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How to Know If Your Child's Making Progress Toward IEP Goals

An expert explains how and why to monitor your child's progress toward his IEP goals.

By GreatSchools Staff

By the time "Mrs. Bailey" contacted a professional to evaluate her son, she had been receiving quarterly progress reports from his public school for five years, telling her that Kevin was making progress toward achieving the academic goals listed in his Individualized Education Program (IEP). However, her observations of Kevin's homework and the graded school work that came home didn't match the school's evaluation, and she wanted a psychologist to provide a "second opinion." The outside evaluation confirmed his mother's concerns - he had deficits in math calculation and written expression skills. In fact, Kevin's written expression skills were severely delayed and fell in the first percentile - meaning that 99 percent of students his age performed better on the test. Naturally, Mrs. Bailey felt astonished, frustrated, and guilty about not realizing Kevin's lack of progress sooner in his schooling.

Parents of children with learning disabilities (LD) who are receiving special education services receive regular reports of progress on their children's IEP goals, as mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA). Often these progress reports don't really provide parents specific information, based on assessment data, as to whether their child is making progress or not.

There are several key factors that can have a positive impact on determining whether or not a child makes real, measurable progress. These include:

  • a comprehensive evaluation that identifies a child's strengths and weaknesses; and appropriately identifies a child's educational needs
  • explicitly stated present levels of performance
  • appropriate and measurable goals/objectives
  • effective instructional methods, and
  • continuous progress monitoring

Ask a parent how their child's progress toward goals and objectives is being monitored and reported to them, and most often the response is "I'm not sure" or "I don't know." As in Mrs. Bailey's case, it can be years before parents realize that their child is not making progress - or that the achievement gap between their child and his peers has actually widened while receiving special education services. So, how can you really know if your child is making progress? What should you do if you don't think your child is "making expected progress" toward IEP goals and objectives?

To help you play a proactive role in monitoring your child's IEP, this article will provide detailed information about each of these key factors as it relates to your child's special education services.

Comprehensive Evaluation

A comprehensive evaluation should include assessments tailored to the problems for which the child was referred for evaluation. The "reason for referral," part of the evaluation documents for the IEP, describes the child's learning problems, as well as any factors contributing to academic performance difficulties. To get a complete picture of a child's abilities and skills in the home and school environments, evaluation procedures should include all of the following:

  • individually administered standardized tests, such as IQ and achievement tests
  • curriculum-based assessments (e.g., Curriculum-Based Measurement)
  • current classroom-based, local, or state assessments
  • work samples indicative of the child's learning difficulties
  • interviews (with teacher, parent, and child)
  • observational data
  • review of records
  • rating scales (if appropriate)

The evaluation should identify specific points where a child's learning processes break down, and how that impacts his classroom learning. In Kevin's case, his last reevaluation had just been conducted six months prior to the outside evaluation - when he was in 7th grade. At that time the school administered a brief IQ test, a standardized achievement test, and a speech/language evaluation. The examiner reported that Kevin no longer demonstrated the processing deficits that were identified in his initial evaluation, and that he was compensating for his difficulties. However, further investigation - specifically of data in Kevin's cumulative file - revealed that he did not meet state standards in reading, math, or writing!

Typically, a school district evaluation will identify an area of unexpected academic weakness and determine whether the weakness is severe enough that the child requires special education services in order to benefit from the general education program. A comprehensive psychoeducational evaluation - most often conducted by a private professional, but sometimes by a school district - typically looks at a fuller range of academic strengths and weaknesses, and at how a child processes information in several areas. In my experience, the better you understand your child's learning problems, the greater the chances that you can persuade the school to conduct a more comprehensive evaluation. And, of course, if you disagree with the school evaluation, you always have the legal right to request that an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) be conducted at district expense.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

10/27/2009:
"This article clearly and concisely explains how goals should be written for an IEP. Very helpful information. Thanks!"
10/14/2008:
"This article is extremely helpful. My daughter has a dual diagnosis of CP and Autism. Her IEP is vague and I do not understand how progress is truly monitored. I plan on using this article in detail to pursue her progress. I have been requesting a related service (music therapy ) for her for 27 months. The school indicates this isn't neccessary and denies the related service. According to them she is making progress toward her IEP goals with her current services. I disagree because I have witnessed the result of the therapy. I enrolled her in a summer camp (not funded by school) in which Music Therapy was provided .For the first time in her life.. she began to sing phrases and even sentences she had never used. After 4 years of speech therapy and other methods, nothing like this was achieved. She had never verbalized more than two word phrases. She usually verbalized single words with prompting. I was so excited! Immediately when the school year started I requested this type of therapy. Well, after 27 months, I have not been successful. Even though I know she can make more progress with this therapy. I am fighting an uphill battle. I guess the burden of proof is on me. Her IEP goals seem very hard to measure, therefore, the teacher can easily give her subjective opinion that 'progress' is being made.' After reading this article, I don't feel as overwhelmed. Any feedback from others that may have experienced this problem would be helpful. KT "
10/1/2008:
"This article is fantastic! Thank you!"
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