In our last posting, we talked about present levels of performance. If you haven’t read that yet, read it first before reading today’s posting because you have to understand present levels before you can understand goals. More to the point, you have to understand what a child’s present levels of performance are before you can start even thinking about writing goals.
As stated before, your present levels of performance are your stepping-off points. If an IEP were a race, your present levels would be the starting line and the annual goals would tell you where the finish line is. The annual goals of an IEP describe your desired outcomes- what it is the IEP team believes a child is capable of learning over the course of a year.
Goals are written every year but assessment is only required once every three years. This means that unless additional assessment is done in between triennial assessments, you’re only going to have fresh baseline data from standardized assessments once every three years. The other two years, you’re going to have to pull your present levels from informal assessments and the child’s progress towards the prior year’s IEP’s goals. I’m going to start out with the very beginning of the process, when a child gets an IEP for the first time and move forward from there.
Beginning with the initial assessment data, the IEP team has a fresh body of data to work with that, if the assessment was done properly, tells you pretty much everything that’s going on with a particular child. It will identify the child’s relative strengths and weaknesses, including the areas of deficit that need to be tackled by the IEP. The goals should tackle the areas of deficit for sure.
Some challenges a student faces may not warrant specialized instruction so much as they may simply require accommodation. For example, a child with a circadian rhythm disorder may receive as an accommodation an alternative schedule to the regular school day. That by itself has no bearing on the content of the child’s instruction. The curriculum doesn’t change on the basis of the child’s disrupted sleep/wake cycle. But,when instruction is provided is changed on that basis.
If the same child also happens to be severely autistic, then you’re looking at the content of the instructional component and not just when it’s being offered. Goals address what it is that you’re trying to teach the child. Accommodations help you get around obstacles that would otherwise interfere with pursuit of the goals.
For example, let’s say you have a 5th grade student with average to above-average intelligence who has an auditory processing disorder, a visual processing disorder, ADHD, and a physical anomaly of his hands – he’s missing the distal interphalangeal joints (top knuckles) of his index and middle fingers on both hands. Let’s say that this child also has a history of behavioral challenges in the classroom.
Comprehensive assessment reveals that the student has problems with visual tracking and saccadic eye movements This means that as he reads, his eyes do not smoothly jump from word to word. He has to visually re-orient every time he leaves one word and tries to fixate on the next. This also impacts his writing as he tracks what he’s trying to put down on paper.
However, his writing is further compounded by the physical anomaly of his hands. So, as he’s trying to watch his words go down on paper, his whole arm starts to hurt because he can’t do the fine finger manipulations necessary to achieve letter formation. He’s got to move his whole arm and upper body.
However, yet again, these combined processes are even further compounded by the fact that the child has an auditory processing disorder. Reading is an auditory process until the reader has memorized enough words on sight, thereby building a huge sight-word vocabulary. Children still learning to read or with relatively low reading skills will still have to think about how a relatively complex word sounds when they write it.
All of us do that to a point. We all can throw down “the” and “is” without any thought, but “sphygmomanometer” is another issue. Even after all these years following my 11th grade vocabulary class, I have to sound that one out.
So, imagine this child trying to receptively read the questions on a worksheet while his eyes are jumping everywhere but where he needs to look and process what the visual symbols sound like (which is an unnatural act in the first place) when he has a hard time processing sounds. It’s a gamble as to how much of what he read he’ll comprehend accurately.
Then have him write something about what he just read while trying to formulate his output based on the sounds of language in his head, which he has to translate into visual symbols that he writes backwards and upside-down because that’s how he saw them, while also trying to move his fingers, hand, wrist, and arm in a way that will produce legible handwriting.
Add in the distractibility, impulsivity, and inattentiveness inherent in ADHD, and then ask yourself why this child engages in behavioral outbursts every time he’s given a paper-pencil task. He’s attempting to avoid a tortuous experience. He’d rather get in trouble and get sent to the office than be put through that hell.
