January 24, 2016

So many times SPED teams look at the process of writing IEPs as just another chore to do - unnecessary paperwork that takes away from working with students. However, writing IEPs is one of the most important things you will do for your students each year.

A student’s Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP) in the IEP includes data about the student’s strengths, preferences, interests, and disability as well as parent/student input.

Trish Geraghty, Director of Specialized Instruction for Mesa Public Schools in Arizona, shares this:

“Many times when I work with teachers they share with me that they think IEPs are a paperwork hoop they have to jump through. This sentiment could not be further from the truth; however, given all the compliance and procedural focus I can see their point. A student’s IEP should reflect a student’s individual strengths and needs. Using those individualized strengths and needs, the team can then develop a plan to support the student in accessing and making progress in the general education curriculum.

The relationship between the PLAAFP, goals, and services is often overlooked. There must be an alignment between the needs in the PLAAFP to the goals written to address those needs to finally the service designed to meet the goals. When a stranger reads an IEP, it should be evident that these three areas are aligned and compliment one another. If stated in the PLAAFP that a student struggles with identifying the main idea of a passage, then there should be a goal to address that need and a service in reading comprehension to work on the goal.

The PLAAFP of an IEP is the heart of the plan for the student. If a teacher or SLP can write a clear and comprehensive PLAAFP, the rest of the IEP writes itself. The strengths of the student should be used to help create the specially designed instruction. If a student is strong visually, then that information should be incorporated into instruction.

The needs of the PLAAFP provide a guide to what the goals will address. Teachers and therapists should not shy away from writing the true needs of a student in objective and measurable language. There does not need to be a goal for every need; however, it must be apparent how the student will have those needs met outside of an IEP goal. This could be an intervention or tutoring time outside of special education services.

Once the team has a solid PLAAFP and goals aligned to the needs from the PLAAFP, they can move to creating specially designed instruction. The team should consider how long it will take to work with a student on the goals prescribed and how the instruction should be delivered. Describing what the specially designed instruction looks like is imperative to a student’s success.

IEPs are not paperwork hoops to jump through, but a plan you and your team create to help a student succeed. Clearly identifying a student’s needs, then writing goals to address those needs, and finally developing specially designed instruction is the key to a successful, and more importantly helpful, IEP. IEPs are the driving force behind the services students receive. It is so important to reflect carefully on data from year to year to drive the best possible programming for each student. Ensure that the document changes from year to year to reflect current strengths and needs.”

While there is no “I” in team, there is one in IEP, and that “I” stands for Individualized.