IEP Advocacy: Annual Goals and Legal Lingo
Walking into an IEP is nerve-wracking. You’re thinking about what goals your child needs, the services that are essential, and the staff that will be most resistant to working with you. In fact, many parents are highly focused on the services that will be provided and lose sight of the purpose of the annual goals. Too often, parents readily breeze through goals in order to get to the meat of the IEP – placement and services. Similarly, parents often know why they want services, and they know their child’s unique needs, but they aren’t as versed in how the law obligates the District to provide the services. Using the right language can avoid common pitfalls that allow a District to reduce or eliminate services.
The most important thing to remember about the goals is that they are annual goals. Making sure you have goals in all areas of need and that they are measurable is important, too. But none of that matters if the District sets the bar so low that any student could achieve the goal.
When thinking about goals, it’s important to consider where you want your child to be a year from now. Often, a school district will propose a goal that merely works on the next logical step, rather than where the child should be in a year. For example, I had one case where a young child had mastered single digit addition. The school district’s proposal? Addition of two digit numbers. While that is a worthy objective, it should not be an annual goal. If a child who can already do single digit addition spends all year and only learns that same skill with two numbers, rather than learning to subtract or multiply, it can hardly be said that he has made meaningful progress.
One tactic to think about is what other kids will be learning in his or her grade level. If your child is in second grade now, he or she will be a third grader at the next annual. So what does a typical third grader learn? Even if your child is a grade level behind, you want them to make meaningful progress. So if they are at the first grade level now, you want to at least shoot for a second grade level goal. Tying annual goals to grade levels is a good way to ensure that progress will be made.
When it comes to services, you should be aware of what the law requires – and what it doesn’t. Legally, the District must provide sufficient services for your child to get “some educational benefit” or “some meaningful benefit” from the education. In other words, it has to be enough for your child to make progress on goals. Some courts have compared it to a high school student progressing with about a C average.
Federal law, and the courts agree, does not require “best” services or services that would “maximize a child’s potential.” If you go in asking for the “best,” the District might even agree that what you are asking for is best, but will be well within its right to cut those services down. Instead, ask for what you want, but call them “appropriate” services. Anything less is “inappropriate.” While those words won’t magically sway the District, they will keep you from falling into the common parental pitfall of asking for the “best” – and then being promptly denied.
Drew Massey, Esq. graduated magna cum laude from Pepperdine Law School in 2006. Since that time, he has represented children and families with special needs in obtaining the necessary services so children can learn. You can reach him at (714) 698-0239 or email him at: DMassey@edattorneys.com or visit the Adams & Associates, APLC website at: https://californiaspecialedlaw.com