As a parents’ special education attorney in Connecticut, I hear outrageous statements that parents are told by their school districts on an almost daily basis. But, sometimes, I am told something that passes the realm of outrageous, and crosses into ridiculous.
Such statements mislead or misrepresent the school’s legal obligations, and always in a way that benefits the school district.
After hearing so many of them, I decided to add a separate category to my blog just for this purpose, where I will post these ridiculous comments and explain why it likely violates IDEA. Hopefully, if you’ve heard similar things from your district, next time around you will know better!
Today’s Ridiculous Comment
One of the most common ways of determining a student’s present level of performance at an Annual Review IEP Team Meeting is to go over the prior year’s Goals and Objectives to ascertain what level of progress was achieved towards them. After doing so, the IEP Team will, presumably, develop new Goals and Objectives for the next year’s IEP. Sometimes, when a Goal has not been met, the IEP Team decides to “carry over” that goal into the following year. That makes sense in some cases. But recently, I had a school district decide not to continue ANY of the prior year’s Goals, even though none of them had been met. Instead, the parents and I were treated to the following gem:
“We noticed that he didn’t meet any of the goals from last year, so we’ve decided to drop all of them and propose new goals that we know he can meet.”
So let me see if I have this straight…a year ago, the school staff sat around this very table and decided that, over the course of an entire year, these Goals were appropriate, and would be reasonable to expect the child to achieve in a year’s time. IEP services were outlined to help the student meet those Goals. Now, a year later, the student has met none of them. And the school district’s response to this failure is not to increase the services in the IEP so that the child might be able to meet them, but rather, to significantly reduce expectations of the child and write Goals that will make the IEP Team feel more successful a year from now?
Fantastic. Great plan.
Goals and Objectives are supposed to be many things, but very importantly if they are Annual Goals, they are supposed to reflect what skills the IEP Team believes the child can acquire over the course of a year, IF the child is receiving a Free and Appropriate Public Education that confers meaningful educational benefit. They are NOT supposed to be written so that they are “easy to attain” for the child, or for the service providers.
And yet, so often I see the response to insufficient progress towards Annual Goals and Objectives is to lower the bar for the student for the next year.
When faced with this reaction, I will often ask the Team what about the child they know now that they did not know a year earlier when they felt that these Goals were appropriate and reasonable. Usually they don’t have much of an answer, other than “well, we know he didn’t meet them.” Which, of course, does not mean the child is incapable of meeting them, and indeed the school staff believed just a year prior that he or she could.
When a child with disabilities is not making progress on her Goals and Objectives, let’s increase services first, and not decrease our standards by “watering down” the Goals.
Otherwise, what Goals and Objectives begin to resemble are not what we expect from the child in a year, but what we expect from the staff.