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Long-Term Planning, Limits on IEP Goals?

When we met with the IEP team, we were told that our son can only have four IEP goals (he has 10 goals in his present IEP). Is this true? Is there a maximum number of IEP goals?

Also, they wanted us to write a "5 year vision statement" for our son during this meeting. We asked for more time because we needed to give this some thought. We'll be lucky if we can come up with a one year vision statement! Is this a new part of the law? How do you write a vision statement? We don't know where to begin. 

You have two questions: Are there limits on IEP goals? How should you approach  long-term planning?

Limits on IEP Goals

First, the person who said your child's IEP cannot include more than four goals is wrong.  M
any school people who dispense advice have not read the law. What can you do about inaccurate advice? 

YOU need to find out what the law says about your issue. YOU need to learn how to find answers to your legal questions. YOU need to read the special education statute and regulations. 

We know many parents are intimidated by the law. We've worked with thousands of parents in training sessions. Although these parents were intimidated too, they learned to find answers to their questions in the statute and regulations. You can do it too! 

If you don't learn how to find answers to questions, you'll continue to be dependent on school personnel for legal information and advice. Many school people don't know what the law says -- the advice they give is based on something they heard at a conference or read in an article. School staff need to read the law too! 

Find out what the law and regulations say about IEP goals in Wrightslaw: Special Education Law. Get a copy of your state special education regulations. While you can probably download the regulations from the Internet, you need a hard copy of your state regulations too - you can underline, mark up, highlight, and dog-ear your personal copy of your state regs.

Consult the Yellow Pages for Kids site to get contact information for your state department of education

Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, 2nd EditionWrightslaw: All About IEPs

Chapter 4 - Present Levels, Measurable Goals, Services

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Long-Term Planning

Your second question is about long-term planning

There is nothing in the federal statute or regulations about "5 year plans" or vision statements. We suggest you ask your team about the purpose of the vision statement. As a parent, it is your responsibility to make long-term plans for your child - this is not the school's responsibility. 

Would you build a house without a blueprint? 

If you don't have a blueprint, you won't know how to site the house, what types of materials to use, or when to schedule work by subcontractors. You won’t know how large your house will be, how many rooms it will have, or what it will cost to build. You won’t know about obstacles you may encounter, legal requirements, contracts, or permits. Do you think you’ll figure this out as you go along?

Would you start a new business without a business plan? 

You don’t know what products you’ll sell, how you’ll market your products, or how to fill orders. You don’t know what services you should offer. You haven’t done any research about your market or your competition. You don’t know what start-up expenses to anticipate, how much your business will earn, or when you can expect to break even. You don’t know about obstacles you may encounter, legal requirements, or contracts. Do you think you’ll figure this out as you go along?

Would you raise a child with a disability without a master plan?
You don't know about the child’s disability, how the disability affects the child’s learning, or how the child needs to be taught. You don’t know what services the child needs. You don’t know what steps you should take to ensure that your child receives services. You don’t know if your child is making progress. You don’t know about the obstacles you are likely to encounter, your rights and responsibilities, or how to resolve problems. Will you figure this out as you go along?

This year, millions of children with disabilities will spend hundreds of millions of hours in special education classes – with no master plans. There has to be a better way to tackle the job of educating children with disabilities.

Have we sold you on the importance of a master plan? Good!

Our new book - Wrightslaw: The Complete Guide to Special Education Advocacy - will include a chapter about master plans. (The Complete Guide will be published in the spring or early summer.) 

Develop Your Master Plan

Raising children is hard work. If you have a child with a disability, you’ll work harder and longer. We want to teach you to “work smarter.” One way to “work smarter” is to use a master plan. 

When you have a child with a disability, you're dealing with insurance companies and schools, negotiating with your employer and co-workers for time off, responding to the needs of other family members, and dealing with unexpected emergencies and crises. As outside demands increase, your stress level increases too. It’s easy to get sidetracked and lose sight of what’s important.

A master plan will help you stay focused on what's important. Your master plan should be: 

  • clear 
  • focused 
  • concise
  • flexible
A master plan is different from the child’s Individualized Educational Program or IEP. A good master plan includes goals for the child in non-academic areas -- hobbies, interests, sports, health and well-being! 

Parents need to think about long-term plans. What are your long-term goals for your child? What do you want your child to be able to do when he or she leaves the public school system? What steps do you need to take to help your child meet these goals? 

The IEP is not a long-term plan. The IEP includes annual goals and short-term objectives that address your child’s needs that result from the disability. The IEP focuses on your child’s educational needs now, in the present. The IEP document commits the school district to provide agreed-upon services for a period of one year or less. 

Components of a Master Plan

Regardless of purpose, master plans include similar elements: a vision statement, a mission statement, goals, strategies, and timelines. 

Vision Statement - The vision statement is a visual picture that describes your child in the future. 

Mission Statement - The mission statement is your personal statement that describes the reasons you are advocating for your child. Your mission statement reflects your emotional commitment and passion. 

Goals - Goals make you stretch, help you focus when you lose perspective, give you direction, and help you to do a good job. When you write goals, you think about what you need to do to accomplish the goals. Your master plan should include academic and non-academic goals.

Tip: Write your goals as outcomes.
Assume your child’s reading skills are three years delayed. How much progress do you expect your child to make to improve his reading skills this year? How much progress do you expect him to make in improving his reading skills next year? 

What do you expect your child to learn this year? Next year? 

What do you expect your child to learn by the time he or she moves to the next academic level? What do you expect your child to learn by the time he or she leaves the public education system?

Give thought to non-academic goals -- hobbies, sports, friendships. Many children with disabilities do not feel good about school - they do not "excel" in school. It's important for children to pursue interests and activities away from school - where they can learn about their abilities. 

Strategies - Strategies are your roadmap. Strategies help you anticipate obstacles and problems. 

Timeframes - Timeframes are statements about what actions need to be completed and when. 

Parents need to learn how to plan - this isn't a revolutionary concept. You will learn how to plan for the future in Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy (Chapter 2).

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