WHT Law

Drafting Legally Compliant IEPs: Case Law from Courts and Administrative Hearings (updated November 2013)

image_pdfimage_print

An IEP must contain “a statement of measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals.” 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(1)(A)(i)(II); 23 Ill. Admin. Code 226.230(a)(1).

What is a measurable goal?

A goal is measurable if it includes baseline data, a clear measurement for progress that is quantifiable, and actual data is collected.

Administrative Hearing – Utica School District, 61 IDELR 149 (Michigan State Educational Agency, January 29, 2013)

An administrative law judge found a denial of FAPE because the District’s IEP lacked measurable goals for the student.  The judge found that the student’s goals lacked baseline data and failed to identify the number of correct responses the student would need to meet his goal.  Further, the student’s social emotional goal was to be measured through monthly reports from the social worker, however, the social worker testified that she did not maintain monthly reports.  The judge commented that, without the required data, the goal was not measurable.

A goal is measurable if the benchmarks are measurable.

U.S. District Court, Delaware – Red Clay Consolidated School District v. T.S. and R.S. as parents of J.S., 893 F. Supp.2d 643 (D. Del. 2012)

In this case, the District Court of Delaware refused to hold a district liable for annual goals that were not measurable when the benchmarks were measurable and when the student showed progress.

U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York – R.B. and M.L.B. v. New York City Department of Education, 113 LRP 39966 (S.D. N.Y. 2013)

The District Court found that although the annual goals were not measurable, the IEP was adequate because “the short term objectives contained sufficiently detailed information regarding the conditions under which each objective was to be performed and the frequency, duration, and percentage of accuracy required for measurement of progress and remedied any deficiencies in the annual goals.”

U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois – James v. Board of Educ. of Aptakisic-Tripp Community Consolidated School District No. 102, 642 F. Supp.2d 804 (N.D. Ill. 2009)

An Illinois District Court refused to hold a district liable when an annual goal broadly read “Sarah will improve reading skills and read with understanding from her current level by completing the following objectives,” but the short term objectives under that goal were concise and capable of being measured.  The court noted that the student’s short term objectives included, “when reading independently, Sarah will decode a variety of reading materials at her current instructional level, 8 of 10 times that she is being assessed.”  In addition, the Court noted that under each short term objective the IEP contained the student’s present level of performance for that particular task.  The Court concluded that because the short term objectives were measurable, the IEP sufficiently complied with the requirements of the IDEA concerning the inclusion of measurable goals.

What kind of baseline data is required?

Sufficient information about special education needs and current abilities.

Administrative Hearing – In re: Student with a Disability, 50 IDELR 236 (New York State Educational Agency, July 16, 2008)

A New York administrative hearing officer found that the present level of performance in a student’s IEP did not provide sufficient information about his special education needs and current abilities and, therefore, the district failed to provide the child with a FAPE.  Certain examples illustrated in the case include:

“…other than, stating that the student has ‘delays in fine-motor coordination,’ the IEP lacks information about the severity of his fine-motor impairment and how that impairment affects his ability to complete school-based fine-motor activities, nor does it provide an idea about his current level of fine-motor ability.”

“Further, other than to state that the student’s ‘weak’ expressive language skills affect his ability to interact appropriately in the classroom, the IEP does not describe how the student functionally communicates, the degree of difficulty he has communicating, or the level of adult prompting/assistance that is required due to his oral-motor weakness and expressive language skill deficits…”

“…the IEP does not indicate what type of social skills are lacking or how the student currently interacts with peers.”

“…the IEP does not provide specific information about what math concept skills the student does possess, yet the IEP includes ‘number’ and ‘measurement’ concept annual goals and short-term objectives.”

U.S. District Court, District of Hawaii – Aaron P. v. Hawaii Department of Education, 897 F. Supp.2d 1004 (D. Hawaii 2012)

A Hawaii District Count determined that the failure to include present levels regarding a student’s self-injurious behaviors was serious enough to warrant a finding of a denial of a FAPE.  The Court noted that an IEP must provide “a detailed assessment of a student’s abilities and needs” and then must lay out a program to meet the student’s educational goals.  Since the student’s severe behavioral problems affected her ability to receive educational benefit, the Court found that the failure to address those behaviors resulted in a denial of a FAPE.