The goals you write for a child with needs like this are multifaceted. The problem a parent can face with a child with these kinds of needs is that you run up against a bias on the basis that he’s actually a pretty smart kid and?it may be?easier for the adults at school conclude that he’s just a poorly behaved little monster and nothing more. None of his multiple disabilities by themselves are all that severe. But, when you put them all together,?they create a recipe for disaster.
A child with these kinds of issues needs therapeutic intervention to address the underlying foundational skills that support academics. His goals need to include visual tracking, cross-Corpus Callosum communication of data presented through the auditory array, and exercises to build strength in his arm to withstand the additional work the arm has to do to support handwriting (taking into account that accommodations will also be provided to eliminate handwriting where it’s not necessary to the mastery of the curriculum). He also needs goals in reading, written expression, math (particularly for lining up problems properly so that calculations are accurate), keyboarding, organizational skills, self-advocacy, and behavior.
Because services are only provided to support IEP goals, it is imperative that all areas where services may be needed are discussed in terms of whether or not a student needs goals in those areas. If you’re thinking the student might need speech-language services, then you have to ask “What deficits does the child have in speech-language? What skills need to be taught in order to eliminate or reduce those deficits?” The answer to the second question gives you your material for your goals. If you can’t think of a skill in a particular domain that needs to be taught, then there isn’t a goal to propose. If there’s no goal to propose, there’s no service in that domain to provide.
Better yet, don’t go in thinking about what services a child needs. Figure out the goals first and then figure out what services are going to be necessary to see the goals met. That’s the proper format, anyway.
My point here is that not all goals are going to be rooted in academia and it’s not esoteric to write goals that tackle things like cross-Corpus Callosum communications. The brain is divided into two hemispheres?- the left and right. The two hemispheres are joined together by a neurological bridge of sorts called the Corpus Callosum. When both sides of the brain are involved in processing, the data between the two sides travels back and forth across the Corpus Callosum. This is also referred to as interhemispheric communications or interhemispheric processing.
If a child struggles with tasks that require cross-Corpus Callosum communications between the two hemispheres of the brain, as is often the case with auditory processing, then exercises that cause the brain to practice that kind of neurological activity are therapeutically warranted. This can include having the child bounce on a personal exercise-style trampoline while alternating between hands throwing balls up in the air and catching them. The child could also use a program such as Earobics, Fast Forword?, or Interactive Metronome.
But, if any programs are used, such as those mentioned above, goals need to be written describing what the desired outcome is for the use of each program. The goals will need to target the deficit areas for which the program is being provided based on the baselines that were measured during assessment.
Once you get a solid IEP written with sound, measurable goals, then it’s just a matter of providing the services that will see the goals met and collecting sufficient data along the way to measure how much progress the child is making. Once the year is up and it’s time to write a new IEP, the child’s present levels should be known in terms of the progress made towards the goals worked on for the last year. If you had a sufficient body of goals in all areas of unique educational need that were well-written and generated empirical data that tells you exactly where the child stands versus where he was a year ago, you’re in pretty good shape for writing the IEP for the year coming up.
If the child has made so much progress that it’s time to tackle a whole new skill set that’s the next level up from the goals he just finished, you may need to collect new baseline data in the area of the next skill set. When you’re scaffolding up from foundational skills such as letter-sound recognition, for example, to putting series of letters together to form sounds that are parts of words, you’re really jumping from one type of mental processing to another.
It is one thing to figure out the respective sounds made by “T” and “P” but it’s another thing to stick a vowel in there, string them all together, and come up with top, tip, and tap. Heaven help you when someone throws in an “S” or an “R” and you’ve got to do consonant blends like stop and trap. Because these next-level steps call upon the brain to do something more complex than what it did before, you’ve got to figure out exactly how well the brain can handle that kind of processing before embarking upon a goal so you know how much complexity is reasonable to expect at the end of a year’s worth of work.
Our next posting will actually focus on measurability, specifically. We already talked about this quite a bit when we covered Present Levels of Performance. In our next posting, though, we’ll focus on the formatting of properly written goals and share some resources with you for goal writing.
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