Progress on goals is an important guide for parents to determine if their child is learning and making educational progress from year to year. The problem is that most parents don’t know how to hold their team accountable to ensure their child is making real progress toward their goals.

It’s easy for educators and service providers to say, “Your child has met their goals” or “Your child is making adequate progress toward meeting their goals.”

But are they really? How do you know?

Determining your child’s progress on IEP goals has always been a challenge for parents for many reasons. Here are just a few:

  1. Many parents don’t know if the goals are written properly because they don’t understand that goals are based upon Present Levels of Performance.
  2. Parents don’t know if the IEP incorporates enough goals in all areas of need. Goals are written to address deficits based upon standardized test scores, which most parents don’t know how to interpret.
  3. Parents ask for data to substantiate progress on goals, but the team doesn’t provide it and if they do, most parents don’t know how to interpret that data.
  4. When parents request the team write additional goals, the team will argue and resist, telling parents, “We don’t want to overwhelm your child with too many goals.” or “Let’s wait until we address this goal first and then we’ll add another one.”
  5. Learn how to investigate and what questions to ask. If you don’t have information about what’s really going on during your child’s school day, you won’t be able to hold your school accountable to ensure your child is making progress toward their IEP goals.

Now let’s expand on those 5 challenges:

1. Look closely at how the goals are written.

To ensure goals are written properly, follow the SMART rule. Are the goals Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-limited? If the goals aren’t measurable, the team can simply tell you the goal has been met because there isn’t a way to measure progress- or your child won’t meet the goal and they’ll keep continuing the goal year after year.

Goals should be based on robust present levels of performance, which is developed from comprehensive assessments. If the PLOP information is not accurate, then the goals won’t be accurate or relevant either. If the present levels don’t have clear data, you cannot develop meaningful goals.

The present levels statement and data must describe:

  • The results of the most recent evaluations
  • Academic achievement – the child’s performance in reading/language arts, math, science, and history
  • Functional performance – dressing, eating, going to the bathroom; social skills such as making friends and communicating with others; behavior skills, such as knowing how to behave across a range of settings; and mobility skills, such as walking, accessing the campus safely, going up and down stairs
  • The strengths of the child
  • How the child’s disability affects the child’s involvement and progress in the general education curriculum. (For preschool, this is how the disability affects the child’s participation in appropriate preschool activities such as identifying letters, colors, using scissors, following instructions, and playing games)

2. Learn how to interpret Standardized test scores.

Present Levels of Performance are based on your child’s standardized test scores through comprehensive assessment. For every standardized score that reveals an area of deficit, a goal should be written to address that weakness. The Present Levels of Performance would include information about how your child is functioning in class and describe how that deficit is affecting their academic and functional performance.

The most commonly used standardized test scores are based on the bell curve. There is an enormous amount of information that is easily accessible to teach you how to understand the different types of standardized scores used to assess children. Do your research and become knowledgeable in this area.

3. You should be receiving a Progress on Goals report.

As often as grade cards are delivered, the district is obligated to provide parents a report outlining the status of their child’s progress toward their IEP goals. If you don’t receive progress updates at least every quarter or every trimester, (depending upon your district’s grading system), you have the right to write a state compliance complaint as this is a violation of state and federal law.

If you feel that your child has not made progress on one or more goals, you have the right to call an IEP meeting. Request data to substantiate your child’s progress on goals. Data could be work samples, logs of services provided to the student, running records from the teacher, behavior checklists, etc.

Ask for academic work samples, informal tests and quizzes, and teacher-made tests to support your child’s PLOP and accurately determine your child’s progress.

4. Request additional goals to address all areas of deficit.

When you call an IEP meeting to discuss progress on goals and request an additional goal or goals, point out the deficit standardized test scores documented in the assessment report. Many IEP teams will resist writing a large amount of goals, however, if a child has many areas of deficit, your IEP team is obligated to address each area of need no matter how many goals are included in the IEP. How will your child’s weakness be remediated if the team is not held accountable to specifically address that area of need by writing a goal and held accountable to measure their progress?

Share your own data and information with the team. As parents, you see first-hand how your child does academically, functionally, socially, and emotionally in relation to their school experience. You can share what makes your child resistant to attend class or what subjects are most challenging and when homework meltdowns occur.

Collecting parent data is as simple as making a list with the date and the subject, and then writing comments about the tasks your child worked on and how successful they were.

5. Discuss current supports and interventions.

Take the time to discuss with your child’s IEP team by working collaboratively in an effort to narrow down what the problem is, and what can be changed to support your child to meet their goals. This is when you request additional goals are written or that the team revise the goals to make them more challenging (yet reasonably attainable) for your child in one year’s time.

The school may need to provide additional accommodations or other supports to ensure that your child can make progress toward their goals and be successful in accessing the general education curriculum. Your child might need to receive instruction in a quiet setting, or the type of instruction they receive may need to change to meet your child’s unique needs.

Learn to ask the right questions so you can be fully informed. Ask about the specific academic or functional supports your child receives each day.

  • How often does your child receive this support?
  • In what setting, i.e., one-on-one in a quiet room or in the corner of a loud classroom with 6 other students?
  • What curriculum are they using? Is it appropriate to meet your child’s needs, or simply what the district has available?
  • Who is providing that support?

If your child is struggling with behavior goals, is the support being provided by a BCBA (board certified behavior analyst) or RBT (registered behavior technician) or a floating classroom paraprofessional without any specific behavior training?

Is your child struggling with reading? If so, are they getting additional specialized academic instruction in reading by a credentialed special education teacher, or by a para who is not qualified to provide reading intervention?

When goals are not being met, generally it’s because:

  • The goals were poorly written.
  • The goals are not based on relevant, accurate, and comprehensive present levels data.
  • The child requires additional instruction.
  • The child requires a different kind of instruction.
  • The child requires a trained teacher to provide the intervention.
  • The setting is not appropriate.
  • A combination of the above.

The IEP team is responsible to ensure your child is making progress. Don’t allow the school to put the blame on your child for failing to meet their goals.

It is the IEP team’s obligation to try and come up with a solution that will enable your child to make progress, but they won’t do this unless you take these steps to advocate for your child. If you don’t hold them accountable, no one will.

If you cannot come to an agreement about needed changes to IEP goals or additional support to help your child make progress, you may need to ask for an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE).

An IEE that is conducted by a competent and unbiased IEP provider can provide invaluable information about the gaps in your child’s educational program and help you advocate for appropriate goals. To learn more about an IEE, go to this link.

You have the right to be fully informed about your child’s progress and how supports and services are being implemented.

These parent advocacy steps are imperative if you want to be successful in regularly monitoring and tracking your child’s progress as the gap between your child and their typical peers will continue to widen if the school is not held accountable for lack of progress and appropriate supports are not put in place.

Cheering you on always!

Valerie Aprahamian

If you haven’t joined our Private Special Education Parent Empowerment Facebook Group yet, you should check it out here.

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Valerie Aprahamian is a special education advocate, IEP strategist, and speaker. She speaks on behalf of parents to protect the rights of neurodiverse children to receive the supports they need in public school.

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