If you are like many
parents, when you receive a telephone call or letter inviting
you to an IEP meeting, you respond with anxiety. Few parents look
forward to attending IEP meetings. You may feel anxious, confused
and inadequate at school meetings. What is your role? What do
you have to offer? What should you do? Say? Not do?
Because they are not
educators, most parents don’t understand that they have a unique
role to play in the IEP process.
Parents are the experts
on their child.
Think about it. You
spend hours every week in the company of your child. You make
casual observations about your child in hundreds of different
situations. You are emotionally connected to and attuned to your
child. You notice small but important changes in your child’s
behavior and emotions that may be overlooked by others. You have
very specialized knowledge about your child. This also helps to
explain why your perspective about your child may be quite different
from that of the educators who only observe your child in the
Why do parents feel
so anxious, inadequate and intimidated in school meetings? Most
parents seem to believe that because they are not "trained educators"—and
don’t speak "education jargon"—they have little of value to contribute
to discussions about their child’s education.
Perhaps we can explain
"parental role" more clearly if we change the facts to illustrate
Think back to the
last time your child was sick and you saw a doctor for medical
treatment. You provided the doctor or nurse with information about
the child’s symptoms and general health. They asked you for your
observations—because you are more familiar with your child.
Good health care providers
elicit this kind of information from parents. They do not assume
that unless parents have medical training, they have little of
value to offer! When health care professionals diagnose and treat
children, they gather information from different sources. Observations
of the child are an important source of information. The doctor’s
own medical observations and lab tests are added to the information
you provide from your own personal observations.
Do you need to be
medically trained before you have any valid or important information
to offer the doctor about your child’s health? Of course not.
Medical v. Educational
To diagnose a child’s
problem and develop a good treatment plan, doctors need more than
subjective observations. Regardless of their skill and experience,
in most cases doctors need objective information about the child.
Information from diagnostic tests provides them with objective
information. When medical specialists confront a problem, they
gather information—information from observations by themselves
and others and from objective testing.
decision-making is similar to medical decision-making. The principles
are the same. Sound educational decision-making includes observations
by people who know the child well and objective information from
various tests and assessments.
In both medical and
educational situations, a child is having problems that must be
correctly identified. The Individualized Education Plan (IEP)
is similar to a medical treatment plan. The IEP includes information
about the child’s present levels of performance on various tests
and measures. The IEP also includes information about goals and
objectives for the child, specifically how educational problems
will be addressed. The IEP should also include ways for parents
and educators to measure the child’s progress toward the goals
to Evaluate Progress
Now, think back to
that last time your child was sick and needed medical attention.
You left the doctor’s office with some sort of plan—and an appointment
to return for a follow-up visit. When you returned for the follow-up
visit, you were asked more questions about how your child was
doing—again, you were asked about your observations. This information
helped the doctor decide whether or not your child was responding
appropriately to treatment. If you advised that your child was
not responding to the treatment and continued to have problems,
then the doctor knew that more diagnostic work was needed and
that the treatment plan may need to be changed.
situations are similar to medical situations - except that these
decisions are made by a group of people called the IEP Team or
IEP Committee. As the parent, you are a member of the IEP team.
Before the IEP Team can develop an appropriate plan (IEP) for
your child, the child’s problems must be accurately identified
To make an accurate
diagnosis, the IEP team will need to gather information from many
sources. This information will include subjective observations
of the child in various environments - including the home environment
and the classroom. The information should also include objective
testing. Objective testing needs to be done to measure the extent
of the child’s problems and provide benchmarks to measure progress
or lack of progress over time.
If your child receives
special education services, you know that a new educational plan
or IEP must be developed for your child at least once a year.
Why is this?
Children grow and
change rapidly. Their educational needs also change rapidly. In
many cases, the IEP needs to be revised more often than once a
year. Parents and educators can ask for a meeting to revise the
IEP more often than once a year—and new IEPs can be developed
as often as necessary.
The child’s educational
plan, i.e. the IEP, should always include information from objective
testing and information provided by people—including the parents
and teachers—who observe the child frequently.
Shoud Be in my Child's IEP?
The IEP should accurately
describe your child’s learning problems and how these problems
are going to be dealt with.
Levels of Educational Performance
One of the best and
clearest ways to describe your child’s unique problems is to include
information from the evaluations. The IEP document should contain
a statement of the child’s present levels of educational performance.
If your child has reading problems, the IEP should include reading
subtest scores. If your child has problems in math calculation,
the IEP should include the math calculation subtest scores. To
help you understand what these scores mean, you should read our
article "Understanding Tests and Measurements."
The IEP should also
include a statement of measurable annual goals, including benchmarks
and short- term objectives. The goals and objectives should be
related to your child’s needs that result from the disability
and should enable your child to be involved in and progress in
the general curriculum. The goals and objectives should meet other
educational needs that result from your child’s disability.
The IEP goals should
focus on reducing or eliminating the child’s problems. The short
term objectives should provide you and the teacher with ways to
measure educational progress. Are reading decoding skills being
mastered? How do you know this? An IEP should include ways for
you and the teacher to objectively measure your child’s progress
or lack of progress (regression) in the special education program.
