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Doing Your Homework:
Your Child's IEP, Your State's Standards and Progress in the General Education Curriculum

by Suzanne Whitney, Research Editor, Wrightslaw

For Progress - Plan Head

In this article, you'll learn that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires your child with a disability to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum.

You'll learn that IDEA requires schools to provide special education and related services to children with disabilities so they can meet the high expecations and goals established for nondisabled children.

Finally, you'll learn how to get your state's academic standards and use these standards to develop your child's IEP.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

When Congress reauthorized the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 2004, they found that:

"The education of children with disabilities can be made more effective by ... having high expectations for such children and ensuring their access to the general curriculum to the maximum extent possible, in order to meet the developmental goals and ... the challenging expectations that have been established for all children and ... be prepared to lead productive and independent adult lives . . . 20 U.S.C. 1400(c) See Findings and Purposes

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act states that your child's IEP must be based on "the child's present levels of academic achievement and functional performance."

Your child's IEP must include "a statement of measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals, designed to meet the child's needs that result from the child's disability to enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum ..."

Your child's IEP must include "a statement of the special education and related services and supplementary aides and services, based on peer-reviewed research to the extent practicable, to be provided to the child or on behalf of the child < to enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum ..." 20 U.S.C. 1414(d). (See Individualized Education Programs on pages 99-101 in Wrightslaw: Special Education Law

And that's not all.

When Congress reauthorized Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, they added new language about "individual appropriate accommodations" on state and district testing and new requirements for alternate assessments. The child's IEP must include "a statement of any individual appropriate accommodations that are necessary to measure your child's academic achievement and functional performance on State and districtwide assessments ... " 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)

Your State Academic Standards

Your State academic standards describe what children in each grade need to know and be able to do. These standards do not exclude children with disabilities.

Your To-Do List: Get Your State's Academic Standards

To get a copy of your State's Academic Standards, go to the website of your State Department of Education and download your State's Standards. Your State may refer to their standards as "Academic Standards"or "Grade Level Expectations "or "Curriculum Frameworks".

After you study your State's Academic Standards, you'll know what your child should know and be able to do. This is the "general education curriculum" that Congress says your child should be involved in and make progress in.

Print the Academic Standards for the grade your child is enrolled in this year and the Academic Standards for the next academic year. Use this year's Academic or Curriculum Standards and academic tests to determine what your child learned this year and if the child made acceptable progress.

When IEP Season arrives, use your State Academic Standards and for next year nd information from current tests and evaluations to write appropriate, measurable IEP goals for the coming year.

Feds Weight in: Academic Standards for Kids with IEPs

On November 16, 2105, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) published a Guidance Letter about the legal requirements to align IEPs with grade level academic content standards.

  • "IEP goals must be aligned with grade-level content standards for all children with disabilities;"
  • "IEP Teams must ensure that annual IEP goals are aligned with the State academic content standards for the grade in which the child is enrolled;
  • "The IEP must include the specially designed instruction needed to address the child's unique needs that result from the child’s disability";
  • "The IEP must ensure that the child has access to the general education curriculum, so the child can meet the State academic content standards that apply to all children."

The child's IEP must also "provide support services and program modifications or supports for school personnel that will enable the child to advance appropriately toward attaining the annual goals.

FAPE Requires an IEP Designed to Enable Child to Make Progrss in General Ed Curriculum

For a school to provide a child with a FAPE, the IEP nust be designed to enable each eligible child to be involved in and make progress in the general ed curriculum 20 U.S.C. §1414(d)(1)(A) (p. 99-100, Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd ed.)

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.

Parents, Laws, and NCLB. An Interview with Suzanne Whitney - "The more you read the easier it gets. When a parent first enters the education process it takes a while to learn the system and the jargon. Every State has academic content standards."

Learn more about IEPs

Read more Doing Your Homework columns by Sue Whitney.

Revised: 11/26/19

Meet Sue Whitney

Sue Whitney of Manchester, New Hampshire, works with families as a special education advocate and is the research editor for Wrightslaw.

Doing Your Homework, Suzanne Whitney gives savvy advice about reading, research based instruction, and creative strategies for using education standards to advocate for children and to improve public schools.

Her articles have been reprinted by SchwabLearning.org, EducationNews.org, Bridges4Kids.org, The Beacon: Journal of Special Education Law and Practice, the Schafer Autism Report, and have been used in CLE presentations to attorneys.

Sue is the co-author of Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind (ISBN: 978-1-892320-12-4) that was published by Harbor House Law Press, Inc.

She also served on New Hampshire's Special Education State Advisory Committee on the Education of Students/Children with Disabilities (SAC).

Sue Whitney's bio.

Copyright © 2002-2022 by Suzanne Whitney.

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