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10 Tips for Present Levels of Performance that Strengthen IEPs

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Every IEP must include statements that describe the student’s present levels of both academic achievement and functional performance. We’ve reviewed the IEP requirement for describing how the disability affects involvement and progress in the general education curriculum in my last post, including an analysis of both student disability-related characteristics and their impact in participating in the demands of the student’s curriculum.

Now it’s time to drill down, identify the student’s most urgent needs related to their disability and describe specific skills he or she demonstrates within that area of need. In doing so, IDEA requires a description of skills including academic achievement and functional performance.

Relationship Between Academic Achievement and Functional Performance

Some IEP formats require a statement specifically on academic achievement and a separate statement on functional performance; others combine both areas in one text box in the IEP. Either way, both are required— be sure to refer to guidance from your state on their specific expectations. While guidance may differ from state to state, let’s take a look at the guidance from the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP).

Academic Achievement generally refers to a child’s performance in academic areas (e.g., reading or language arts, math, science, and history)”.   (71 Fed. Reg. at 46662).

Functional Performance — “is generally understood as referring to ‘skills or activities that are not considered academic or related to a child’s academic achievement.’” This term “is often used in the context of routine activities of everyday living.” (71 Fed. Reg. at 46661).

  • This may include a wide range of skills including, but not limited to:
    • daily living skills such as dressing, eating, hygiene;
    • mobility skills,
    • social skills,
    • communication skills,
    • behavior skills,
    • executive functioning.

While academic achievement will focus on present levels of performance in academic settings, functional performance should address the student’s performance across all school settings.

Some of these skills are discrete and easily separated, such as the academic skill of reading or a student’s ability to brush their teeth independently. However, other skills may impact both academic and functional skills such as a student’s oral communication. For example, oral communication may impact academic performance such as in providing oral presentations or participating in class discussion, and functionally impact the student’s social skills, self-advocacy, etc. In this case, references may be found in both the statements of academic achievement and statements of functional performance sections of the IEP.

It falls to the IEP creator to make explicit connections between the statements so the reader is able to understand the extent to which the disability impacts the student’s performance.

Structuring a Strong Present Levels of Performance Statement

  1. Describe the student’s skills Within each relevant domain (i.e. reading. math, mobility), describe those skills the student is able to demonstrate. Remember — acquisition of skills is a process. Sometimes you will describe skills the student has mastered and other times you will describe the conditions under which a student performs, even though he or she may still need supports.

    Be specific and verbally paint a picture — by helping the reader visualize what the student can do, you are making this section of the IEP actionable. Think about it — if a teacher knows what a student can do, they can plan an instructionally relevant lesson. The reverse (focusing on what a student can’t do) may not be true.

  1. Identify the student’s urgent needs Once you have a complete picture of how the student performs in a particular domain, take a look at what the demands and expectations for the student are in the general education curriculum. In other words, what skills, if acquired this upcoming year, would have the greatest impact on the student’s involvement and progress in the general education curriculum?
  2. How to determine what is urgent
    • Compare present levels within context of curriculum, in order to
      • Determine degree of urgency, that will
      • Determine targeted need(s), which will drive
      • Specially designed instruction and goals
  1. After you’ve determined what is urgent — answer these 2 questions
    • What would it take for this student to be involved and progress in the general education curriculum? This section should describe what works for this student — strategies, materials, methods — in the designated areas of need.
    • What has worked in the past, what are student’s preferences, interests, etc.?
  1. Capture high-quality baseline data The final component of the Present Levels of Performance Statement is the baseline data which will serve as the foundation for the annual goal(s). I don’t want to short change this important topic, so stay tuned for the next blog!

Writing a Strong Present Levels of Performance Statement

  1. Connect the dots Each section of the IEP should inform the next section. “How disability affects” statements and “statements of present levels of academic achievement and functional performance” are, in a sense, two sides of the same coin. When read together, they should present an actionable picture of the student’s performance levels and needs.
  2. Paint a picture — Provide objective data and descriptive language about the student’s skills or behaviors and the conditions under which they are demonstrated — this will help a teacher plan instruction.
  3. Skills, not just scores Other sections of the IEP include information from the most recent evaluation, so there’s no need to restate all that information unless it has direct bearing on baseline data. And any scores provided in this section should also include a description of the skills that make it relevant.
  4. Two heads are better than one — Collaborate with other teachers and related service providers to write comprehensive Present Levels of Performance Statements. It’s ok to blur the lines between instruction and related services, as they often are deeply intertwined — the Present Levels of Performance Statement is a vehicle to connect these dots! Provide explicit connections between things such as self-regulation (functional) and writing (academic); attentional skills (functional) and summarizing (academic), etc.
  5. Cast a Wide Net — Take a thoughtful approach as to how the student’s disability impacts functional performance. Focusing strictly on academics is only half of the requirement.

Key Takeaway: Maximize Benefit of Present Levels of Performance Statement

Remember, a well-constructed Present Levels of Performance Statement sets the stage for determining goals, specially designed instruction and services. And a well-constructed Present Levels of Performance Statement provides next year’s teacher with the great instructionally relevant information they need to hit the ground running and maximize benefit to the student.

Want to dive deeper? Discover the 6 best practices to elevate IEPs.

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