In our work, we see
many IEPs that are not appropriate. These IEPs do not include
goals and objectives that are relevant to the child’s educational
problems. In one of our cases, the IEP for a dyslexic child with
severe problems in reading and writing, included goals to improve
his "higher level thinking skills," his "map reading skills" and
his "assertiveness"—but no goals to improve his reading and written
language skills. This is a common problem—IEP goals that sound
good but don’t address the child’s real problems in reading, writing
If you take your child
to the doctor for a bad cough, you want the cough treated. You
won’t have much confidence in a doctor who ignores the cough—and
gives you a prescription for ulcer medicine!
Progress: Subjective Observations
or Objective Testing?
Let’s return to our
medical example. Your son John complained that his throat was
sore. You see that his throat is red. His skin is hot to the touch.
He is sleepy and lethargic. These are your observations.
Based on concerns
raised by your subjective observations, you take John to the doctor.
After the examination, the doctor will add subjective observations
to yours. Objective testing will be done. When John’s temperature
is measured, it is 104. Preliminary lab work shows that John has
an elevated white count. A strep test is positive. These objective
tests suggest that John has an infection.
Based on information
from subjective observations and objective tests, the doctor develops
a treatment plan—including a course of antibiotics. Later, you
and John return—and you share your ongoing observations with the
doctor. John’s temperature returned to normal a few days ago.
His throat appears normal. These are your subjective observations.
provide valuable information—but in many cases, they will not
provide sufficient evidence that John’s infection is gone. After
John’s doctor makes additional observations—she may order additional
objective testing. Why?
You cannot see disease-causing
bacteria. To test for the presence of bacteria, you must do objective
testing. Unless you get objective testing, you cannot know if
John’s infection has dissipated.
By the same token,
you will not always know that your child is acquiring skills in
reading, writing or arithmetic—unless you get objective testing
of these skills.
How will you know
if the IEP plan is working? Should you rely on your subjective
observations? The teacher’s subjective observations? Or should
you get additional information from objective testing?
Your Child "Really Making Progress?"
We have worked with
hundreds of families who were assured that their child was "really
making progress." Although the parents did not see evidence of
this "progress," they placed their trust in the teachers. After
their child was evaluated, these parents were horrified to learn
that their suspicions were correct—and the professional educators
In one of our cases,
Jay, an eight year old boy with average intelligence, received
special education services for two years -- through all of kindergarten
and first grade. Jay’s parents felt that he was not learning how
to read and write like other children his age. The regular education
and special education teachers repeatedly assured the parents
that Jay was "really making progress." The principal also told
the parents that Jay was "really making progress."
After he completed
first grade, the parents had Jay tested by a private sector diagnostician.
The results of the private testing? Jay’s abilities were in the
average to above average range. His skills in Reading and Written
Language were at the early to mid-Kindergarten level. After two
years of special education, Jay had not learned to read or write.
When teachers tell
you that your child is "making progress," that teacher is giving
you an opinion based on subjective observations. As you just saw
in Jay’s case, opinions and subjective observations may not give
you accurate information.
If you have questions
or concerns about whether your child is really making progress,
you need to get objective testing of the academic skills areas—reading,
writing, arithmetic and spelling. After you get the results of
objective testing, you will know whether or not your child is
really making progress toward the goals in the IEP.
IEP: The "Centerpiece" of Special Education Law
The IEP has been called
the "centerpiece" of the special education law. As you read through
this article, you will learn more about the law—and the rights
that insure that all children who need special education receive
appropriate services. You will read about cases that have been
decided around the country. Each of these cases is having an impact
on the special education system today—improving the quality of
special education services for all handicapped children—including
After you learn about
the law, regulations and cases, you will know how to write an
IEP. If the IEP is written properly, you will be able to measure
your child’s progress.
We said this earlier—and
it bears repeating. If you measure your child’s progress—using
objective measures—you will know whether your child is actually
learning and benefiting from the program. If objective testing
shows that your child is not learning and progressing as expected,
then you know that the educational plan is not appropriate and
your child is regressing.
If your child is not
learning and making progress—with progress measured objectively—the
IEP should be revised. (For more information about revising the
IEP if child does not make progress, see Appendix A of the Regulations).
Read our companion
Tests and Measurements for the Parent and Advocate. When
you master the information in these articles, you'll be on your
way to developing good IEPs for your child.
The IDEA statute was
amended in June, 1997. When the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (IDEA) was amended, changes were made in the section
about "Individualized Educational Programs." The new federal regulations
were issued in March, 1999. You will find helpful information
about IEPs in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) and Appendix
A of the Regulations.
IDEA statute, regulations and Appendix A are in Wrightslaw:
Special Education Law. The Regulations and Appendix A
are also on the Wrightslaw site. The Regulations
To help educate you
about IEPs and what they should include, we are including information
from actual cases. Each case was selected to illustrate specific
points about IEPs. After you read this section, you will have
a clear understanding about the law and IEPs.
of Educ. of the Hendrick Hudson Central Sch. Dist. v. Rowley
458 U. S. 176 (1982)
In 1982, the United
States Supreme Court issued its first special education decision
in Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson Central
School District v. Rowley, 458 U. S. 176 (1982).
When the Supreme Court
heard her case, Amy Rowley was a first grade child who was also
deaf. Before Amy entered first grade, her parents asked that Amy
be provided with a sign language interpreter. Although Amy could
lip read, the parents asserted that an interpreter would enhance
her ability to learn.
