The Present Levels Component of an IEP Tells The Full Story of Your Child, and Is Essential To Developing an Appropriate Educational Plan
Creating an individualized IEP for your child’s unique learning needs can at times seem like a technical and challenging task, and one that is difficult to fully understand. However, if you know the story, their story, a clear statement of your child’s present levels will lead to a comprehensive IEP.
The most critical component of your child’s IEP is their Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP). This is the cornerstone to developing an appropriate IEP. It tells the story and lays the groundwork for goals, instruction, accommodations, and the support needed. Just like any narrative, the present levels should provide an introduction. Included in this introduction is your child’s name, grade level, school, a description of the subjects they participate in general education and the areas they receive special education support. The team should describe the programming your child is using, the instructional level or grade level of the materials, and the accommodations needed for them to progress. These topics should not only be described at the IEP meeting – they should be included in your child’s IEP.
Teachers Provide Much of The Story
The body of the story is where the teachers provide their input and knowledge about the child. The general education teacher provides input on the supports used to help your child respond to grade level curriculum and the study skills and learning skills you child exhibits (on task, asks, questions, organizes him/herself, participates, responds better in small/large groups, etc.).
The special education teacher provides information on your child’s progress towards IEP goals. For example, in reading, teachers describe how a student sounds out words (decodes), if the student is accurate and fluid in reading (sounds smooth or very labored and robotic) and if your child comprehends (can they relay back what was read). Teachers must address written skills, describing if students can write sentences, paragraphs, essays, and if they can organize, capitalize, punctuate, or spell (encode). In math, teachers explain computation skills, problem-solving skills, and functional skills (time, money, calendar, etc.) a child has developed. Upon completion of reading your child’s present levels, you should have a clear understanding of the skills your child has accomplished and what is in need of remediation. Your child’s present levels and the educational needs that still exist should drive the IEP content.
Data Should Go Beyond a List of Scores
Teachers collect data multiple times per marking period to see if students made progress towards their goals. If a student is not making progress, the team needs to address this and make changes (i.e., to the type of instruction, type of supports, and level of expectation, or programming). Teachers give general assessments or end of unit tests to see if students learn the material they are teaching. In addition to this, during instruction, teachers collect information (data) to see how your child responds to the instruction provided. Data needs to go beyond a list of scores. Teachers must include an analysis of what skills your child has attained and what types of errors your child is making. Simply listing a list of percentages is not enough to inform next steps for instruction and future goals. Teachers need to provide a detailed look at each IEP subject area and collate all of their information to provide a bottom line level (baseline/starting point) and next steps for instruction (goal/target).
The IEP team must also include a description of functional levels. This description should include age-appropriate functional skills such as communication, motor, social, and behavioral skills. If your child has a related service (OT, PT, Speech, Vision) assessments, needs, levels and targets are included in this section. If your child has a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) or positive behavior support plan (PBSP), that information would be included in this section. A detailed description of the behaviors being targeted and rewards earned need to be included. Like the academic levels, the team must include a detailed description of the child’s ability in each of these areas based on data collected and analysis of their strengths and needs.
Parents Are Essential (and Should Ask Questions)
As their parent/guardian, you are a member of the IEP team who knows your child best. You too provide important input. If you are unsure about anything presented, ask questions and make sure that you get answers.
This has been a difficult school year. Even though most students have not been in a school building, teachers and related service providers are still required to provide a detailed present level based on data collected. This is required by law. The pandemic did not change that. Virtual or hybrid instruction did not change that. It is essential that the IEP team includes detailed present level on your child. If they are unable to do so, they will be unable to write an appropriate IEP.
A Solid, Descriptive Present Levels Lays the Foundation
A fully developed present levels, with a clearly written description of your child’s instructional levels, strengths, needs, accommodations, supports, and how this affects their performance in the general education classroom, directly allows the team to properly develop the remainder of the IEP. Solid and descriptive present levels help the team conclude the goals, supports and services, and educational placement that would be most appropriate for your child to enable him/her to make progress in their individualized education.
When you’re not getting answers to your questions or are unsure which questions to ask, don’t forget to reach out for help. Our educational/legal team can review your child’s IEP, including the present levels, and help you determine whether your child is making meaningful educational progress in school. Please contact us for a free initial consultation with an educational law attorney and one of our special education professionals on our team.