Incorporating these standards into each child’s IEP poses new challenges for educators who are more accustomed to writing goals on basic developmental skills. However, standards-based IEPs become a necessity when we consider that a primary goal for early education is school readiness.
In 2007, the Virginia Department of Education released the Foundation Blocks for Early Learning, a set of comprehensive standards for four year olds. The Foundation Blocks build towards the Virginia Standards of Learning and are derived from research on what knowledge is essential for these young learners to be successful in kindergarten. Incorporating these standards into each child’s IEP poses new challenges for educators who are more accustomed to writing goals on basic developmental skills. However, standards-based IEPs become a necessity when we consider that a primary goal for early education is school readiness. Additionally, as inclusive programs for preschool students become more available, it is essential for special education and general education teachers to collaborate and speak the same language. The key to this shift begins by thinking of the IEP as a tool to grant access to the general education curriculum (Ahearn, 2006).
Aligning a child’s IEP with state standards has been shown to have many benefits. The implementation of a standards-based IEP:
• promotes a single educational system that is inclusive, through a common language and curriculum;
• provides a positive direction and a goal for intervention;
• ensures greater consistency across schools and districts (MacQuarrie, 2009);
• increases collaboration between special and general educators;
• focuses instruction on high expectations rather than skill deficits;
• shifts educator pedagogy and attitudes to ensure students with disabilities have access to the curriculum, and
• improves use of interventions and accommodations for children with disabilities (Thompson, Thurlow, Quenemoen, Esler, & Whetstone, 2001).
Step One: Present Level of Performance
Summarize parent input, assessments, student preferences, strengths and areas of need. Describe how the student’s disability affects their performance on state standards and participation in appropriate activities. Next, ask yourself the following question. What prerequisite skills does the student need to acquire in order to close the gap between their present level and the standards identified in the Foundation Blocks for Early Learning?
Step Two: Prioritize Needs
If a significant delay is identified in the present level of performance, the IEP team must identify the student’s needs and consider how each one impacts their progress in the general education curriculum or engage- ment in age appropriate activities. Prioritize the needs that have the greatest impact on their progress towards the standards in the Foundation Blocks and plan to write goals to address those few critical areas.
Step Three: Develop a Goal
A standards-based annual goal should not restate the standard. Instead, it should target a skill the child needs to accomplish the standard while remaining meaningful and appropriate. For example, a student who is not yet able to speak in two word utterances would have difficulty making progress towards a majority of the Foundation Blocks. Chaining two words together becomes a skill worthy of including in the IEP since it is not only important for the child’s participation in the general curriculum, but also for developing age appropriate communication. Similarly, a student who has a fleeting attention span and therefore is unable to listen to a story and answer comprehension questions or make predictions might have an IEP goal aimed at increasing time attending to short stories.
Step Four: Ensure the Goal is Functional
Standards-based annual goals should still be meaningful to the child, positively stated, developmentally appropriate, observable, measurable, and include criteria for mastery.
• Virginia’s Foundation Blocks for Early Learning: Comprehensive Standards for Four-Year-Olds
• Virginia’s Milestones of Child Development (Guidelines for students 2 and 3 years old)
• Standards-Based Individualized Education Program (A guidance document from the Virginia Department of Education)
Ahearn, E. (2006). Standards-based IEP’s: Implementation in selected states. Alexandria, VA: National Association of State Directors of Special Education. Retrieved from http://www.projectforum.org/docs/Standards-BasedIEPsImplementationinSelectedStates.pdf
MacQuarrie, P. (2009, June). Standards-based individualized education programs benefit students. Focus on Results7(2). Retrieved from http://www.cenmi.org/Portals/0/FocusArticles/Standards-BasedIEPs_Article1.pdf
Thompson, S. J., Thurlow, M. L., Quenemoen, R. F., Esler, A., & Whetstone, P. (2001). Addressing standards and assessments on the IEP (Synthesis Report 38). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, National Center onEducational Outcomes. Retrieved from http://education.umn.edu/NCEO/OnlinePubs/Synthesis38.html