The Supreme Court
decided that Amy did not need a full- time sign language interpreter
at that time. They wrote that Amy was "a remarkably well-adjusted
child" who performed "better than the average child in her class
and is advancing easily from grade to grade." Although Amy was
not performing as well as she would if not for her handicap, the
Court concluded that the law did not require public schools to
furnish "every special service necessary to maximize each handicapped
Public schools often
use the Rowley decision to justify their refusal to provide
children with a program that does more than permit "grade to grade"
advancement. All too often, schools lower expectations for special
education children, "dummy down" the curriculum, and "socially
promote" the children. Then, they assert that because the child
is progressing from grade to grade, this proves that the child
does not need more intensive services, including remediation in
reading, writing and arithmetic.
Benefit"—How Much Is Enough?
the Supreme Court wrote that the child’s individualized educational
program (IEP) should be "reasonably calculated" to enable the
child to receive "educational benefit." Since the Rowley
decision was issued in 1982, parents and school officials have
often disagreed about "educational benefit"—and how much educational
benefit is "enough." Courts have found that because children with
disabilities have "unique" needs, decisions about "how much is
enough" must be made on a case by case basis. As noted in the
U.S. District Court’s opinion, (483 F. Supp 536. (S.D. NY 1980))
Amy Rowley’s standardized test scores were at the 70th
to 80th percentile ranks in comparison to her peer
group. Average is at the 50th percentile rank. On the
testing, she scored two to four grade levels above her peers.
about educational benefit are called "Cadillac-Chevrolet" disputes.
Remember: In Rowley, the Supreme Court ruled that children
are entitled to an appropriate education (i.e. a Chevrolet),
not the best education money can buy (a Cadillac). One Ohio Hearing
Officer wrote that the child was entitled to a Chevrolet—and the
school district gave him a lemon! (Fayetteville-Perry Sch.
District, 20 IDELR 1289 (SEA OH 1994))
v. Vance County Bd. of Education
In 1983, a landmark
decision was issued in North Carolina. Later, this decision was
affirmed by the Fourth Circuit.
In Hall v. Vance
County Bd. of Education, (1983-1984 EHLR DEC. 555:437 (E.D.
NC 1983), affirmed at 774 F.2d 629, (4th. Cir. 1985))
Judge Dupree described the situation faced by young James Hall:
James A. Hall, IV
is suffering from a severe learning disability known as dyslexia,
a neurological disorder which manifests itself as a reading disability
where the reader can neither decipher nor comprehend the symbols
on a written page. There is presently no cure for dyslexia, rather,
the leader must learn to cope with the disability and to develop
alternate methods of unscrambling the symbols.
Beginning at the kindergarten
level, James attended public school in Vance County, North Carolina
for six years.
From the beginning,
James had academic problems. The school district evaluated him
and they found that although he had good intellectual ability,
his reading skills were very poor. There was a big gap between
James’ ability and his reading skills. The school district offered
an IEP that provided James with 30 minutes of small group instruction
twice a week.
Think back to our
discussion of educational benefit. What do you think of
this plan—to provide James with tutoring in a small group twice
a week for 30 minutes? Will this provide James with educational
benefit from which he could truly learn how to read?
In his decision, Judge
Dupree wrote that although James received special education in
his public school (the small group instruction twice a week),
his academic problems did not improve—and he developed more problems.
In his decision, the judge discussed these problems:
He was not only
developing a "school phobia" characterized by frequent absences,
but also was not mastering basic competency skills such as
identifying which restroom was for "gentlemen" of "ladies"
or the ability to go to the store to make small purchases
at his mother’s request.
In May, 1980,
the end of James’ fourth grade year, James was again administered
a battery of tests. The scores of this test compare with the
December, 1978 test as follows:
With the new results
at hand, a new IEP was developed which employed similar procedures
followed the past three semesters. At this stage James had been
subjected to at least three sets of tests over several years all
of which indicated that he had a high overall intelligence with
good mathematical skills, yet was unable to read. With James still
unable to read past the second grade level though promoted to
the fifth grade with virtually the identical IEP which had been
employed over the past three semesters, the parents, approaching
desperation, decided to enroll James in a private school for the
1980-81 school year.
Objective Tests to Measure Educational Benefit
Re-read the above paragraphs again!
These paragraphs are
taken from the decision in James’ case. You can see that Judge
Dupree used information from educational achievement tests to
measure educational benefit. He compared James’ scores on the
December 1, 1978 test and the scores on the May 12, 1980 test
after eighteen months of special education. Comparing the test
scores, the judge concluded that:
. . . in three
semesters of work under the IEP James had little or no grade
improvement in his primary area of deficiency and had yet
to improve over one-half a year total.
James’ scores on
educational achievement tests provided Judge Dupree with proof
that James made little progress in the public school program—although
he "passed." In fact, although James was passed from the third
grade to the fourth grade and on to the fifth grade, his reading
skills remained at the second grade level. Passing from grade
to grade did not mean that James Hall had learned how to read.
In despair, James’
parents withdrew him from the public school program and enrolled
him in Oakland School. Oakland is a small special education school
in Virginia that specializes in providing educational remediation
to children like James—children who have learning disabilities.
After James attended Oakland for a few months, he was re-tested.
The new testing showed that his reading and spelling skills had
increased by more than one grade level.
Judge Dupree awarded
reimbursement to James’ parents for his education at Oakland.
He found that the IEPs developed by Vance County did not provide
James with an appropriate education—an education from which the
child benefited. He also decided that James was receiving an appropriate
education at Oakland School. What facts supported Judge Dupree’s
After James enrolled
at Oakland, his educational program changed. New educational testing
a few months later showed that James was learning how to read.
