Results, not efforts, should drive placements

Recently on rethinkautism, a parent asked about the “Chevy vs. Cadillac” mantra widely repeated to supposedly illustrate the IDEA principle that children are entitled to an “appropriate” education, not the “best” education or, in general, one that “maximizes” their progress or opportunity.

The best way to respond to this sort of comment (besides ignoring the fact that it’s shorthand for “I don’t really understand the nature of your complaint, Ms. Parent”) is to return the focus to the underlying problem. Parents seek changes in placements when too many goals are not being achieved. The focus is on results, not efforts. If my son’s school spent little time on my son but he managed to meet his goals, I should be more or less okay with that scenario; if, however, they spent the required time on him but achieved no goals, I should be upset. For me, the sine qua non of “appropriate” is “effective.” If goals aren’t being met, that circumstance requires intervention, just as surely as if a child make little progress on a program after several days, some review and adjustment is normally appropriate.

When parents seek additional intensity in placement, whether through more hours, smaller classes, or different programs of instruction, the underlying reason should generally be that the child is not making sufficient progress in the existing placement or that progress under a proposed placement is doubtful.

What we should be striving for, as parents as well as professionals serving parents and children, is that IEPs contain sufficiently ambitious goals. Aiming low and achieving that goal risks stealing our children’s rights to independent living by squandering their education time on ineffective placements. The tragedy of low expectations is a civil rights concept that absolutely applies to the rights of our kids. Without properly constructed goals, it becomes that much more difficult to show lack of acceptable progress.

An initial step for parents to improve this situation is to ensure that IEP goals and objectives meet this familiar standard:

S – Specific

M – Measurable

A – Active

R – Realistic

T – Timed

Rather than use made-up examples, I’d prefer to use YOUR real IEP goals so that you can see actual language from today’s IEPs and how you would actually go about improving it.

Do you see goals in your child’s IEP that need to be fixed to address these concerns? You can send the problem goal to me with “IEP goal” as the subject, and I’ll use it as a basis for a future post (suitably anonymized, of course!).

Would you like me to make this IEP Goals Clinic a weekly conference call or webinar? Please let me know in the comments or send an email or tweet.