U.S. District Court, Northern District of New York – D.G. v. Cooperstown Central School District, 746 F. Supp.2d 435 (N.D. N.Y. 2010)

The court determined that there was no violation when the IEP goals were able to give the student’s teachers sufficient information about baselines from which progress could be measured.  The Court found that the IEP goals “provided enough information for teachers to meet D.G.’s needs and to enable him to be involved in and progress in the general education curriculum.”

Do all goals have to be measurable?

Yes (and No)

U.S. District Court, Northern District of Indiana – Stanley v. M.S.D. of Southwest Allen County Schools, 628 F. Supp.2d 902 (N.D. Ind. 2008)

Without question, the law requires that all IEP goals be measurable.  However, some courts have treated the improper drafting of IEP goals as a procedural violation, as opposed to a substantive one. Procedural violations require an additional inquiry: Did the procedural violation result in a violation of a FAPE?  If a court treats poor IEP goals as a procedural violation, it will then look to see if the poor goal writing has resulted in a denial of educational benefit to the student.

In the above case, an Indiana District Court found that despite a failure to develop measurable goals (some goals were found to be measurable), the student did progress and receive educational benefit, therefore, there was no denial of a FAPE.

However . . .

Administrative Hearing – J.I v. CPS  (Illinois State Educational Agency, April 17, 2008)

An Illinois hearing officer found that a district’s IEP goals were not measurable and were predicated upon questionable data.  The hearing officer found that the student received no educational benefit and, in fact, regressed during 1st and 2nd grades.  The hearing officer ordered the district to fund and place the student at a private therapeutic day school and ordered retroactive reimbursement for the parent’s unilateral placement at the private school. The district was also ordered to pay, as a form of compensatory education, for the parent’s private tutoring of the student, as well as two additional years of education at the private school.

An IEP must also have “appropriate measurable postsecondary goals based upon age appropriate transition assessments related to training, education, employment, and, where appropriate, independent living skills.” An IEP must contain “a statement of measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals.” 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(1)(A)(i)(VIII)(aa); 23 Ill. Admin. Code 226.230(c)(1).

Do transitional goals have different requirements?

No.

Administrative Hearing – Utica School District, 61 IDELR 149 (Michigan State Educational Agency, January 29, 2013)

Transitional goals also must have baseline data.  The data from transition assessments should be included in the goals and there should be a connection between the goals and transitional services provided in the IEP.  There must be a clear steps or services identified in order for the student to meet his or her transitional goals.

            But Transitional Plans Do Not Have to Dictate Goals

U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania– High v. Exeter Township School District, 110 LRP 7642 (E.D. Penn. 2010)

The parents of a student with a severe learning disability were unable to convince a District Court judge that the IEP was deficient due to the transition plan and IEP goals not being connected.  According to the Court, “there is no requirement for a transition plan to dictate IEP goals.”

The Court explained further that, “[u]nlike the IEP, a transition plan is not a strictly academic plan, but relates to several post-secondary skills, including independent living skills and employment. While it may be ideal if a transition plan influences IEP goals, a newly identified transition goal will not change the ability of a child to progress at a higher rate academically. Therefore, while the District helped Stephanie realize she wanted to attend college, the District was not required to ensure she was successful in fulfilling this desire.”

The Court cited Rowley and found that, “[t]he IDEA is meant to create opportunities for disabled children, not to guarantee a specific result.” Since the student was six grade levels behind in reading when she arrived at the District for eleventh grade, it was unreasonable for the parents to expect she would be reading at a twelfth-grade level by graduation.

Deficiencies in Transitional Plans are Treated As Procedural Violations

U.S. District Court, Southern District of Indiana – Tindell v. Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation, 805 F. Supp.2d 630 (S.D. Ind. 2011)

An Indiana Court noted that there was no comprehensive transitional plan in place for a student, but refused to find the district liable due to the student’s severe behavioral and emotional impairment at the time.  The Court treated the lack of a transition plan as a procedural violation and noted that the District would only be liable if the violation resulted in a denial of an educational benefit for the student.  The district found that the student’s anxiety and mood disorder required that he be placed on homebound and that he “was not in a position to benefit from an in-depth transition plan addressing social and vocational support services following graduation.”