He made more than one year of progress after just a few months.
Judge Dupree cited the new educational scores in his decision—James
was receiving an appropriate education at Oakland School.
If your child receives
special education, then your child should have been tested with
educational achievement tests. Have you obtained a complete copy
of your child’s file? Do you have all of the actual test scores
and the written narrative that explains the scores? If you have
the actual test scores, then you can do exactly what Judge Dupree
First, you need to
make a list of all the different tests done on your child (most
tests are made up of several subtests). Using a highlighter, mark
any of the tests or subtests that have been given more than once.
Some of the commonly administered educational achievement tests
are the Woodcock-Johnson, the Kaufman (KTEA), the Wechsler Individual
Achievement Test (WIAT) and the Wide Range Achievement Tests (WRAT).
The Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, Third Edition (WISC-III)
is the most commonly given intelligence test.
Next, make a list
of repeated tests—any tests or subtests that have been given more
than once. You will be charting out subtests that are the same
or similar—tests of reading decoding skills or reading comprehension
skills, math calculation skills, and so forth.
You need to understand
that subtests or composite scores do not necessarily measure what
they seem to measure. For example, the reading score on the Wide
Range Achievement Test actually measures the child’s ability to
recognize and pronounce individual words out of context. Many
refer to it as a "word recognition" test.
On the Woodcock-Johnson
achievement tests, the reading measures may actually measure the
child’s ability to identify specific letters and words and fill
in the blanks on words that may be missing from a paragraph. A
score reported as "passage comprehension" may actually measure
the child’s ability to intelligently "guess" what the passage
of text is about by recognizing some of the words in the passage.
The child may not being able to read many of these words.
In the Gray Oral Reading
Test, the child reads a paragraph out loud. The evaluator assesses
the rate, accuracy and comprehension. This provides a more accurate,
meaningful assessment of the child’s actual reading abilities.
It is important that you understand what tests are administered
and what the tests truly measure.
Next, you need to
chart out progress—using the repeated subtest scores. After you
chart out your child’s educational scores, you will have a much
clearer idea as to whether or not your child is benefiting from
the special education program—and whether the IEP is providing
an appropriate education.
v. Dept. of Educ. for the Commonwealth of Mass.
In 1985, the Supreme
Court issued a ruling in a special education case that originated
in Massachusetts. Burlington (471 U.S. 359 (1985)) was
the second important special education case heard by the Supreme
Court. In Burlington, the Supreme Court decision addressed
IEPs and what IEPs should include:
The free appropriate
public education (FAPE) mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (IDEA) is designed for the specific needs of
the child through the Individualized Educational Program (IEP)
which is "a comprehensive statement of the educational needs
of a handicapped child and the specially designed instruction
and related services to be employed to meet those needs."
Case law supports
our position that an adequate IEP is essential. But what is "adequate?"
How much "benefit" is enough? Let’s take a look at some more case
the IEP "Adequate?"
In 1985, a Federal
Judge in New York found that an IEP was adequate because:
. . . specific
goals to which Glen’s grade level are to be raised are listed
in all areas of reading, verbal skill and math. Romeo v. Ambach,
1984-1985 EHLR DEC. 556:488 (E.D. NY 1985).
Parents take note:
In this case, the objective tests were changes in the child’s
grade equivalent scores. The judge in James Hall’s case also used
grade equivalent scores.
the IEP "Sufficient?"
In 1988, the Idaho
Supreme Court found that the Boise school system had not offered
or provided a free, appropriate education (FAPE) because they
did not develop an IEP that was "sufficient." The IEP was not
"sufficient" because it did not specify the criteria and evaluation
procedures that would be used to determine whether the IEP goals
were being met. The Idaho Court noted that:
Above all else, Congress
recognized that handicapped children are unique and that placement
decisions must be made on an individual basis, by a multidisciplinary
team, according to a variety of criteria ". . . The importance
of the IEP cannot be understated. It is the decision making document.
(Thornock v. Boise Independent School District #1, ___
Idaho Sup. Ct. ___, 767 P. 2d 1241, 1987-1988 EHLR DEC. 559:486
The Court found that
the two IEPs proposed by the school district were not sufficient
because they did not include " . . . goals, objectives and appropriate
objective criteria and evaluation procedures and schedules for
determining, on at least an annual basis, whether ‘instructional
objectives are being achieved’ as required by 20 U.S.C. Sec. 1401(19)
. . . Because of the flaws in Gabriel’s IEPs, the districts’ failure
to acknowledge the deficiencies of the IEPs it promulgated . .
. we affirm the decision of the district court . . . Without a
valid IEP, there can be no FAPE, see 20 U. S. C. Sec. 1401 (18),
and therefore 34 C. F. R. Sec. 300.403(a) indicates that (private
school tuition) reimbursement is appropriate."
