Policy Guidance on FAPE: IEPS Aligned with Academic Content Standards

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

My son is in 3rd grade, reading on a Kindergarten level. The school says he has to be taught using 3rd grade materials so he has access to the curriculum, even though above his reading level. He is in full time VE and those goals are more appropriate. He is miserable and becoming a behavior problem.

The U.S. Department of Education just issued a Guidance Letter on this topic.

This Letter is the policy of the Department of Education and is based on federal law.

A school district cannot adopt a position that violates federal law.

You will find this Policy Letter in Chapter 2, page 38 of Wrightslaw: Special Education Legal Developments and Cases 2015. (See below.)

The letter focuses on pervasive problems related to low expectations for children with disabilities and the requirements that schools provide the educational assistance each child needs.

The letter clarifies

…that an individualized education program (IEP) for an eligible child with a disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) must be aligned with the State’s academic content standards for the grade in which the child is enrolled.

… that children with disabilities who struggle in reading and mathematics can successfully learn grade-level content and make significant academic progress when appropriate instruction, services, and supports are provided.

…low expectations can lead to children with disabilities receiving less challenging instruction that reflects below grade-level content standards, and thereby not learning what they need to succeed at the grade in which they are enrolled.

That said – it is essential that the school is providing appropriate reading instruction using a research based reading program that has a proven record of success before your child falls even further behind, or his behavior worsens.

The law requires schools to provide services (reading instruction) that are individualized to meet the unique needs of each child.

OSEP Dear Colleague Policy and Guidance Letters help clarify the law for parents, and are very useful in educating school staff and administrators about their legal responsibilities.

Wrightslaw: Special Education Legal Developments and Cases 2015 helps you stay up-to-date on policy guidance from OSEP.

In Chapter 2 includes actions and opinions from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.S. Department of Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) and the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP).

Wrightslaw: Special Education Legal Developments and Cases 2015 also includes legal developments and key decisions from the Courts of Appeals in IDEA cases during 2015.

In Chapter 3, a Table of Decisions includes the date, court, synopsis of legal issues, outcome, and prevailing party in the cases. Each case in the Table of Decisions is linked to a summary of the case where the Court’s words are used to describe the issues in the case and the Court’s rulings. Each case also includes a link to the full text of the decision as published in Google Scholar.

Get your copy today! Order PDF format from Wrightslaw. Immediate Download. Wrightslaw Price $14.95 

Order Print Edition from Amazon

Request a Copy of the School Policy

When a school team cites “district policy” to support their position, you can request a copy of this policy. It’s always best to make this request in writing.

Your state may put some extra responsibility on schools for working with struggling readers.

Learn what your state regulations say.  You will find them on your State Department of Education listing in the Yellow Pages for Kids.


You can also get information & support from your regional Parent Training & Information Center.


  1. I am a special ed teacher, teaching a self-contained sped group of 8 kids in a 45 min math class. They are all testing significantly below grade level at a range of 2nd to 4th grade. I am being required to teach grade-level curriculum to them despite their skills gap. I disagree with this requirement and believe it is a violation of FAPE. Our school district is not meeting state standards, in large part, because our SPED kids can’t perform well on this test. Many of the IQs range between the high 60s which is MR range of functioning, scattered 70s–bordline range, and 1 student has a full scale IQ of 82. How can this be providing my kids with appropriate education when our goal is only to give them a fighting chance on a state test? I need help for my students and I.

  2. I am a special education teacher with 6th grade students who are reading between the kindergarten and 2nd grade levels. My district began using a curriculum this year which has a lexile level that is equal to an 8th grade reading level. the students are learning only what I stop and explain to them, and even then they don’t understand really. I see the frustration in their faces daily however I have to “expose” them to this material. At the end of this unit, which I have to keep up with the general education pacing, I will give a common assessment where my students have to write an essay comparing and contrasting 2 of the stories they had read to them. I understand the importance of challenging the students to help them progress but this is not helping them progress. Help!

  3. Talk is cheap, a child that is reading at a kindergarten level in third grade has significant learning challenges. The suggestion that a “research based” reading program will solve the problem, and allow the student to gain command of third grade content has not been invented yet. I have searched researched based reading programs for many years, the objective reviews of these programs are always the same, no reliable, consistent results. I would also appreciate an example of appropriate instruction and support turning general education curriculum content into a magical lesson that will allow a student to master grade level material. Please provide a concrete example of this, inquiring minds need to see it.

    • If the school gives 1:1 reading remediation in due process and it doesn’t close gap could you still go back to due process to request specialized school within same year?. Is it ” appropriate for school to give guided reading for 4 year gap with dyslexia which isn’t reasearch based for dyslexia ” great Leaps” ?Are there golden standards for reading evaluation show progress that is upheld in due process ? My school keeps using Fountas Pinnel which is done by class teacher not Wiat with 4 year GAP?

    • The example you give – a child who is 3-4 years behind grade level – is, sadly, fairly common. When schools wait until the gap is this large before they feel compelled to do something, it’s far more difficult and expensive to “fix.”

      A child who is 3-4 years behind in reading needs one-on-one or small group remediation by a highly skilled teacher who is trained to teach (remediate) these kids. Most schools of education don’t teach special ed teachers how to remediate kids who are that far behind so teachers are not properly trained.

      Throw in another complicating factor – when a child enters 4th grade, the focus of education changes. He will need to read to learn, not learn to read.

      We have good screening tests for dyslexia. If schools screened all kids when they enter Kindergarten, and provided high quality tutoring to kids who will have reading problems, this would reduce the number of kids who are 3-4 years behind their peers.

      Older dyslexics CAN be taught to read but it is more difficult and takes more time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Please help us defeat spam. Thank you. *