Picking IEP Goals
How to Get My Child Special Education Services That They Really Need
The most difficult goal during an IEP meeting is not getting the services you want; it’s knowing what services you need to ask for. Most people that want every service possible often just want their child to be helped, without really knowing what they specifically need to accomplish that goal. For instance, having a 1:1 aide can be extremely helpful in managing behaviors and improving academics. The problem is that it creates dependency for the child, teacher and school. The child becomes more distant from their peers, the teacher pushes all instruction onto the aide, it becomes difficult to remove the aide both emotionally and behaviorally, and you may not get the aide that you want. You must look at what benefit you will get and for what cost. Having lots of services can be great, but for each service offered, the child will be sacrificing services in another area i.e. pulling someone out for social work may require them to miss math, music, or recess. That is not to say that services should not be completed. Just understand what the real costs the child may pay for those services and what specific benefits will they be attaining.
Next, we have to look at the goals. It is my experience that most IEP’s are written the exact same way…poorly. Every school knows that each goal in an IEP must be written in a way that is measurable with progressing outcomes. Here are a few common mistakes to look out for:
·There are no details on how they plan on achieving the goal. If I wrote a goal stating that you will increase your household income 25% you may think this is a great goal that is measurable. However, if I don’t write specifics about how to achieve that goal, what good is writing this goal at all. The big mistake is thinking that every goal needs to be achieved. Knowing what works is as important as knowing what won’t work. Typically, the most common excuse is that they don’t write specifics because that is not where that information belongs. What they are really saying is that we don’t know the specifics so we can just talk about it later, but that conversation never happens. Even if it isn’t included in the IEP the parents should be provided information about the various techniques they are using so we can check off what works or not. In addition, how can parents support the goal if they have no way of understanding what the school is doing to achieve it.
·The goal is too easy. Often this is indicative of not understanding where the child really is at. For instance, the child will correctly identify three triggers that cause them to have problems with peers. If at the meeting you ask them to name 3 triggers and they can do it, then they have achieved their goal before you have even left the table.
·The goal is written in measurable terms but can’t truly be measured. For instance, you can track a child’s attendance because you can look at the total number of events (days of school) and their success (days attended). However, if you are tracking the number of times the child controlled their impulses, how will you know the base number of events. The child may have controlled their impulses a thousand times that day but you never saw it because they were successful. However, you did observe that they blew up 3 times that day. Did they achieve their goal?
·The progression is not statistically significant. Increasing homework completion, test scores, attendance, or behavioral goals, etc. that are too small to measure. For instance, increasing scores in math from 85% in the first quarter to 90% in the 2nd quarter might not be measurable because the percentages aren’t far enough apart to tell if it was happenstance or a legitimate increase in skills.
·Percentages and number of trials that are touted as measurable performances can be meaningless. The trick here is to know exactly how they plan on measuring the goal. For instance, using observations to measure percentages usually means the professionals are just guessing i.e. I think they did this about 75% of the time. People remember the last or most prominent event which can skew exactly how accurate that percentage really is. Additionally, number of trials is just a modern version of the percentage fallacy. Unless they are literally tracking each event, you can’t say how successful the child was in achieving their goal. However, even if they do track it successfully…once they achieved their numbers then is the skill considered mastered at that level? If the IEP says that the child will correctly identify ways in which their behavior effects other kids in 3 out of 4 attempts does that mean if they do 3 in a row they have mastered the skill at that point. Even if they failed the 14 times before then. Unfortunately, schools often write a goal like this and wait the entire quarter and then determine whether they have achieved it, even though it is written that the moment they have hit their numbers it is mastered at this level.
The important thing to remember is that the IEP goals are not written poorly because the school doesn’t care. They just don’t know any other way. Everyone writes them poorly so they have convinced themselves that it must be correct. Remember, teachers are educators and not clinicians. They are not trying to short change your child. They just don’t know how to attain a well written IEP that has realistic goals, can be realistically measured, provides clear progress, and will identify techniques that work best with your child. Lawyers will help you get the services you want, but we can help you determine what you should be asking for. Once you know what you want then the schools will most likely agree.