Navigating and planning an effective IEP and the stress related in the aftermath have been equated with a term we lovingly refer to as “Post Traumatic IEP-Disorder”. While the goal of an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) is to maximize school services and tools to benefit your child’s specific learning patterns, it can be a very disheartening, overwhelming and daunting task if the IEP team is not cohesive — or you are simply new to the process. With growing nationwide budget cuts to public school systems, it is becoming even more increasingly difficult to receive a proper IEP with beneficial FAPE (Free & Appropriate Public Education) that our differently-abled children are legally entitled. Our belief at WAKEUP is that the overall documentation for an IEP should be a simplified, universal document written in laymen’s terms so that any/all parents can clearly understand the goals, objectives and services provided in plain, easy simple English. That is certainly not the case in most school systems.
Understanding the importance of how IEP objectives should be written helps educators and parents clearly communicate about what skills are most important for a child to work on for the length of the IEP. When objectives are written that are clear and measurable with a defined baseline and assessment method there is little room for contention. Being able to measure progress helps both parents and educators know that the strategies being implemented are either working or not working. Teachers review IEP objectives as often as report cards are sent home. This helps teachers make adjustments to approaches and interventions in a timelier manner. Parents should receive a copy of their child’s IEP progress report and I encourage them to review the progress report and discuss their concerns with the teacher and/or case manager.
Our special contributor, Ms. Jennifer Fuller James has worked with children with special needs for over 22 years. She has been a strong advocate for children with special needs through being a school social worker and a special education teacher. She has also helped many parents help their children to be the best that they can be and to experience success in life. Jennifer received her Master’s in Social Work from The University of Washington in 1992 and her Master’s in Special Education from The University of Northern Colorado in 2005. To learn more about navigating the IEP process, advocating for your child with special needs and parenting children with special needs, please visit Jennifer’s website at http://www.whatisiep.com/.
The Goals and Objectives section of the IEP is the”meat” of the IEP. Goals and objectives should be directly linked to the child’s educational needs. Special educators determine what a child’s education needs are through formal and informal assessments, through observations of the child’s behaviors and social interactions, through parent feedback, through work products the child creates and through evaluating the child’s level of success with different teaching interventions. The goals and objectives are the specific skills the child is going to learn during the course of the IEP, which is usually one year.
IEP Goals are directly related to state core content standards. Every state in the United States was required to adopt core content standards in all major content areas for children in Kindergarten through 12th grade. These standards apply to all children in public schools- children who are “typical”, children who are English Language Learners (ELL), children with all types of disabilities and children who are gifted. Each standard spells out what skill sets and knowledge a child should have by the end of a grade level or time period. There are common core standards in English-Language Arts and Mathematics developed by the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Currently, most states in the country (45 out of 50 plus the District of Columbia) have adopted these standards. Other content area standards vary from state to state. These typically include standards in Science, History/Social Studies, Health & Physical Education, Fine, Performing & Industrial Arts, Life and Transition Skills, Foreign Language and Technology.
The individual objectives under each goal define the specific skills the child is going to acquire during the IEP. Objectives should be clearly written, measurable, have a current baseline and include an explanation of how progress will be measured. An objective such as, “He will make one year’s progress in his math skills” is vague and immeasurable. A more appropriate objective might be, “He will learn to add two and three digit numbers, with regrouping, with at least 90% accuracy. Currently, he is unable to add multiple digit numbers with regrouping. Work samples and test scores will be used to measure progress”. Another example of an ineffective objective is, “She will increase her cooperation with her history teacher”. An appropriate way for this objective to be written might be, “She will increase her compliance of teacher requests to begin working within 30 seconds of a direction being given to 9 out of 10 times. Currently she begins working within 30 seconds 1 out of 10 times. The History teacher will have a tracking sheet to indicate whether work began within 30 seconds to assess this skill.”
It is then up to the educators to determine what interventions will be used to teach him to add multiple digit numbers with regrouping and teach her to begin working on an assignment within 30 seconds of the teacher request. Some parents want schools to teach their child using a specific curriculum, methodology or therapy and this is not something included in the IEP. The decisions about how skills are taught are made by the state, the district and the teacher based on research based strategies and curriculum adoptions. Many teachers are open to listening to parent suggestions and trying additional techniques but it cannot be mandated in the IEP.
In my experience as a special educator, two significant issues tend to occur with the goals and objectives section of the IEP that parents should be aware of. First, parents usually leave the completion of this section of the IEP up to the school. I encourage parents to formulate and write down their own goals for their child before entering the IEP meeting to assure that the issues they are most concerned about are being addressed. Second, due to time constraints, the goals and objectives may not be specifically discussed at the IEP meeting. Often there is a comment such as, “And these next several pages are the goals and objectives we’ve developed for your child, you can turn to the section just after them where we’ll discuss the program or service delivery your child will receive”. If this section is the “meat” of the IEP, I believe parents should have the opportunity to read the goals and objectives and make their own suggestions, based on their goals, if they do not see them addressed in the ones written by the school personnel. Parents have the right to read the whole document before signing it. If the case manager tells a parent that there is not time to review all of the goals and objectives, the parent may ask to take the draft document home to review and either sign it as is or ask for another meeting to suggest and discuss changes. Keep in mind that school districts usually only give parents a short time frame for this review as they have regulations to follow regarding the time frame for implementing the IEP.
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