What is included in the IEP document?
Page 10: Substantive Requirements: Common Errors
Recall that substantive requirements represent what is developed in the IEP. Substantive requirements involve the actual content of the individualized special education program and focus on the educational benefit conferred by a student’s IEP. The program must be aspirational, in that it maintains high expectations while enabling the student to make meaningful progress, given the student’s unique needs.
On the previous pages of this module, we addressed the ways in which the substantive requirements of IDEA can be met to develop a high-quality, educationally meaningful IEP. In contrast, IEPs that do not meet the substantive standard can result in an IEP that will not confer educational benefit to the student. Therefore, IEP teams should be aware of some of the more common substantive errors so that they can avoid them.
The importance of the complete, relevant, and thorough student evaluation cannot be overstated. The evaluation must address all areas of student need, even if the area does not seem to be related to a student’s suspected disability. Consider this example: A student is referred for evaluation because of academic difficulties. A thorough evaluation would include vision and hearing screenings, even though the primary area of concern is academics. The student’s screening results indicate possible hearing loss, something that might be contributing to her academic difficulties.
Recall that the results from the evaluation lay the groundwork for the rest of the IEP. The PLAAFP statements are developed using the findings from the various assessments. The annual goals are based on the PLAAFP statements, and the services and supports follow. If a student’s evaluation is incomplete, inaccurate, or outdated, the overall program developed for the student may fail to provide FAPE.
The PLAAFP statements will become the basis of the annual goals and services and supports that will follow. Failure to develop PLAAFP statements that address each of a student’s needs, as identified in the evaluation, not only constitutes a serious content problem, but can also be considered a denial of FAPE.
IDEA requires that IEP teams develop measurable goals that allow teachers and parents to monitor a student’s progress and make educational adjustments when necessary. In the Endrew case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that students with disabilities should have the opportunity to meet challenging and ambitious annual goals.
These services must be designed to enable a student to make progress in light of her circumstances. In particular, the supplementary aids and services identified by the IEP team must help the student advance toward achieving her annual goals while being involved in and making progress in the general education curriculum. Moreover, the IEP team must clearly delineate the frequency, duration, and location of the services.
Placement decisions must be based on the student’s individual needs as uncovered during the evaluation process. Further, the placement decision should only be made after the PLAAFP statements, annual goals, and services components of the IEP have been developed. Finally, IEP teams should not make placements based on factors such as:
- Category of disability
- Availability of educational or related services
- Administrative convenience (i.e., logistics, space, or budgetary considerations)
IDEA requires that school districts have a range or continuum of placement options. This continuum must always be available and considered. The LRE requirements stipulate that the removal of students with disabilities from the general educational environment should occur only when the nature or severity of the disability is such that instruction in general education settings (with the use of supplementary aids and services) cannot be achieved satisfactorily. However, the LRE requirement should not be interpreted to mean that all students should always be educated in the general education setting. At times, some students with disabilities require more intensive intervention that can better be provided outside of the general education classroom.
Monitoring the student’s progress is essential in determining whether the student is adequately progressing toward meeting her goals and receiving FAPE. Progress monitoring is used to:
- Assess a student’s performance
- Quantify her rate of improvement or responsiveness to intervention in light of the annual goals
- Evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention
- Adjust the student’s instructional program as needed
Without such monitoring, school personnel have no way to determine whether students are actually making progress.
You may have noticed that the first of the common substantive errors listed above, failure to conduct a complete individualized evaluation, appears at first glance to be a procedural error. The distinction between procedural errors and substantive errors is not always clear, as Mitchell Yell explains below. Regardless, any type of error, whether procedural or substantive, that results in a failure to provide FAPE to a student with a disability, is serious (time 1:38).
Mitchell Yell, PhD
Fred and Francis Lester Palmetto Chair in Teacher Education
Professor, Special Education
University of South Carolina