this present situation.  How can anyone formulate goals for someone when the present situation is unknown?  A goal of “losing a maximum of 20 pounds” might seem beneficial, unless you are clinically morbidly obese where a maximum of 20 pounds might have little effect on health.  Or consider a six-foot tall man who presently weighs 100 pounds and would have detrimental effects from being so underweight at 80 pounds.  Now that goal is not so clear, and definitely not appropriate.

Second step.  Once you know where the child is academically and functionally, you can then develop goals that get the child to where he or she needs to be.  Language in the IEP needs to be clear, goals need to be measurable.  For example, “Can add” is a vague phrase that conveys little, whereas  “Writes answers to double-digit addition problems” is specific.  Then, the analysis becomes how this present level performance measures against where the child should be academically.

Goals needs to be clear and measurable.  To be measurable means that you can count or observe it.  Often parents think it is only teachers who can measure goals, but this task is not limited to teachers.  If there is dissent or confusion about whether goals were reached, consider evaluation by an objective party.

In summary, when developing an IEP start at the present levels of the child and develop measurable goals.  The IEP process can be daunting, but starting from a point of present levels of academic achievement and functional performance will guide you to what is needed for that particular child.

Contact me at julie@juliemillslaw.com to review your child’s IEP or discuss setting goals.

School shootings: helping students with disabilities prepare

The title of this post is so disheartening.  The school shooting in Florida has schools assessing their security plans and emergency drills, which has become as necessary today as huddling in the hallway for tornado drills was when I was in school.  Schools are required by federal law to have emergency plans for students and staff with disabilities.  The best way to ensure that your school has an emergency plan for your child is to advocate for it.

My elementary-age child’s classroom practiced “The Sheep, The Shepherd and The Wolf” emergency drill.  The sheep are the young students, the shepherd is the teacher guiding them, and the wolf–the wolf is an active shooter who the teacher instructs the sheep to “stay out of the wolf’s way!”  This method of preparing for an active shooter is used to instruct young children in a non-threatening way.  Elementary children obviously cannot handle information about an active shooter drill that might be given to high school students.

As schools tailor emergency plans for students according to their development stage, the same tailored plans must occur with students with disabilities.  How will pulled fire alarms, shouting, shooting and other paralyzing noises affect a child with autism?  Or a child who cannot hear or see?  Would a child with developmental delays understand emergency instructions?  Plans for the most vulnerable should be tailored to individual needs, and practiced often.

This article in the Washington Post, “How can we prepare our kids with special needs for a school crisis” provides clear advice on ensuring that your child is included appropriately in emergency plans.  Among much advice, the article suggests:

  • Ask your school district about how they include students with disabilities in emergency plans (required by federal mandate).  Here is a sample plan.  In Ohio, school emergency management plans are not public record but discussions can and should happen.
  • Talk with the administrators in your child’s building about your child and their plan for your child, specifically.  If your child uses a wheelchair, are there steps to get outside at the door nearest your child’s room, and how will your child get outside?
  • Include instructions in your child’s IEP or 504 plan detailing what help your child will need in an emergency.  Make sure your child’s teachers are aware of what help your child will need.  This “Teacher’s Emergency Plan Procedural Checklist” should be provided to your child’s teachers.

Schools are required to have emergency plans for students with disabilities, but the best way to help protect your child with special needs is to make sure there is a plan in place that is tailored to your child’s needs, and known by teachers and administrators.

Contact me at julie@juliemillslaw.com with any questions.