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  • Writing Effective and Legally-Defensible IEPs: Core RequirementsWhat teachers need to know about the most essential elements in the

    Individualized Educational Program

    SWEET, STEVENS, KATZ & WILLIAMS LLPAugust 2006

    Sweet, Stevens, Katz & Williams LLP 2006

    The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that every IEP contain the following essential elements:

    1. A statement of the childs present levels of academic achievement and functional performance, including an explanation of how the childs disability affects the childs involvement and progress in the general education curriculum.

    2. A statement of measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals that are designed to meet the childs needs that result from the disability to enable the child to be involved and make progress in the general education curriculum and to address other educational needs. For children who are eligible for alternative assessment (PASA), the annual goals must also include short-term objectives or benchmarks.

    3. A statement of the special education and related services and supplementary aids and services, based on peer-reviewed research to the extent practicable, and a statement of the program modifications or supports for school personnel that will be provided to the child, including projected beginning datesfor, and the anticipated frequency, duration, and location of, each program or service thus described. These programs and services must serve the purposes of (a) advancing the child toward the attainment of his or her annual goals; (b) enabling the child to participate and make progress in the general education curriculum; (c) enabling the child to participate in extracurricular and other nonacademic activities; (d) enabling the child to receive education and participate with both disabled and nondisabled children in activities that advance these purposes.

    4. An explanation of the extent, if any, to which the child will not participate with nondisabled children in the regularclass and in regular extracurricular and non academic activities.

    5. For children aged sixteen and older, appropriate measurable postsecondary goals based on age-appropriate transition assessments that address training, education, employment, and where appropriate, independent living skills.

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    The statement of these measurable postsecondary goals must be accompanied by a statement of the transition services (including courses of study) needed to assist the child in reaching these goals.

    These elements are not the only IEP content requirements that the IDEA imposes. They are, however, most critical to the development of an IEP that will meet the needs of the student, communicate effectively with the parents our plans for their children, and survive legal scrutiny. Writing IEPs that describe each of these elements clearly, specifically, and measurably falls well within the legal and professional duties of special education teachers. Designing or using publisher-made assessment tools to measure progress regularly and make such adjustments in goals and programs and services as the progress data require also falls within the scope of such duties.

    The purpose of this memorandum is to provide you with specific guidance and information about each of the above IEP elements, and about progress monitoring, so that you are able to meet your responsibilities as a professional employee of this District. Although the IEP elements discussed in this memorandum are most important to the development of a legally and educationally sound IEP, you are expected to ensure that all of the required elements of the IEP are completed thoroughly and in a manner that is appropriate to the individual needs of the child.

    A. Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance

    The statement of present levels must contain objectively measurable baseline statements in every area of disability-based need, academic and functional, of which you are aware. Every area of need must have a baseline regardless of whether the particular need was identified or recognized in the most recent evaluation report or reevaluation report.

    Example. The last ER for Sal, a student with a learning disability, describes him as having difficulties with attention and short-term memory that are adversely affecting the acquisition of reading skills. Teachers working with Sal notice that these same attention and memory difficulties are now affecting Sals ability to master and retain basic math facts. The present levels for Sal should include baselines for both reading skill and math fact skill development, and include goals addressing each area.

    Example. The most recent ER for Jake identifies him as having a language based learning disability that affects that level and rate at which he acquires reading and written language skills and that impairs his ability to retrieve language when asked to respond to questions orally. Teachers working with Jake notice that these difficulties are causing Jake to frustrate when presented with reading, writing, and language tasks and to engage in behaviors that enable him to avoid such tasks, either by disrupting the class or by earning a disciplinary referral to the office, or both. The IEP

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    for Jake should include baselines for reading, written language, expressive language, and the observed behaviors that are interfering with Jakes learning or the learning of others.

    Academic Achievement

    Academic achievement is confined to the areas of reading, math, written language, and listening comprehension. In academic areas, the statement of present levels must describe specifically and quantifiably the skills that the child has exhibited, either in response to instruction or in response to assessments that provide instructional baselines. An unfamiliar teacher, reading the statement for a particular academic area, should be able to identify the point at which he or she should begin instruction in that area and type and level of materials he or she should use. The statement also, whenever possible, should provide the teacher with an approximate rate at which the student learns and retains new material.

    Reading. In the area of Reading, the present level statement must include baseline information, when relevant to the reading level of the child, in all five areas of reading development recognized in the Report of the National Reading Panel, NIH Pub. No. 00-4754 (National Institute for Literacy 2000): phonological awareness, phonics or alphabetics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

    Examples.

    J Good. Mary is able to discriminate and vocalize all of the regular English phonemes, can segment and blend these phonemes into words. She is able to read aloud passages written at the beginning third grade level at an average, over her most recent ten readings, of 96% accuracy at 80 words per minute (wpm). This year, because of difficulties with attention and short-term memory, Mary has mastered 2/3 of the reading skill lessons at level two of a structured, sequential reading program in which children are expected to master one level for each year of instruction. With review of unfamiliar vocabulary prior to reading, and with prompting to apply learned pre-reading, reading, and post-reading strategies, she can answer mixed concrete-factual and analytical-inferential comprehension questions about a passage she has just read at the mid-third grade level with 80 percent accuracy, averaged over her last ten readings, although she answers concrete-factual questions in isolation with 96% accuracy. Retention of material read falls to 50% on re-assessment of comprehension within 24 hours of the initial assessment.

    J Good. Ted is able to apply previously-learned phonics and word analysis skills to read passages written at the lower high school level with 94% accuracy at 160 words per minute, averaged

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    over the most recent five cold readings. With pre-teaching of new vocabulary, he is able to answer mixed concrete and inferential comprehension questions about passages he has just read at the upper middle school level with 90% accuracy and lower high school level passages with 75% accuracy, averaged over the most recent four cold readings. On reassessment within one week of the initial assessment, comprehension falls to 80% for upper middle school passages and 68% for lower high school level passages. Overall, Teds fluency and comprehension levels have grown approximately one year for each year of structure, systematic, direct reading instruction.

    M Bad. Harriet participates in the Harcourt Trophies Reading Program, and her teacher reports that she is doing well at the second grade level. She tends to do better with books about horses. She earned a B- in Language Arts in the fourth quarter. Content area teachers report that Harriet appears to understand material from the text that the class reads together, although she is reluctant to read aloud when called upon and works slower on independent assignments that require reading. She scored in the basic range on the most recent administration of the PSSA Reading test.

    M Bad. Jacks most recent testing in the area of reading on the KTEA yielded the following results:

    Reading Decoding ss 85 GE 4.3

    Reading Comp. ss 92 GE 6.1

    Reading Composite ss 89 GE 5.4

    In addition to reading instruction in the LS Resource Roo