From Assessment to Annual Goal: Engaging a Decision-Making Process in Writing Measurable IEPs

Article excerpt

After a relaxing summer vacation, "Ms. Engler, " a reading and math special education teacher, returned to her resource room refreshed and ready to start a new year. Within the first month, she gained a new student, "Paula, " who had transferred from a school across town. When Ms. Engler reviewed Paula's individualized education program, however, she realized that it would be very difficult for her to monitor progress on the goals as currently written: Goals such as "Paula wiR improve her reading comprehension" and "Paula, will complete word problems" were vague and not measurable. The present levels of academic achievement and functional performance included for Paula's academic skills didn't give Ms. Engler any idea of Paula's current reading and math functioning. Paula's IEP also didn't provide information needed by "Ms. Sura, " the speech/language pathologist, fortunately, a recent assessment report was included in Paula's file and Ms. Engler and the IEP team were able to use the report, along with a bit of additional assessment of Paula's skills, to write a comprehensive, measurable, and meaningful IEP that was more suited to Paula's needs.

Many teachers face situations like Ms. Engler's when they gain new students in their programs. Despite federal regulations requiring measurable individualized education programs (IEPs), IEPs are often vague and unfocused, making them difficult to use in guiding instructional planning. Although a well-written IEP can be time consuming and labor intensive, a clearly written IEP, based on documented student needs, can and should be a guidepost for selecting and designing effective instructional strategies to best meet a student's needs. Assessment information is essential to developing measurable objectives that make IEPs useful.

Writing effective IEPs based on student assessment data does not have to be difficult. IEP teams can use several strategies to incorporate assessment data and develop assessment-based present levels of academic achievement and functional performance (PLAAFP), annual goals, and short-term objectives (STOs).

Putting H In Legal Perspective

The IEP has been called the "heart and soul of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act" with potential that is "unrealized and unappreciated" (Bateman, 1995, p. 1). Measurability of progress toward goal attainment has been and remains a consistent core component of the IEP. Assessment has been an essential element of the IEP since initial stipulation in Public Law 94-142 of the development of an IEP for each student receiving special education. Initially, accountability was a primary purpose of the IEP, but instructional and evaluative purposes were emphasized later as well (Bateman; Goodman & Bond, 1993). Reauthorization of P.L. 94-142 as the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act of 1997 and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA) required that IEPs include provisions for progress monitoring, present levels of performance to serve as baselines against which progress could be measured, and measurable goals and short-term objectives to outline steps toward goal attainment (Etscheidt, 2006; IDEA, 2004; Raines, 2002). IDEA removed the earlier requirement of including short-term objectives, although the importance of ongoing progress monitoring and measurable annual goals was retained and reiterated in the reauthorization.

Recent legislation reflects the importance of writing IEPs based on individual, documented, data-based needs. According to IDEA regulations (2007) IEP teams must consider recent evaluations of the student when developing an IEP. Bateman and Herr [2006} stress the importance of measurability of IEPs along with actively measuring student progress in an ongoing manner. They encourage using relevant and current data to meet the legal requirements of progress monitoring. Assessment data should be used in the IEP and act as baseline information against which progress toward goals should be measured. …