Much of what I have learned about writing IEPs is in response to problems created by not know how to go about this task. Writing IEP goals is a writing task, and it can be guided by the same kinds of questions writers ask:
- who is the audience?
- what is the purpose?
- what is the best form?
Who is the audience? That question seemed so obvious to me before we had to get ready to go to hearing. The IEP document, obviously, is written for the current IEP team, people who know your child. But it is also written for future IEP teams, who have not met your child yet. Potentially, it is also written for administrators who step in to help if problems arise, state monitors, courts, advocates, doctors and therapists. I used to accept goals that were written just for our team, assuming that everyone shared the knowledge of my child that would make the goals clear. Now I know that they need to be written for people who will never meet my child. That means they need to be clear and complete in a way that someone who has never met your child or understands her diagnosis can understand.
What is the purpose? The IEP is first and foremost a legal contract between the school and your child. It is binding, and it protects your child's rights to all the services, including the duration and manner delivered, in the IEP. The district is only required to implement services that are documented in the IEP. This means that it needs to be very thorough and error free. Small errors in the duration, frequency or types of services can lead to big problems.
In addition to serving as a legal contract, the IEP serves as an historical record for new teams. It should ideally give a picture of the child's educational history and progress and give the team useful information about next steps to take with the child.
What form should the IEP take? Typically districts will have their own forms for IEPs so this is taken care of for you. However, often the forms do not allow enough room for the purpose. We often attach additional pages for different sections. IEPs often have different organizations from district to district. All IEPs should contain current levels of functioning and goals. The current level of functioning and goals should drive the entire IEP. They should describe not only what the child can do now, but also what issues there are to address in the current IEP and beyond-- and why the team is working on the goals in the IEP.
A sample of our most current communication goals-- the best ones we have to date-- is below. Notice that the goal includes the assistive technology, provides a rationale for the equipment used, includes not just who (teacher, aide etc) but refers to the skill needed, and gives measurable outcomes (how many words, how many turns, and in what context).
Augmentative and Assistive Communication Goals 2008
Overview: Due to severe apraxia associated with her diagnosis, ___ is non-verbal and not expected to regain speech functions. She has limited use of her hands and cannot use sign language, complete picture exchanges or reliably direct select with hand operated switches. ___ uses eye gaze to select icons. According to her most recent AAC report, ___ understands conversational speech according to her age. ____ is a multi-modal communicator, using proxemics, utterances, gestures and aided communication with no and low tech devices and will begin using an eye-gaze supported high tech device 9/08. (See IEP face sheet for equipment list). Her receptive langauge is much higher than her expressive language. She is able to participate in up to six turns of conversation with skilled partners about familiar topics. She has few aided communication opportunities particularly outside of school.
Current level of functioning
___ academic vocabulary is limited compared to her conversational vocabulary and her receptive language. ___ needs exposure to rich and engaging academic academic content appropriate to her age and an eye gaze accessible speech generating device will allow her to access all of her vocabulary independently.
Long term goal:
To further develop academic linguistic competence, ___ will develop a core of 100 words using eye gaze accessible aided communication systems, including her high tech device, to express her understanding of core math, science, art and language arts concepts with skilled communication partners.
___ will use a core vocabulary of 50 words with a skilled communication partner to generate one word responses to prompts about grade level academic concepts, closing at least one circle of communication.
___ will use a core vocabulary of 75 words with a skilled communication partner to generate one to three word responses to prompts about grade level academic concepts closing one to three circles of communication.