IEP Tips: Evaluation, Present Levels, SMART goals

Getting services at school starts with evaluation. Eligible students get an individualized Education Program (IEP), which describes a student’s present levels of performance and how specially designed instruction supports progress toward annual goals.

This article provides a quick overview of the basic IEP process and provides tips for family caregivers to get more involved. PAVE offers a downloadable PDF of these materials. The handout can be used to generate written suggestions to share with an IEP team.

Step 1: Evaluate

To determine eligibility for special education, the school district collects data to answer 3 primary questions:

  1. Does the student have a disability?
  2. Does the disability adversely impact education?
  3. Does the student need Specially Designed Instruction (SDI)?

If all are Yes, the student qualifies for an Individualized Education Program (IEP).

TIP: Does the data being collected capture information in all areas of concern? District special education staff can provide input if more specialized evaluation tools are needed.

Step 2: Write the Present Levels of Performance (PLOP)

When an IEP is drafted, information from the evaluation transfers to the present levels of academic achievement and functional performance (PLOP for short). Students, family members, and outside providers may contribute additional information. There are required elements, depending on age:

  • School-age: how disability affects involvement and progress in general education​
  • Preschool: how disability affects participation in appropriate activities within the natural environment​

​​TIP: Does the PLOP list talents and skills to encourage a strength based IEP? This section of the IEP can describe how teaching strategies support a student and create opportunities for progress toward goals.

Step 3: Write Goals to Measure Effectiveness of Specially Designed Instruction (SDI)

Goals are written for each area of SDI that a student is eligible to receive. Remember that the 3-part evaluation determines whether SDI is needed. Evaluation, PLOP, and goals are tied to the same data points.

TIP: Here are some questions to consider when reading/writing goals with the IEP team:

  • Are a student’s natural talents and curiosity described and appreciated as part of goal setting?
  • What is the SDI to support the goal, and why is it a good approach or strategy for this learner?
  • Are goals providing opportunity for appropriate progress, in light of the child’s circumstances?
  • Do the goals properly address the concerns revealed through evaluation and explained in the PLOP?
  • Can the student use their own words to describe IEP goals and how they are making progress? Student goal-tracking worksheets are readily available online.
  • Is the goal SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound?

Grid for Goal Development

In accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), an IEP goal is reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate, in light of the child’s circumstances. Parents/students have the right to participate in goal setting and progress monitoring.

These points can be used to design a grid to outline goal setting and to note whether written goals are SMART. A downloadable PDF shows these points in a grid format. A family participant on an IEP team can draft rewritten or proposed goals for the IEP team to consider. Submitting those suggestions to IEP team members before a meeting might help ensure that a parent’s suggestions are a critical part of the agenda.

  • Challenge: Identify the learning barrier/issue.
  • Skill: What needs to be learned?
  • SDI (Specially Designed Instruction): What is the teaching strategy?
  • SMART Goal: Yes/No? Use the following questions to determine whether the goals need improving.

Review whether IEP Goals are SMART:

  • Specific: Is the targeted skill clearly named or described? How will it be taught?
  • Measurable: How will progress toward the goal be observed or measured?
  • Achievable: Is a goal toward this skill realistic for the student, considering current abilities?
  • Relevant: Is the skill something that is useful and necessary for the student’s success in school and life?
  • Time-Bound: What specific date is set to determine whether the goal is met?

Get SMART About Tracking Progress and Updating Goals with Your IEP Team

Holiday break is a good time to check on your student’s progress in school. You can take another look at the Individualized Education Program (IEP) and compare the goals to current progress. If you don’t have a current progress reports on IEP goals, mid-year is a good time to ask school staff to provide them.

If you don’t believe the student’s progress is on track, you can request an IEP team meeting to discuss the program and what might need to change. If you request an IEP meeting that isn’t a required annual review, you can formalize your request with a letter that describes your reason. Concern about progress toward goals might be why you want to meet. PAVE has a letter template to help with your written request.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that schools provide students who are eligible for special education services with access to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). The Supreme Court  in 2017 determined that in order to meet the requirements of FAPE, schools must provide students with opportunities to make meaningful progress toward IEP goals. Schools also must provide clear explanation for their decisions about services, according to federal standards.

An acronym that can help you determine whether the annual goals in your student’s IEP are appropriately robust is SMART. PAVE provides a handout to help you use this acronym when participating in the IEP process.

S = Specific

M = Measurable

A = Achievable

R = Relevant

T = Time-Bound

Goals are based on educational evaluations, which determine where a student is strong and needs more help. The data from an evaluation will help the IEP team write statements called Present Levels of Performance (PLOP), and these statements form the basis for goal-setting and program design.

As you review goals you might think about your student’s placement—the locations where education is provided. The IDEA requires students receive education in the Least Restrictive Environment to the maximum extent appropriate. A student’s lack of progress might be related to where the student is placed. This could be a topic for the IEP team to discuss when goals are reviewed.

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), which oversees all school districts in Washington State, provides a variety of “model forms,” guidance documents for schools and families, including a downloadable “Parent Input Form” that can help you makes notes to share with the IEP team.

For additional resources about IEP goals, you can visit the following websites:

Parent Center Hub.org

Understood.org

IEP Goal Tracker from Understood.org

OSPI Special Education Guidance for Families