How to Develop an IEP That Measures Your Child’s Progress Objectively

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You say—”I’m still confused. The IEPs that have been developed for my child don’t include objective measures of progress. How can they be written differently? How will I know whether he is actually making progress?”

Change the facts. Assume that you have an 8 year old son named Mike. Mike is upset – he didn’t pass the President’s Physical Fitness Test. Mike tells you that he wants to pass the test next year. He asks you to help.

You learn that there are specific criteria that children must meet to pass the President’s Physical Fitness Test. The children’s performance on various activities is measured objectively. You check Mike’s scores. Mike ran the 50 yard dash in the specified time, completed 12 (out of an expected 25) sit-ups, and performed no pull-ups.

Now, you and Mike know what he will need to do to accomplish his goal and qualify for the President’s Physical Fitness Award. You help him develop a training plan that includes short term objectives that focus on remedying his areas of weakness (i.e. sit-ups, pull-ups) while maintaining or improving his running ability.

When Mike takes the President’s Physical Fitness Test, his performance on the various tests is measured objectively. His running speed over a specific distance is be measured with a stopwatch. His ability to do the required sit-ups and pull-ups is measured by counting them. Because these measurements are objective, anyone who observes this testing will know if Mike meets the criteria for the Award.

Kevin and Keyboarding
Let’s look at an IEP goal where progress toward the goal is measured subjectively and objectively.

Our IEP goal says that “Kevin will learn keyboarding [or typing] skills.”

If Kevin’s progress toward this goal is measured subjectively, his IEP may state that Kevin’s progress toward learning keyboarding or typing will be determined by “Teacher Judgment” or “Teacher Observation” or “Teacher – made Tests” with a score of “80%” as the criteria for success.

If the IEP is written properly, measuring progress objectively, the IEP may say “By the end of the first semester, Kevin will touch-type a passage of text 15 words per minute with not more than 5 errors on a 5 minute test. By the end of this academic year, Kevin will touch type a passage of text for 5 minutes at 35 words per minute with not more than 5 errors.”

Megan and Reading
Let’s look at Megan who is having trouble learning to read. Megan is in the fifth grade. According to educational achievement tests, her reading decoding skills are at the beginning second grade level. Megan’s parents request special education services to remediate their daughter’s reading problems. How will her parents know if Megan is benefiting from the special education program?

If Megan is being appropriately educated, her test scores in reading will begin to improve as she goes through the process of remediation. An appropriately written IEP should indicate that after a year of remediation, Megan will make progress toward closing the gap between her ability and her problems in reading, and that her educational progress will be measured objectively with educational achievement tests.

The IEP may state that after a year of specialized instruction “Megan will be reading at the 4th grade level as measured by her scores on the Reading subtests of the Woodcock-Johnson Achievement Test.” During the next year, Megan’s IEP should include more goals in reading—with the ultimate goal of closing the gap between Megan’s ability and her reading skills.

Parents can use percentile ranks in the IEPs, instead of grade equivalent scores.

Let’s assume that Megan’s reading test scores show that she is reading at the bottom 10th percentile, when compared to other children her age. After a year of appropriate special education, Megan probably will not be reading at the 50th percentile level (i.e. the “average” level for children her age). An objective may state that after a year of special education, “Megan will be reading at the 25th percentile level” If Megan moves to the 25th percentile level in reading, she be making progress toward closing the gap.

Although Megan’s reading skills are still below average, you see that she is making steady progress. Megan’s progress in reading is being measured objectively with standardized tests. Her progress is reported with numbers that can be compared over time.

First Steps

List your child’s weaknesses, i.e., writing, arithmetic, spelling, typing, etc. Next, list your child’s present levels of performance in objective measurable terms. For example :

Present Levels: My child reads a passage of text orally at the XYZ grade equivalent level as measured by the Gray Oral Reading Test (GORT).


My child is reading a passage of text orally at the XYZ percent level as measured by the GORT.

These examples apply to all disabilities—learning disabilities, autism, speech language deficits, mental retardation, cerebral palsy. You need to know specifically where the child’s deficits are, what skills are deficient, what behavior needs to be changed.

The starting point should be observable and measurable percentile ranks, grade equivalents, age equivalents or standard scores. Where should this skill be in one year later? Use objective measurable terms, not subjective terms.

Write down a goal that your child should achieve after one year of an appropriate special education. (Special education should be designed to remediate the child’s weaknesses.)

Sample Goal

By May 15, [one year later], my child will be able to read a passage of text orally at the XYZ [insert the appropriate increased level here] grade equivalent level as measured by the GORT.


By May 15, [one year later], my child will be able to read a passage of text orally at the XYZ [insert the appropriate increased level here] percent level as measured by the GORT.

Now, you have an objective measurable starting point and ending point, using norm referenced data. How do you get from Point A to Point B?

Your map from Point A to Point B includes short term objectives and/or benchmarks. To learn more about appropriate goals, objectives and benchmarks, you need to read publications about your child’s specific disability. As you become more knowledgeable, you’ll learn how to write objectives and benchmarks that lead to the annual goal.

Written by Pete Wright, Esq.    From