ASK - Advocates for Special Kids
"Parents helping parents to understand special education"

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Progress and Accountability for Students

Receiving Special Education Services:
A Brief Primer - Advocates for Special Kids [ASK]


Progress is defined through the term "appropriate" as in:

     Free Appropriate Public Education" (also referred to as FAPE)

"Appropriate" means:

- specialized instruction and related services that are provided at public expense, under public supervision and without charge;

- the instruction and services must meet state standards, must include preschool, elementary and secondary school education, and must be provided in conformity with an IEP that meets all legal requirements. [34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.13.]

- services must address all of the child's identified special education and related service needs, and the services and placement must be based on the child's unique needs and not on her disability. [34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.300(a)(3).]

Case law has interpreted what the regulations mean by "appropriate" declaring that under federal law an "appropriate" educational program and placement is one that provides services to the disabled student sufficient for her to obtain "educational benefit." It does not entitle the student to the "best" possible educational program or a "potential maximizing" education. Board of Education v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176; 102 S. Ct. 3034; EHLR 553:656 (1982).

Specifically, in Rowley the Court was considering a student with disabilities who was mainstreamed in general education classes. For these students, the Rowley court said that educational benefit usually means that the child is making passing grades and is being promoted from grade to grade.

The courts are constantly exploring the determination of what is "educational benefit." Certainly, the plan of instruction and placement should be likely to result in meaningful educational progress and not regression or trivial educational advancement. [Polk v. Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit 16, 853 F.2d 171 (3d Cir. 1988).]


In California, educational benefit is measured by whether the child is making meaningful progress toward achieving IEP goals and objectives.

[County of San Diego v. Cal. Special Ed. Hearing Office, 93 F.3d 1458 (9th Cir. 1996), 24 IDELR 756; Taylor v. Honig, 910 F.2d 627, 629 (9th Cir. 1990), 16 EHLR 1138.]

Therefore, goals and objectives are KEY!!

Goals and Objectives Help Set the Standard

Measurable annual goals and benchmarks or short-term instructional objectives are important because they allow you to:

- track your child's progress in school; and

- help you determine if your child's educational program is appropriate to meet his or her unique educational needs.

Goals and benchmarks/objectives are also important because they help form and guide your child's specific instructional plans. An IEP is not designed to be a detailed instructional plan, but instructional plans should relate directly to the IEP goals and benchmarks/objectives. The best way for you as parents to influence the specific instruction your child receives is to participate in developing appropriate IEP goals and benchmarks/objectives. [34 C.F.R. Part 300, App. A, Q. 1.]

The goals and benchmarks/objectives define what kind of special education program and related services the school district must provide.

- The school district must provide the programs and services necessary to meet the goals and objectives in your child's IEP.

- If your child needs a particular kind of special education program or service, the school district is not required to provide it unless it is necessary to meet an IEP goal or benchmark/objective. [34 C.F.R. Part 300, App. A, Q. 31.]

NOTE: the major components of an IEP must relate to one other. An IEP must show a direct relationship between present levels of performance, the goals and objectives, and the specific educational goals to be provided. [5 CCR Sec. 3040(c)] Annual goals should be written based on how the child is presently performing in the various areas of deficit; educational services must be sufficient, in light of present performance, to make progress toward meeting annual goals and short-term objectives.

In addition, the determination of whether your child is meeting or failing to meet his IEP goals and benchmark/objectives is critical to developing an appropriate educational program.

- Consequently, your child's IEP must include at least one statement of how your child's progress toward his annual goals will be measured.

- The IEP must also include the extent to which that progress is sufficient to enable your child to achieve the goals and objectives by the end of the year and how you, as parents, will be regularly informed (such as periodic report cards) of your child's progress.

- You must be informed at least as often as parents of nondisabled children are informed of their children's progress. [20 U.S.C. Sec. 1414(d)(1)(A)(viii),; 34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.347(a)(7); Cal. Ed. Code Sec. 56345(a)(7).]

The Reality in Education
Prior to the Reauthorization of IDEA 1997

If a district has low expectations for a child, typically it will draft goals and objectives that reflect those expectations. Because school districts are not obligated to provide services beyond those required to achieve goals and objectives, far too often, children for whom goals are set so low make little or no progress. In the past, such goals and objectives have been referred to as "roll over" goals and objectives, because the same low goals and objectives are written into an IEP year after year, with no progress resulting for the child and no accountability on the part of school districts.

