Welcome to the next post in the series, the ABCs of IEPs. Today is G…and G is for both Goals and Grades. I thought I would give an overview of both goals, grades and their role in the IEP process and special education. For this discussion, ideally the right evaluations have been done and the child described in the RR and Present Levels matches the kid that you see every day.
Goals, Grades and IEPs and the Special Education Process
We’ll start with goals.
I’m often asked “How many goals should an IEP have?” There is no single answer. “As many as you need to address the child’s areas of need” is how many you should have. One item that is certain–there IS NOT A MAXIMUM number of goals for an IEP. I hear that once in a while, “My district told me that each IEP cannot have more than 8 goals.” Baloney. They may be using 8 as a guideline, but there is no law stating how many. IEPs are needs driven and goals help to provide an “appropriate” education for the child by starting the framework of progress.
Goals need to measurable. I think due to the outrageous number of Due Process cases in my area, our local districts are getting better at this, on the whole. But, I am still surprised at the number of times I look at an IEP and see a goal like “Jacob will improve his social skills.” How in the world do you measure that? A measurable version of that goal would be “Jacob will initiate social conversations with a peer and stay engaged for 2-3 volleys at least once per day” OR “Jacob will approach a peer at least once per day and ask them about an interest that they have” OR “At least twice per week at recess, Jacob will engage in a game of his choice with his peers on the playground, and of his own initiation.”
Those are all something you can keep a checklist and gather data on. But sometimes the data can be overwhelming to parents, so there is that issue too.
Thanks to Kids.com for the above graphic (at least that is who this is attributed to, I found it on Facebook!)
With all of the standardized tests and evaluations our kids take, most schools have a significant amount of data on our kids and say, their reading and math. But, most of these tests are also designed for professional educators who have at least a Masters Degree in that subject area. In other words, the data is there, but how can a parent know if the child is making progress or if the goals set (listing specific data) is appropriate? I will go over Progress Monitoring when we get to the letter P. For now, the short answer is this–use the internet and ask your team. The IEP meeting may not be the appropriate time (or not enough time) but ask. Ask your child’s reading or math instructor to go over it with you. Google it. Read the websites and the protocols, heck, look for a customer service phone number and call them–ask if they have a section to explain this to parents.
Most importantly, you want the goals set high enough to challenge the child and keep them moving forward. You want to begin closing the gap between your child and their non-disabled peers, as much as is possible. Ask about what grade level their reading or math ability is, not just test scores.
Another issue I see often is “disappearing goals.” A child has a goal…and then all of a sudden, the next IEP doesn’t have it. No explanation as to why it is gone. Did the child achieve that goal? Who knows?! And parents are often so overwhelmed with the IEP process that they don’t notice it. Only advocates and attorneys who are doing thorough record reviews and comparing one IEP (often page by page or goal by goal) to the next IEP catch it. Am I right? When you go to an IEP meeting, do you bring the last one with you, or just eagerly peruse the new one…quick flipping to the back to see how many services they are going to get? (It’s ok, we’ve all done it! just another reason to get the IEP organizer!) But stay on top of this, make sure that no goals disappear from your child’s IEP without the team’s approval and agreement.
One of our blog readers created this chart to track goals, so that you don’t lose sight of them from year to year.
Let’s talk about reducing goals, or reducing expectations. This is another one I’ve seen with clients. The child is not progressing, but it looks like it on paper because the goals and expectations have been reduced. It appears that their words per minute in reading fluency got better…they’re meeting goals! Are you sure? Double check this!
Goals are not achieved unless they are applied across all environments. Sure, in a staged setting with rehearsals, many of us can perform tasks. But until they can do it in all environments, it’s not a skill set they own. If they have achieved it in one setting, just rework the goal to get it in all settings.
Ok, let’s move on to grades.
I have such mixed feelings about grades. Yes, if grades drop, that can be an indicator of something going on. The main point I want to make here is to remind everyone that grades are subjective, not objective. Ask for rubrics. Ask for grading criteria. If your child is consistently getting Ds on work, have a conference with the teacher and ask to see some A and B work (you can cover up names!). Then speak to your team to see what strategies can be put in place so that your child is able to produce A and B work.
A mom I know said this: “Grades are a huge topic of concern for my gifted high schooler’s IEP. The school says we cannot guarantee grades, and I keep saying, but the grades have to reflect what he knows, not his executive functioning disability. It’s amazing how many assignments even at the high school level are tests of organization rather than knowledge.”
That is an excellent point. Ask yourself–what are these grades measuring? Then discuss with the teacher if necessary.
No child should be subjected to constant confidence-killer of Ds and Fs, if it is their disability that is preventing them from producing A and B work. I have seen modified workloads and assignments, extra time to do the work and extra chances to correct and re-do the work. It can be done and the team should want to help your child succeed, not punish them.
I was in a heated IEP meeting one time, and a teacher angrily blurted out, “What do you want from me? Do you want me to just give him all As?!?!?”
“No,” the mom said quietly. “I want him to be able to do the work he is capable of, with supports.”
That says it all right there–it’s not about the grades, it’s about the ability to do the work, with supports. Which should result in decent grades.
As always, if you have some extra thoughts on Goals or Grades and the IEP process, leave us a comment!
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