Making the Most of Progress Reports for Special Education Students & Families

It’s that time of year again…the end of the grading period. As many of us know, having lived through it, students receive report cards with their grades at the end of each marking period (typically at the end of each quarter of the school year). At the same time, special education students will be receiving their individualized education plan (“IEP”) progress reports, as these reports must be distributed any time a grade card or interim is issued.  IEP progress reports measure student progress towards meeting their IEP goals. For many parents of students with special needs, receiving their child’s first progress report of the school year can be daunting. Not only is there a lot of information to digest, but the traditional anxiety of wondering whether your child is making progress in their education adds in to create a stressful experience.

Progress reports can be difficult to digest because there is a great deal of information provided within just a few pages. However, each piece of information is important in understanding your child’s success in their educational placement. Progress reports must contain the child’s annual goals, each goal’s objectives, and a summary of the measurable data used to access the student’s progress. Progress, in the form of measurable data, must be reported on each separate objective. For the most accurate representation of the student’s abilities, there should be at least three points of data for each objective. These data points may be called “inventories” on your progress report and tell the parent how the child has performed this marking period. The data point marked as “baseline” indicates where the student started. It is imperative that the child’s baseline data be provided in the progress reports in order to appropriately gauge the student’s progression and/or regression. From there, a parent or guardian can compare the student’s baseline data to their current data to evaluate their progress. It is important to remember to ensure that the measurement being used to monitor the student’s progress is the same measurement that is written in the IEP.

Progress reports must also include comments from the intervention specialist and/or related service provider collecting the data, and a description of the child’s progress toward meeting each goal in measurable terms and in clear, concise language. The comments from the intervention specialist should include the number of times your child was assessed and the manner in which your child was assessed, such as the time of day they were assessed and whether they were assessed in a one-on-one or small group setting. Any specific issues that may have impeded the student’s progress, such as excessive absences or refusal to participate, should be noted in the progress report as well. It is typical to see more information under each objective rather than under the annual goal itself; this is because the student is working toward meeting each objective in order to reach the overall goal. All of this information is provided to the parent in order for the parent to determine whether their child is making adequate progress in their education.

What is adequate progress, anyway? Well, it is unique to each student, given that each student’s IEP goals should be specifically tailored to the child. However, we can utilize the baseline, inventory, and target data to evaluate the student’s performance. For example, a student’s goal may be to decrease time spent demonstrating unexpected negative behaviors for less than fifteen minutes a day. That student may have had a baseline of demonstrating unexpected negative behaviors for 45 minutes a day. We can look at the inventories of measurable data to determine whether the student’s time spent demonstrating unexpected negative behaviors have decreased. At the end of the school year, the student is demonstrating unexpected negative behaviors for 20 minutes each day. The student did not meet their goal but was able to decrease their time by a significant amount, which is considered adequate progress. On the other hand, if that student was demonstrating behaviors for 70 minutes a day at the end of the school year, a movement from the baseline further away from the target, the data is showing regression. Parents should look at their child’s progress on each objective, as well as the overall goal, to determine whether their child is making appropriate progress.

What are the next steps that a parent can take after receiving an unfavorable progress report? Parents always have the right to call an IEP meeting at any time during the school year. If the student is not making adequate progress toward their goals, parents can use the data provided by the school to write new, more appropriate goals for the student. The Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) states that the school must revise an IEP to “address any lack of expected progress toward annual goals.” Alternatively, if the student has regressed, parents can use this data to advocate for extended school year (ESY) services to combat regression of skills.

Although progress reporting periods can be a stressful time for families with students with special needs, parents can be assured that the flexible nature of an IEP will allow them to make necessary adjustments at any time. As a parent, advocating with our emotions can lead to further disputes with the school. However, advocating for your child with solid data can open the door to endless possibilities for appropriate special education services.

Written by Renee Stromski, Esq. of Albeit Weiker, LLP

Questions? Call us! 614.745.2001

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