As I continue to attend IEP meetings throughout this summer, I grow very concerned with case managers that are unwilling to change goals or add even new goals to the IEP in an area of identified need. I’m not so sure why people seem so stuck in the mud. I only can presume that what is happening in the meetings that I’m attending is the case manager and professionals believe that he or she holds the reins of power when instead the case manager and professionals should be pausing and stepping into the parents shoes.
When I think about why I’m being invited to help parents, it is clear that parents feel unheard. I’m being invited to be the parent’s voice. When a parent brings a friend/advocate along to help understand the IEP process, it is a sign to the team that there are already inherent misunderstandings. Instead of continuing with misunderstandings, the case manager and professionals need to prepare to listen without making judgments. Once case manager, professionals and parents understand that everyone is part of the same team then every idea can be heard, addressed and accomplished.
In some of my meetings this summer, my voice of 35 years of experience hasn’t been enough to entice teams to write specific and attainable goals. In my most recent meeting, the student’s writing goal was written so broadly it was impossible to tell what was being measured. We had presented to the team a writing sample that had recently come home and it was pretty clear that the student had difficulty with sentence structure, paragraphing and sequencing. In fact, the psychological evaluation noted that an area of need was sequencing. The goal that was proposed…(proposed, I repeat that because if goals are presented at a meeting for the first time it is in draft form…there is no consensus on the goal) was that by annual review, the student when give a graphic organizer and teacher support will be able to write a multiple paragraph essay with 80% accuracy on 3 of 4 occasions. I shared with the team that I wasn’t sure what the goal was measuring or how we would know if this goal was attained after a year. The case manger dug into the mud and looked at me like I was from Mars.
The truth is that given this broad of a goal might simply mean that if the student writes what appears to be multiple paragraphs without any sustenance he/she has successfully attained the goal. Instead, what I had recommended is to look at the items needed to create a multiple paragraph essay that would earn a B. Take for instance an introductory paragraph. We know that there are six basic ways to begin any essay: question, quote, dialogue, action, thought, or sound. We know that the second sentence should explain the first. If the essay opened with a question then the student should answer the question. If the essay opened with a quote then the student should explain the quote. The essay needs to be fluent and move from idea to idea easily. I attempted to get the team to look at baseline information: what can the student do and what isn’t the student doing… these are questions that must be asked. The consequence is that when writing goals for an IEP, goals should be specific and measurable. Work evidence at the IEP meeting should be able to show if goals have been met. As always without evidence all you have is an opinion!
I do understand that with IDEA 2004, the requirements for writing short term goals are only for students who participate in alternative assessments. The result is that annual goals then need to include specific information because they serve as the final evaluation that the goal is attained. Especially without the short term goals there is no longer a template for how you will attain this long term goal. It is also extremely important that baselines are clearly written so that everyone knows what it is the student can do.
Furthermore, if the goals are written too broadly they are left up to interpretation. It makes it difficult for parents to work on goals and support their student if they are not certain of student needs. Always request that goals be written specifically and make sure that you know what is being measured for success so that data and evidence can support the findings.