Often, despite a parentís wishes or without parentsí knowledge, school districts decide what the expectations would be for a particular student, far too often based on lack of information or misinformation regarding a disability. As a result of those expectations, inappropriate goals and objectives would be established for a child and if a parent was either too trusting of the district or failed to explicitly state otherwise, these goals and objectives would be adopted.

This is why it is imperative for parents to be as involved as possible in their childís educational program, to articulate clearly and consistently what your expectations are for your child, so that everyone understands your goals for your childís ongoing educational progress as well as their outcome. In this way, you ensure that district staff understands your expectations for your child and everyone can be on the same page in regards to the long-range planning and goals for a child.

Historically, school districts often excluded students with special needs from district-wide and state-wide assessments, with the justification being that the student couldnít endure the process or would suffer unnecessary stress as a result. Unfortunately, as a result of this practice, not only have students been denied experience with test-taking practices, which all students must eventually contend with, but parents have been left with no objective measure of progress (or lack of progress as the case may be).

In our district as well as others, we have heard many examples of parents being told by district personnel that a child is "doing just fine" only to find out in the 4th, 5th, and even 7th and 8th grades, that students who are completely capable of learning, have NOT learned to read. As parents, we need more than a teacherís subjective impressions of a childís progress. We need, and our children are entitled to, objective measures of progress. That is where assessments come in.

Because of low expectations, a practice of exclusion from testing and lack of accountability of school districts, children with special needs have historically experienced poor outcomes. Lack of progress without appropriate interventions can eventually lead to a child who has fallen so far behind, they canít imagine ever catching up. School and self-esteem both suffer. And unfortunately, children fail both at school and in life.

Fortunately, through the efforts of parents, involved educators, and the U.S. Congress this is changing. The 1997 Reauthorization of IDEA, as well as the passage of legislation in the state of California is resulting in greater participation by students with special needs in the assessment process, as well as in remediation programs that have been created for all students who are not making sufficient progress.

As well, the adoption of standards, both at the state and district level, now provides a benchmark against which students with special needs can have their goals written, and their progress compared and measured.

Assessments: STAR 9 and the High School Exit Exam [HSEE]

The 1997 Reauthorization of IDEA has brought accountability to the forefront. Nowhere is this more evident in the requirements that are being put into place with regard to assessments. In a September 29, 1997 "Dear Colleague" letter from Judith E. Heumann, Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services and Norma V. Cantu, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, U.S. Dept. Of Education, the following statement was made re: assessment:

"Assessment is often associated with direct individual benefits such as promotion, graduation, and access to educational services. In addition, assessment is an integral aspect of educational accountability systems that provide valuable information which benefits individual students by measuring individual progress against standards or by evaluating programs. Because of the benefits that accrue as the result of assessment, exclusion from assessments on the basis of disability generally would violate Section 504 and ADA."

It is so important that students have objective measures of progress that it is viewed as a civil rights issue. Now, with a few exceptions, students with special needs will take the STAR 9 and participate in standardized testing. As well, with a few exceptions, students with special needs will take the new High School Exit Exam that will be mandatory for all students planning to graduate high school in the State of California by the 2003-2004 school year. Fortunately, there is a clear understanding, at least at the national and state level, that in order for students to take these tests and have the opportunity to pass them, they must receive instruction in the material that these tests cover, and be given the opportunity to learn the material.

This understanding provides parents of children with special needs the greatest opportunity to ensure that their children will receive access to the core curriculum, that they have district standards to aim for, that they are being taught in a manner that allows them to learn the curriculum sufficiently to pass these tests, and that districts will be accountable for ensuring all of the above. In this way, the assessment process is bringing the accountability to special education that has been lacking for far too many years and with far too many children.


"Special Education Rights and Responsibilities," by Community Alliance for Special Education (CASE) and Protection and Advocacy, Inc. (PAI)

08/24/00 Memorandum, Judith E. Heumann and Kenneth R. Warlick to State Directors of Special Education re: Questions and Answers About Provisions in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997 Related to Students with Disabilities and State and District-wide Assessments.  


Copyright © 2001  ASK 
All rights reserved.
Revised: January 25, 2002

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