Are Students with Learning Disabilities Receiving A Free and Appropriate Education: Lessons Learned from a Descriptive Review of Individual Education Program Plans
Abstract: The Individuals with Disabilities Act of 2004 and its precursors dating back to 1975, provide students with disabilities a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). At the cornerstone of FAPE, is the individual education program (IEP).
Our study examined the requirements that an IEP contains “a statement of the child’s present level of academic achievement and functional performance [PLAFP]” among other specific elements. The PLAFP must include a statement regarding “how the child’s disability affects the child’s involvement in and progress in the general curriculum” 20 U. S. C. 1414(d) (1) (A) (i); measurable annual goals, both academic and functional, designed to meet the student’s needs resulting from his/her disability and allow the student to “be involved in and make progress in the general curriculum” 20 U. S. C. 1414 (d)(1)(A)(i); and specification of how the student’s progress towards annual goals will be measured and the frequency and method of progress reports. For students with learning disabilities, a well-designed and properly implemented IEP is essential for school success as well as positive outcomes in adult life (Bateman, 2012). Conversely, procedural, instructional, and measurement errors have the potential to impact implementation of FAPE leading to poor educational outcomes, depriving a student of educational benefit (Slater, 2010). In the absence of the substantive features we examined, it is difficult to understand how an IEP could be considered to fulfill its purpose. This descriptive study examined how an IEP could be considered to fulfill its purpose. This descriptive study examined the IEPs of 86 students with LDs from six rural districts in the southwest using a framework developed by Yell and colleagues (2013, 2016). The protocol included four sections: (1) Demographic Information, (2) Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance-PLAAFP, (3) Goals and Objectives, and (4) Progress Monitoring. An expert panel including teachers, administrators, and higher education faculty reviewed the protocol and adjustments were made for clarity and consistency before we trained evaluators in the use of the protocol. Six student researchers were trained during 2, three-hour sessions using sample IEPs from each participating district. IEPs were provided by the districts and were considered representative samples (poor, typical, exceptional). Research assistants coded IEPs in teams with support of the first and second author until 100% Inter-rater reliability was established across two IEPs. Next, coders independently coded three IEPs until two were independently coded with 100% accuracy. Approximately 20% (n=17) of IEPs included mandated components of the PLAAFP. However, over 66% (n=56) of goals were unaligned with needs identified in the PLAAFP. Additionally, 79% (n=68) omitted required progress monitoring components. In addition to summary data, we will present examples of the kinds of errors we noted along with explanation of how they affect the IEP. Implications for practice, professional development, and future research directions will be shared.
Judging Forms – Official judges only