In 1985, New Jersey
District Court Judge Sarokin reversed the decisions of two Administrative
Law Judges in a case that involved a hearing impaired child. He
found that the school district’s evaluations of Alisa fell "woefully
short" because they relied on subjective "teacher observations,"
not objective or "scientific" test data:
They were based almost
solely upon observation . . . assessment consisted of primarily
non-standardized tasks and procedures . . . no scientific test
results seem to have been considered . . .Thus, but one procedure
- teacher evaluation - was utilized. Such procedures lacked scientific
validity, in that they were not systematic, were limited to a
narrow range of behavior and were not confirmed by recent test
data, and thus tended toward discriminatory evaluation, i.e.,
evaluation that is biased, in this case against deaf children
. . . The Court finds that this method of assessment does not
meet the requirements of the EAHCA, or its regulations. (Bonadonna
v. Cooperman, 619 F. Supp. 975, 1985-1986 EHLR DEC. 557:178,
183 (D. NJ 1985)).
Should Educational Progress Be Measured?
In our work with parents
and children, we have seen hundreds of IEPs that define "progress"
by subjective teacher observations, not objective testing of the
child’s skills. As you saw in Jay’s case, serious problems often
come about when educational decisions are made on the basis of
subjective observations. These problems have grave consequences
for the child.
In 1989, the New Jersey
Supreme Court awarded tuition reimbursement to parents of a child
who had dyslexia. (see Lascari v. Board of Education of the
Ramapo Indian Hills Regional High School District, 560 A.2d.
1180, EHLR 441:565, (NJ 1989)) . This is what the Court had to
say about the public school IEP:
indicated, the purpose of the IEP is to guide teachers and
to insure that the child receives the necessary education.
(See 34 C.F.R. § 300.346) . . .
Without an adequately
drafted IEP, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to
measure a child’s progress, a measurement that is necessary
to determine changes to be made in the next IEP. Furthermore,
an IEP that is incapable of review denies parents the opportunity
to help shape their child’s education and hinders their ability
to assure that their child will receive the education to which
he or she is entitled.
the shortcomings that rendered John’s program incapable of
review also rendered it inappropriate . . . [Quoting the classification
officer] ‘Equally unclear is how any goals or progress was
to be measured or decided.’ The officer continued: "All teacher
remarks are found to be subjectively based . . . [T]he goals
and objectives of the IEP for 1980-81 and the proposed plan
for 1981-82 are so vague that they were meaningless."
In 1990, a federal
court in Alabama court struck down another public school IEP.
Why? The Judge wrote:
previous IEP’s, the new plan included only broad, generic
objectives and vague methods for monitoring Cory’s progress.
footnote 14, as follows) For example, the first objective
in Cory’s new IEP, provided, in standard form: "The student
will maintain a/an ___% average in math on the 3rd
grade level," with "80" written in the blank space, and stated
that Cory would be evaluated by reference to his "Daily work"
and "Chapter tests." (Chris D. and Cory M. v. Montgomery
County Board of Education, 753 F. Supp. 922, 17 IDELR
267, 269, 273 (M.D. Ala. 1990))
A few months later,
a Nebraska District Court upheld a public school IEP because the
IEP did contain appropriate goals and objectives. (French v.
Omaha Public Schools, 766 F. Supp. 765, 17 EHLR 811, (D. Neb.
This Nebraska case
analyzes IEP goals and objectives in accordance with Appendix
C. The Court noted that the IEP included very specific test data,
including percentile ranks and grade equivalent scores to describe
the child’s present levels of performance.
In 1993, a three judge
panel in Pennsylvania reviewed a child’s IEP and found that:
The IEP did
not meet substantive requirements because, even if it conferred
some educational benefit for Hope . . . it was not individualized
to meet her social and emotional needs.
The Appeals Panel
listed the factors that Hope’s IEP lacked—including present levels
of functioning, individualized behavior modification plan, objective
criteria, assessment procedures or timeliness to determine when
goals were achieved, annual goals written for Hope rather than
general ones written for all students in the class, and related
services to address Hope’s social and emotional needs.
The IEP was written
in a general fashion for students attending LD classes and did
not address Hope’s individual disability. (Big Beaver Falls
Area School District v. Jackson, __ Pa. __, 615 A. 2d 910,
19 IDELR 371, 373 (Pa. Commw. 1993))
Carter v. Florence County School District Four
In 1991, a federal
judge in South Carolina issued his decision in Shannon Carter’s
case. In his decision, (Shannon
Carter v. Florence County School District Four, 17
EHLR 452 (D. Ct. SC 1991)). Judge Houck wrote that:
[of Shannon] indicates a serious learning disability, with
a variance between Shannon’s verbal IQ and performance IQ
of 36 points. Various subtests administered . . . yielded
reading ability levels from 4.7 grade level equivalency to
a 6.8 level. (at 453)
from a serious and significant learning disability . . . Shannon’s
learning disability is on the severe end of the scale. According
to Shannon’s parents and Dr. Grant, Shannon also suffered
from significant emotional overlay manifested by depression,
feelings of low self worth and self-esteem. Shannon entered
Trident Academy in the fall term of 1985 as a functional illiterate.
How did Shannon’s
First, the school
district refused to provide Shannon with any help—they insisted
that Shannon was lazy and unmotivated and that she was "choosing"
not to read. After constant pressure from her parents and private
sector experts, Florence County finally proposed an IEP for Shannon
that would increase her reading from a 5.4 level to a 5.8 level
and her mathematics from a 6.4 level to a 6.8 level—in one year.
At that time, Shannon was about to enter 10th grade.
