Mark Kamleiter, Florida parent attorney (St. Petersburg) says that parents and advocates often focus only on the "last pages" of the IEP. That is what I see, too.
The concerns I hear from parents are mostly about placement, goals, and least restrictive environment. Yet, when I review the child's most recent Individualized Education Plan (IEP), there is little helpful information under the Present Levels of Functional and Academic Performance (PLOPs) section. The few lines that are written there are not helpful to the IEP Team. Often, I can find no relationship at all between the "present levels" and the "needs" and the "goals."
Most of the IEPs I review have, at most, three to four lines of PLOPs. Rarely, do they have Functional PLOPS. (Remember, schools still tell parents, "We do not have to do that because it is not related to academics.") Parents have to learn now to design accurate and up-to-date present levels. Advocates have to learn how to do this to and teach parents how to do this. It is one of the easiest things for parents to do because they know their child best. Until the PLOPs are accurate, parents will never be able to get the program, placement, or education their child needs.
The PLOPS are the foundation of the IEP. (The form your school uses may have each of these two levels in two separate sections). The PLOPs in all IEPs must include functional and academic performance. 20 U.S.C. Sect. 1414 (d) (1) (A) (i). Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition p. 99. The student's PLOPs must always be accurate and up-to-date.
When the IEP fails to include accurate and up-to-date information about the child's present levels, the IEP is defective. It has no foundation. Like Mark says, the parents and their advocates have focused their efforts on the "last pages" of the IEP. That is, they have provided information to the IEP Team about placement, goals, and Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) instead of present levels of performance. They have placed the cart before the horse. Until they have completed accurate and up to date PLOPs, the IEP cannot be accurate.
Let's talk about the procedure that IEP Teams must follow when developing an IEP. First, we fill in the child's name and biographical information. Next, we provide information about how the child currently functions academically and in the real world. This is where the IEP Team usually fills in the test scores and grades. However, this section is about much more than that. The PLOPs are the most critical part of the IEP. It is also the section that most parents and advocates prepare for the least. The parents' input is most important during the IEP Team's assessment of the child's PLOPs. Only the parents know how the child functions at home, in the community, when doing homework, at work, and in the real world.
"The present levels of performance are the foundation for everything else in the IEP," says school attorney Joe Hatley. "If your starting point is fundamentally flawed, then everything that comes after that is flawed, too."
Each time the IEP Team meets, it must update the child's PLOPs. The Katonah-Lewisboro (NY) School District failed to do this for one of its students. It simply copied the last year's "Present Levels" into the new IEP, despite information that the student had made progress in all academic areas from the private placement the parents had secured the previous school year. The Second Circuit decision found that the child's IEP "was likely to cause [the student] to regress or make only trivial advancement."
The school district's fatal flaw cost it dearly. The Court ordered it to pay the student's private placement tuition. It also had to pay the parents attorneys fees and expenses of over $156,976.00. You can read the decision here:
If you want to learn more about how to develop your child's Present Levels click the links below.