Key Parts of an IEP
Present Levels of Performance (PLOP)
Annual Goals and STOs
An IEP must include clear and measurable annual goals (academic and/or functional) that are designed to enable the student to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum. The purpose is to set clear and measurable goals for the student to work on in the upcoming year in each domain with a demonstrated need. A student has a demonstrated need in an area if the student is not meeting the grade-level expectations or standards. For example, if Jose has needs in the areas of writing and reading but is meeting grade-level expectations/standards in math, Jose should have IEP goals in reading and writing only. IEP goals should be aligned with the general education curriculum and be written with a strengths-based approach.
- Short-Term Objectives (STOs): STOs and/or benchmarks are steps that measure the student’s progress toward the annual goals in their IEP. When written correctly, short-term objectives provide teachers with a roadmap and a clear mechanism to assess the child’s progress. Note that in California, only those students who qualify for alternate assessments are legally required to have STOs. Otherwise, only progress reports are required. Although STOs are no longer federally mandated, you can ask that they be included in your IEP.
Supplementary Aids and Services (Accommodations and Modifications)
The IEP specifies what accommodations and modifications the child will receive at school. Although they are not defined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), accommodations change the classroom environment or academic setting to fit a student’s needs, but do not significantly alter the content of the required work. Allowing a student extended time to complete assignments or providing a student with assistive technology are two examples of accommodations.
Unlike modifications, which change what students are expected to learn based on their abilities, accommodations are designed to allow a student to complete the same assignments as their fellow classmates. Examples include modifying the reading level of an assignment (if a 5th grade class completes reading comprehension for text at the 5th grade reading level, a student with modifications for reading might have a reading passage at the 2nd grade reading level), and altering the learning objectives for math (if a class is working on adding fractions with unlike denominators, a student receiving modifications for math might be working on adding fractions with like denominators, or adding whole numbers). Accommodations are meant to remove barriers to full participation in school activities.
The Supplementary Aids and Services section of the IEP will also include information about any assistive technology the child might need. In addition, this portion includes any parent (or teacher) training needed to assist parents in understanding the needs of their child to help them acquire the necessary skills to support the implementation of the IEP.
Extent of Non-Participation in General Education
IDEA requires that IEPs include “an explanation of the extent, if any, to which the child will not participate with nondisabled children in the regular class and . . . activities (P.L. 108-44 20 USC 1414 (D) (1) (a) (V)). For example, if a student is receiving services from the speech pathologist to work on articulation, and counseling services to work on emotion regulation, the student may leave the general education classroom to receive those services. The IEP team would then calculate the number of minutes the student is pulled out of the general education classroom each week. The total number of minutes a student is not in general education per week is then calculated into a percentage of time per day. This amount of time outside of general education must be justified and based on the individual student's needs. The reason for removal should not be based on disability label, availability of services or settings, tradition, or preference alone.
Each year, students in grades 3 through 12 take statewide assessments in the spring. This section outlines which statewide assessment the student will take and any accommodations a student will need during statewide testing. There are typically two options for students: (1) the traditional statewide assessment and (2) the alternate state assessment. Determining which assessment a student should take is a very important decision that carries a great deal of weight. Students taking the alternate state assessment are on the certificate (non-diploma) track and are set to earn a Certificate of Completion from high school, rather than a high school diploma.
If a school recommends that the student takes the alternate assessment, parents should always be a part of that conversation.The IEP must include a statement of why the child cannot participate in the regular assessment and why the alternate assessment is appropriate for the child. It’s important to note that a student can move from one track to another at any point, so if a student has been placed on the certificate track and is set to take the alternate assessment, but a family feels it’s not appropriate, the family can request that the student take the traditional statewide assessment instead. Similarly, if a student is set to take the statewide assessment but is struggling significantly to meet grade-level expectations (far below grade level), then the family may request a switch as well.
It is also important to note that students are not required to take the statewide assessments. If a parent wants to opt their child out of state testing, they may do so by writing an email or letter to the school and simply stating that they would like to opt their child out of state testing for that academic school year. This request must be in writing and it’s important to retain a copy of the request in your records. Schools must grant this request, but will not present this as an option to you because they are only permitted to have a certain percentage of students opt out. This process takes place outside of the IEP, so even if you opt out, you will still need to have a testing section on the IEP as though your child were planning to take it.