In his ruling for
Shannon and her parents, Judge Houck wrote that this IEP was not
appropriate for Shannon:
Even if all
of the goals of the document had been met, Shannon would continue
to fall behind her classmates at an alarming rate . . . progress
of only four months in her reading and math skills over an
entire school year ensured the program’s inadequacy from its
no doubt, then, that the Carters were entitled to withdraw
their child from the public school because of its failure
to provide a FAPE. (at 455)
The school district
appealed the District Court decision to the United States Court
of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. After the school district lost,
they appealed to the United States Supreme Court. In a unanimous
decision issued just thirty-four days after oral argument, the
Supreme Court affirmed the lower court rulings and ordered that
Shannon’s parents be reimbursed for her private school education
at Trident Academy.
Gerstmyer v. Howard County Public Schools
After the Supreme
Court issued the decision in Carter, an interesting case arose
in Columbia, Maryland. This case involved Alex Gerstmyer, a 6
year old child who also had dyslexia. Although Alex had "red flag"
problems in Kindergarten, the staff at Alex’s school waited before
testing him—they thought that he might "grow out of his problems."
When Alex began first
grade, he had still not been evaluated. There was no IEP in place
for him. Alex quickly realized that he was different from the
other children—he was not learning how to read. At home, he was
distraught and said that he was "stupid." His alarmed parents
had him evaluated by a private sector psychologist—this testing
confirmed that Alex had dyslexia.
Later in the Fall,
the public school did propose an IEP. The parents felt that the
IEP was vague and did not provide Alex with the help he needed
to overcome his dyslexia. Alex was becoming more upset by the
day—saying that he was stupid and didn’t want to live. Presented
with an inadequate IEP for their son, his parents removed him
from the public school program and placed him into a Montessori
school (non- special education school) and asked for tuition assistance.
v. Howard County Public Schools, 850 F. Supp. 361,
20 IDELR 1327 (D. MD 1994)
In his decision, Judge
Motz described the public school IEP as ". . . nothing more than
a collection of forms prepared for other students stating only
general goals and not at all tailored to Alex’s special needs."
Because the IEP was
not tailored to Alex’s unique needs as a child with dyslexia,
Judge Motz awarded Alex’ parents reimbursement for their son’s
education at the Montessori school.
v. Board of Educ. of Rhinebeck Cent. Sch. Dist.
An excellent and frequently
quoted case about IEPs comes from New York — and involves another
child with dyslexia.
v. Board of Educ. of Rhinebeck Cent. Sch. Dist.,930
F. Supp. 83, 24 IDELR 338, (S.D. N.Y. 1996), Judge Parker overturned
earlier administrative rulings and awarded Frank’s parent with
reimbursement for his tuition at The Kildonan School. In his decision,
Judge Parker discussed dyslexia and the educational techniques
used to treat this condition. Quoting Appendix C of the Code of
Federal Regulations, he discussed the problems of vague IEPs where
the child’s progress cannot be measured objectively:
[The IEP] .
. . wholly failed to identify his particular areas of deficit
and was based on information that was at least ten months
old, I still find that the IEPs did not adequately set forth
strategies for evaluating progress, in violation of 20 U.S.C.
§ 1401(a)(19) and 34 C.F.R. § 300.346(a)(2).
The Act’s requirement of periodic and individualized assessments
of each handicapped child evinces a recognition that children
develop quickly and that a placement decision that may have
been appropriate a year ago may no longer be appropriate today.
Appendix C defines
"short term instructional objectives" as "measurable, intermediate
steps between a handicapped child’s present level of educational
performance and the annual goals that are established for
the child." The objectives are to "serve as milestones for
measuring progress toward meeting the [annual] goals." They
"provide a mechanism for determining . . . whether the child
is progressing in the special education program . . . and
whether the placement and services are appropriate to the
child’s special learning needs. In effect, these requirements
provide a way for the child’s teacher(s) and parents to be
able to track the child’s progress in special education."
34 C.F.R. Chapter 3, Appendix C, question 37.
The IEPs include
only broad, generic objectives and vague, subjective methods
for monitoring Frank’s progress. For example, the first goal
in Frank’s October 1994 IEP provided that he would be evaluated
on the listed objectives by reference to "teacher observation"
and "80% accuracy." With reference to the second goal, the
October 1994 IEP provided that Frank would be evaluated by
"teacher observation" and "80% success."
Although the IEP
repeatedly incants these phrases—"teacher observation," "80%
success"—because there is little indication of what Frank’s
level of success was when the IEP was written, it fails to
specify strategies for adequately evaluating Frank’s academic
progress and determining which teaching methods are effective
and which need to be revised . . . with regard to the June
1994 IEP, which used the same mantra to a large extent, that
it did not set forth measurable criteria to assess progress.
(at IDELR 345,346)
What do these cases
mean to you—a typical, average parent—a parent who gets a knot
in your stomach when you think about going to an IEP meeting?
First, you know that
the IEP should include ways for you to measure your child’s progress
in special education—and that this progress should be measured
You saw that Judge
Dupree charted out James Hall’s educational achievement test scores
to measure the boy’s progress in the public school special education
program. After he charted out James’ scores, the judge realized
that James’ test scores had not improved much in his weak academic
James’ failure to
make progress—as shown by the educational achievement tests—proved
that the public school program was not appropriate. After James
transferred to Oakland School, his test scores rose. This improvement
showed that James was receiving an appropriate education at Oakland
In Shannon Carter’s
case, Florence County proposed an IEP where, after a full year
of special education, Shannon would make just four months of progress
in reading and mathematics. Judge Houck wrote that this goal was
"wholly inadequate." The Fourth Circuit wrote that "a goal of
four months’ progress over a period of more than one year was
rather modest for a student such as Shannon and was unlikely to
permit her to advance from grade to grade with passing marks."
