IEPs Special Education

IEP Goal Progress Reporting– What is “Meaningful” Progress?

Do you know whether your child is making meaningful IEP goal progress? Does your IEP team provide you with hard, objective data quarterly explaining how close to their IEP goal your student is at that time? If not, the school is not meeting their obligations to report meaningful progress on IEP goals. Writing “making progress to meet the goal” is not sufficient. Without data that is just an opinion.

The first marking period is coming to an end in most school districts this week. You should receive a progress report on each IEP goal (unless your school uses a quarterly IEP system separate from report cards, which is also ok, as long as it happens). The report you receive should include meaningful IEP goal progress reporting. Not all progress reports are created equal. This is one of the number one areas IEP teams and school districts do NOT want parents to ask questions– so you should definitely be asking. 

Here are some examples of bad “progress” reports from REAL IEPs that school teams have produced (I’m not kidding here, I pulled out real IEPs and collected these):

Academic Goals

Goal: writing complete sentences — “Making progress to meet the goal. B needs to practice this skill at home.”

Goal: math calculation — “Student is making progress to meet this goal but should practice on Khan Academy dot com [a free online program].”

Goal: read 1st grade sight words — “Making progress to meet the goal. She is doing so much better with her sight words, I am so proud of her.” 

Goal: reading comprehension — “Student is making steady progress and is a pleasure to have in class.”

Goal: Reading Fluency — “K reads with better automaticity and reads sufficiently for comprehension.”

What you’ll notice in almost all meaningful IEP goal progress reporting is that there are numbers, the numbers are objective, and dates of assessment are given. Additionally, the numbers match the specific goals and objectives from the IEP goals section on that topic. So if the IEP goal is for reading fluency, the goal should have specified how many words per minute the student would read by the end of the year (or quarter). If your student’s IEP goal doesn’t read this way, you need to insist that the team revise the goal as your first step. More on that below. 

Behavior Goals

A similar technique is used for behavioral goals. For example, data might be collected during each period of the day for either the number of a specific type of incident (for example, keeping hands to self) or the percentage of time the student refrained from doing a problematic behavior (stayed in seat 49% of the time based on daily logs). 

Just like with academic progress reporting, your student’s behavior goal and progress reporting should include numerical data– which requires data collection. A subjective statement about progress being made or not made is not sufficient or legal.

HINT: When developing the goal, ask to see the data collection sheet your team proposes to use to collect behavioral data during the school day to determine if you believe the method they propose to use will produce objective data (and if they even have a plan!). You may want to seek a private professional, like a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, behavioral psychologist, or educational consultant to help you with this if your child’s behaviors are complicated. Behavioral progress is more likely to need to be charted or graphed over time  in order to provide useful information.  

IEP Goals Dictate How Progress is Reported

The key to getting started with good progress reporting is good goal writing. IEP goals must be measurable. That means, for example, a reading fluency goal should include “words correct per minute,” not something like  “student will read with sufficient fluency for comprehension.” What is sufficient? Sufficient is subjective and is not measurable. Therefore, “read with sufficient fluency” is not a measurable IEP goal, and neither is “read with sufficient fluency for comprehension.” 

Reading comprehension (understanding what is read) and reading fluency (how fast a student reads) are not the same. For some students, in particular bright students with reading difficulties, demonstration of comprehension of what they read while using context clues, pictures, and background knowledge masks reading problems because school systems often use measurement tools that combine decoding, fluency and comprehension into one “level” or score. You absolutely must insist on separating these skills.

HINT: Does your student have good verbal or listening comprehension but your IEP team proposes a reading comprehension goal? Ask yourself if your student really has a reading “comprehension” problem and needs a reading comprehension goal or if what they actually need is a reading decoding or fluency goal. Insist on testing or assessment and discussion that separates out these skills.

HINT: Does your school use a certain reading program/assessment (with the initials F&P) resulting in a report that your child is on “level C…or… D… or…N”? This program and its assessment combines comprehension and decoding, inflating the reading level of students who can “compensate” by using context clues and background knowledge to figure out what they couldn’t actually decode in order to answer questions about the text– they basically filled in the blanks using their own knowledge. This might work in 1st grade, but it sure doesn’t work in 4th grade or in high school physics.

Also, for basic reading skills 80% mastery is not good enough, but 80% seems to be the standard IEP teams default to when writing all IEP goals. Imagine if you could only read 80% of the words in this post– how frustrated would you be? How much would you really understand? Reading phonemic awareness, phonological awareness, and decoding goals should be mastered at 95% — at least.

In a behavioral goal, “reducing acting out behavior” is not measurable. First of all, what is “acting out?” Behaviors must be defined– a good way to think about it is to ask yourself if you can demonstrate/act out the specific behavior. Describing a specific behavior might include “raising hand before speaking,” which is an observable behavior that can be tracked. The progress reporting could then track what percentage of time the student raises his hand before speaking. 

If you think you may need assistance with your student’s IEP goals and progress reporting, schedule a free call to discuss how a special education attorney or parent advocate can help.

This blog post is for informational purposes only. It is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship.