November 27, 2018

The Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP) section of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is the foundation for developing an appropriate and individualized treatment plan. This is where we identify how a child is performing in all areas critical to success in the classroom. This is often times the most challenging section of the IEP to write. In order to have a comprehensive present levels section, you need to have data that addresses all of a student’s strengths and needs that impact the ability to access the general education curriculum.

As the speech-language pathologist (SLP) we typically only focus on a student’s communication skills (unless the student is eligible for special education as SLI only and then we are responsible for addressing all areas: i.e. academics, functional, behavior, social/emotional, etc.). Gathering comprehensive data about a student’s communication skills is a complex and difficult task as there is not a standard process to assess this information. Some SLPs have developed their own means of assessing students by creating screeners, checklists, language samples, inventories, parent/teacher interviews, observation forms, etc. but for many of us, we struggle with finding an effective and efficient way to gather the data. What this often leads to is a generic PLAAFP that does not help guide the team in selecting appropriate goals and accommodations.

Examples of vague PLAAFPs:

  1. Johnny is a nice boy with a wonderful personality. He is a joy to work with. Johnny has made great progress on his speech and language goals. Johnny has needs in the areas of expressive and receptive language.

  2. Michael’s strengths include articulation, voice, and fluency. He has needs in the areas of expressive and receptive language. Michael needs to work on improving grammar and comprehension.

The problem with these examples is that the information provided is either subjective (Johnny is a nice boy) or too broad (Michael’s needs are grammar and comprehension). While it’s a nice thing to say that a student is kind or is a pleasure to work with, this information will not drive the supports that are needed to truly help the student. And identifying that a student has needs in the areas of grammar is a start, but what specifically are those needs? Is he using age-appropriate sentence length? Does he struggle with pronoun usage or past tense -ed? The present levels need to be specific and objective so that the team can make programming decisions.

Articulation only students are typically straightforward. Present levels for a speech only student may look like this:

The student exhibits strengths in expressive/receptive language, pragmatics, voice and fluency and exhibits needs in the areas of articulation, characterized by distortion of the /r/ sound and substitution of /f,d/ for /th/. These sound errors impact the student’s ability to be understood and are noticeable in all oral language activities.

But what about students with more complex needs? We need to be able to identify the language underpinnings that are impacting their ability to access the curriculum. Saying they have difficulty in the area of vocabulary is not enough. Where is the breakdown occurring? Is their overall vocabulary delayed or do they have difficulty with defining/describing, explaining semantic relationships (i.e. classification, antonyms, synonyms, multiple meaning words, etc.) or figurative language? Digging deeper into what skills the student is struggling with will lead us to the goals/accommodations needed for support.

So how do we gather the specific data that we need in order to write a comprehensive present level?

With the wide range of our students’ ages and needs, it is impossible to remember everything that we should be considering when we analyze strengths and needs. The Present Level Assessments in SLP Toolkit were designed to help a therapist gather specific information in all areas of communication: language, articulation, functional communication, pragmatics, voice and fluency. To access the library of informal screening tools, log in to, add a student and click on the + sign next to Present Level Assessments on the student dashboard.


How do you select the assessment that is appropriate for the student?

*Do they exhibit articulation errors only? Administer the Articulation Screening PLA.

*Do they have language delays? Administer a grade level PLA that is most appropriate for where they are at. For example, if you have a 6th-grade student that has significant delays and they are unable to accurately complete any of the items in the 6th-8th grade PLA, then you may want to go down a level or two until they are able to complete some portions of the assessment successfully.

*Are you also seeing needs in the area of social language? Then administering the Pragmatic PLA will allow you to gather information on their pragmatic language skills.

*Do you have a student with complex communication needs? Then the Functional Communication PLA will be more appropriate.

The Present Level Assessments do not replace your clinical judgment - they are designed to guide your thinking. Part of that clinical judgment is determining which assessment is going to give you comprehensive data about strengths and needs. You may even need to administer parts from multiple assessments in order to gather the information you need. It’s also important to remember that identifying strengths is just as important as identifying needs. Not only are the strengths important for ensuring that the IEP is positive, but the strengths also help to guide our treatment of the needs.

We also can’t forget that input from the whole team is an important piece of the puzzle. Using some kind of parent/teacher input form can help you to gather this information. Here are some example forms you can use:

Teacher input form

Parent input form

We no longer have to fear someone asking us ‘why did you pick that goal’. It’s a beautiful feeling to have the data you need to back up your decisions. Are you ready to write the best present levels you have ever written? Sign up for a free account of SLP Toolkit today!

Need additional examples? Check this one:

Case study 1: Micheal is 5;3 with a diagnosis of Autism and is transitioning to kindergarten. The Preschool PLA, Preschool Classroom Observation and Pragmatic PLA were administered to gather this data:

Michael’s communication strengths are in the area of articulation, grammar, voice, and fluency. He demonstrates age appropriate sentence length and uses a wide variety of word types (verbs, nouns, adjectives). Michael is able to follow the classroom routine, sits for the duration of circle time, and follow two-step directions with actions (i.e. stand-up and turn around). Michael is able to answer yes/no questions, provide opposites in a cloze statement (i.e snow is cold, fire is _____), name items in a given category, and provide the function of objects. In the areas of pragmatics, Michael demonstrates strengths in greeting others, looking at people who are speaking, recognizing physical space/boundaries of others, asking for help, developing friendships with peers, recognizing humor, and interest/awareness of people and activities.

Michael’s communication needs are in the area of receptive/expressive language and pragmatics. Michael exhibits difficulty with answering questions effectively. He will typically repeat another student’s response or will respond with an off-topic comment or a response that is not semantically related (i.e. answer where for a when question). Michael also has a difficult time answering questions about a story he has heard. This may be due to difficulty with attending to the story. He often appears to be thinking about something else or can be distracted by other people around him. Michael has difficulty including sufficient/relevant details during a personal/story retell. In the area of pragmatics, Michael has difficulty with talking about his feelings, making comments during discussions/conversations, demonstrating cooperative behaviors when playing with others and demonstrating appropriate attention-getting techniques. When he wants the attention of someone he will often speak loudly and interrupt.

Do you have awesome examples of present levels you have written? We would love to share them! Email us at