And in Frank Z.’s
case, Judge Parker’s decision shows that he was distressed to
see that Frank’s "progress" was being measured by subjective teacher
School districts often
propose IEPs where the child’s progress is measured by subjective
"teacher observation" and "teacher made tests." "Teacher observation"
does not measure a child’s progress adequately.
Skills like reading,
writing and math can and should be measured by objective testing.
Can’t Fail Special Ed!"
In many cases, kind,
well-meaning teachers work hard to teach their students. Teachers
may believe that your child is "really making progress" when this
is not the case. You saw how this affected Jay. After two years
of special education, Jay had not learned how to read or write.
Yet, Jay’s teachers sincerely believed that he was "really making
of a child’s progress are subjective assessments by a person who
has a strong personal and emotional interest in the outcome.
Child is Receiving Passing Grades"
Your child is receiving
passing grades - or good grades. As a parent, can’t you rely on
grades to advise you about your child’s progress?
In 1994, the Department
of Education released the results of studies about grading practices
in public schools. What did they learn?
The average grade
in middle school English and Math is a "B." Most middle school
children receive grades of "C" or higher in English and Math.
Grade inflation is
a serious problem. Parents cannot assume that "passing grades"
shows that their child is making real academic progress. You must
see that your child’s progress is measured objectively. When you
compare the results of objective testing over time, you will know
whether your child is making measurable progress toward his IEP
A: A Powerful Tool for Parents
In March, 1999, Appendix
A replaced Appendix C. Appendix A includes 40 Questions and Answers
about IEPs. In Appendix A, you'll find answers to questions about
what your child's IEP should include, how the IEP should be developed,
when the IEP should be revised, and clarification of the parental
Let’s take a look
at some of the Questions from Appendix A.
is the parent's role in the IEP process?
"The parents of a
child with a disability are expected to be equal participants
along with school personnel, in developing, reviewing, and revising
the IEP of their child. This role is an active role in which the
(1) provide critical
information regarding the strengths of their child and express
their concerns for enhancing the education of their child;
(2) participate in
discussions about the child's needs for special education and
related services and supplementary aids and services; and
(3) join with the
other participants in deciding how the child will be involved
and progress in the general curriculum and participate in State
and district-wide assessments, and what services the agency will
provide to the child and in what setting. (Question 5)
must be included in the IEP?
of Educational Performance
requires that the IEP for each child with a disability include:
"a statement of the child's present levels of educational performance,
including (i) how the child's disability affects the child's involvement
and progress in the general curriculum . . ."
Goals, Including Benchmarks or Short-Term Objectives
"As noted above, each
annual goal must include either short-term objectives or benchmarks.
The purpose of both s to enable a child's teacher(s), parents,
and others . . . to guage, at intermediate times during the year,
how well the child is progressing toward achievement of the annual
"The revised statute
and regulations also provide that . . . IEP teams may develop
benchmarks, which can be thought of as describing the amount of
progress the child is expected to make within specificed segments
of the year . . . benchmarks establish expected performance levels
that allow for regular checks of progress . . . " (Question 1)
the school inform parents about their child educational progress?
"Yes. [The law and
regulations] include a number of provisions to help ensure that
parents are . . . informed abut their child's educational progress
. . . "
"First, parents will
be informed regarding their child's present levels of educational
performance through the development of the IEP (Section 300.347(a)(1)
"Further, Sec. 300.347(a)(7)
sets forth new requirements for regularly informing parents about
their child's educational progress, as regularly as parents
of nondisabled children are informed of their child's progress.
This section requires that the IEP include:
A statement of --
(i) How the child's
progress toward the annual goals will be measured; and
(ii) How the child's parents will be regularly informed (by
such means as periodic report cards), at least as often as parents
are informed of their nondisabled children's progress of --
(A) their child's progress toward the annual goals; and
(B) The extent to which that progress is sufficient to
enable the child to achieve the goals by the end of the year."
"Finally, the parents, as part of the IEP team, will participate
at least once every 12 months in a review of their child's educational
progress. (Question 10)
IEP Must Be Revised If Child Does Not Make "Expected Progress"
The school "must
initiate and conduct meetings periodically, but at least once
every twelve months, to review each child's IEP, in order to
determine whether the annual goals are being achieved, and to
revise the IEP, as appropriate, to address:
(1) Any lack of
expected progress toward the annual goals and in the general
curriculum . . .(Question 20)
Appendix A is an important
tool to use when developing a child's IEP. You can download Appendix
A from the Wrightslaw site
You can also get Appendix
A and other resources at The National Information Center for
Children and Youth with Disabilities (NICHCY): http://www.nichcy.org/
Get a complete list
of the special education publications from NICHCY.
to Develop an IEP That Measures Your Child’s Progress Objectively
You say—"I’m still
confused. The IEPs that have been developed for my child don’t
include objective measures of progress. How can they be written
differently? How will I know whether he is actually making progress?"
Change the facts.
Assume that you have an 8 year old son named Mike. Mike is upset
- he didn’t pass the President’s Physical Fitness Test. Mike tells
you that he wants to pass the test next year. He asks you to help.
