We've been discussing the importance of properly assessing your child's progress toward meeting their IEP goals for a few posts now, and today we will talk about the importance of a key component of any successful IEP: appropriate and measurable goals (formerly known as "benchmarks").
Judging "appropriateness" of goals
The defining factor in whether goals are appropriate for your child is whether they accurately represent where your child sits currently as well as where your child is anticipated to progress if the IEP is followed. It can be difficult for parents, particularly if they aren't schooled in the parlance commonly used by educators and specialists when drafting IEPs for special needs students, to determine the appropriateness of goals provided for their child.
Appropriate goals are those that clearly define the grade-level standard, explain where the child is currently, gives milestones the child should be able to reach with the guidance of the IEP and says how that new "benchmark" will measure up in the overall IEP. Parents can inquire about how goals are measured, and how progress toward the end result will be communicated during the school year.
This can be illustrated with an example. It could be confusing for Jessica's parents to read that, by the end of the year, the school (in her IEP), expects her to "be able to read at a third-grade level." This vague statement means nothing outside the context of in-depth knowledge of what the grade level standards actually are.
In that way, it is both inappropriate to her learning plan and difficult to measure. By instead saying, "Jessica should, by the end of the semester, be able to master at least 20 grade-level sight words and use those appropriately in a sentence with 80 percent accuracy," the IEP now provides age- and level appropriate, measurable goals for her to strive for.
Another key issue many parents have with IEPs is that they sometimes lack any way to measure progress other than standardized testing. These tests, valuable as they can be, can be an inaccurate measure of progress for a special needs child because they don't take into account differences in learning levels and the overarching goal of moving the child forward from where he or she came (if that is behind where other children of the same age started).
Instead of measuring progress strictly against standardized test results, IEPs should, as stated above, give concrete examples of the types of skills the student can expect to develop throughout the given time period. When the parent understands the goals, it is much easier to follow along with the child's progress and to make corrections immediately should the child start getting off track.
Our next post, the last in our IEP series, will focus on the importance of both scientifically based instruction and ongoing progress monitoring.