You learn that there
are specific criteria that children must meet to pass the President’s
Physical Fitness Test. The children's performance on various activities
is measured objectively. You check Mike's scores. Mike ran the
50 yard dash in the specified time, completed 12 (out of an expected
25) sit-ups, and performed no pull-ups.
Now, you and Mike
know what he will need to do to accomplish his goal and qualify
for the President’s Physical Fitness Award. You help him develop
a training plan that includes short term objectives that focus
on remedying his areas of weakness (i.e. sit-ups, pull-ups) while
maintaining or improving his running ability.
When Mike takes the
President’s Physical Fitness Test, his performance on the various
tests is measured objectively. His running speed over a specific
distance is be measured with a stopwatch. His ability to do the
required sit-ups and pull-ups is measured by counting them. Because
these measurements are objective, anyone who observes this testing
will know if Mike meets the criteria for the Award.
Let's look at an IEP
goal where progress toward the goal is measured subjectively and
Our IEP goal says
that "Kevin will learn keyboarding [or typing] skills."
If Kevin’s progress
toward this goal is measured subjectively, his IEP may state that
Kevin’s progress toward learning keyboarding or typing will be
determined by "Teacher Judgment" or "Teacher Observation" or "Teacher
- made Tests" with a score of "80%" as the criteria for success.
If the IEP is written
properly, measuring progress objectively, the IEP may say "By
the end of the first semester, Kevin will touch-type a passage
of text 15 words per minute with not more than 5 errors on a 5
minute test. By the end of this academic year, Kevin will touch
type a passage of text for 5 minutes at 35 words per minute with
not more than 5 errors."
Let's look at Megan
who is having trouble learning to read. Megan is in the fifth
grade. According to educational achievement tests, her reading
decoding skills are at the beginning second grade level. Megan’s
parents request special education services to remediate their
daughter’s reading problems. How will her parents know if Megan
is benefiting from the special education program?
If Megan is being
appropriately educated, her test scores in reading will begin
to improve as she goes through the process of remediation. An
appropriately written IEP should indicate that after a year of
remediation, Megan will make progress toward closing the gap between
her ability and her problems in reading, and that her educational
progress will be measured objectively with educational achievement
The IEP may state
that after a year of specialized instruction "Megan will be reading
at the 4th grade level as measured by her scores on
the Reading subtests of the Woodcock-Johnson Achievement Test."
During the next year, Megan’s IEP should include more goals in
reading—with the ultimate goal of closing the gap between Megan’s
ability and her reading skills.
Parents can use percentile
ranks in the IEPs, instead of grade equivalent scores.
Let’s assume that
Megan’s reading test scores show that she is reading at the bottom
10th percentile, when compared to other children her
age. After a year of appropriate special education, Megan probably
will not be reading at the 50th percentile level (i.e.
the "average" level for children her age). An objective may state
that after a year of special education, "Megan will be reading
at the 25th percentile level" If Megan moves to the
25th percentile level in reading, she be making progress
toward closing the gap.
Although Megan’s reading
skills are still below average, you see that she is making steady
progress. Megan’s progress in reading is being measured objectively
with standardized tests. Her progress is reported with numbers
that can be compared over time.
List your child’s
weaknesses, i.e., writing, arithmetic, spelling, typing, etc.
Next, list your child’s present levels of performance in objective
measurable terms. For example :
My child reads a passage of text orally at the XYZ grade equivalent
level as measured by the Gray Oral Reading Test (GORT).
My child is reading
a passage of text orally at the XYZ percent level as measured
by the GORT.
These examples apply
to all disabilities—learning disabilities, autism, speech language
deficits, mental retardation, cerebral palsy. You need to know
specifically where the child's deficits are, what skills are deficient,
what behavior needs to be changed.
The starting point
should be observable and measurable percentile ranks, grade equivalents,
age equivalents or standard scores. Where should this skill be
in one year later? Use objective measurable terms, not subjective
Write down a goal
that your child should achieve after one year of an appropriate
special education. (Special education should be designed
to remediate the child’s weaknesses.)
By May 15, [one
year later], my child will be able to read a passage of text
orally at the XYZ [insert the appropriate increased level
here] grade equivalent level as measured by the GORT.
By May 15, [one
year later], my child will be able to read a passage of text
orally at the XYZ [insert the appropriate increased level
here] percent level as measured by the GORT.
Now, you have an
objective measurable starting point and ending point, using norm
referenced data. How do you get from Point A to Point B?
Your map from Point
A to Point B includes short term objectives and/or benchmarks.
To learn more about appropriate goals, objectives and benchmarks,
you need to read publications about your child’s specific disability.
As you become more knowledgeable, you'll learn how to write objectives
and benchmarks that lead to the annual goal.
Child’s IEP Should Measure Learning—Objectively
Learning is change.
Changes in academic skills can be measured objectively. Your child’s
test scores are like a series of photographs—they show that the
child is learning and acquiring new skills or knowledge.
Remember: Change can
and should be measured objectively—whether the area being measured
is physical fitness, strep throats—or educational progress.
IEPs: How to Develop Legally Correct and Educationally Useful
IEPs by Barbara Bateman and Mary Anne Linden (Sopris West)
Complete IEP Guide: How to Advocate for Your Special Ed Child
by Lawrence Siegal (Nolo Press)
Instructional Objectives by Robert Mager
Instructional Results by Robert Mager.
Special Education Law by Peter W. D. Wright and Pamela Darr
Wright (Harbor House Law Press)