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Why Present Levels are the Foundation of
Educationally and Legally Correct IEPs by Pat Howey, Advocate

couple holding up a chart in a digital IEP meeting

Relationship Between Present Levels & Your Child's Goals and Needs

As a special education advocate, I consult with parents who have concerns about their child's goals and placement.

When I review the child's recent Individualized Education Program (IEP), I find little or no useful information about the child's Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance.

If you plan to build a house, the house needs a strong foundation. Present Levels are the foundation of the child's IEP. The IEP iis only as strong as its foundation.

If the Present Levels are weak or missing it's impossible to develop an IEP that has goals, a program and placement that meets the child's unique needs.

If the Present Levels are accurate, current, comprehensive, and based on objective observations and/or test data, you will have a clear sense of your child's needs and will know what the child needs ... and what the school must provide.

Parents need to learn how to develop accurate, up-to-date Present Levels. This isn't hard. We can help.

Developing your child's present levels is one of the easiest things to learn because you know your child better than anyone else.

Accurate Current Present Levels are the Key to a Good IEP

The Present Levels are the foundation of the IEP. All IEPs must include the child's Present Levels in academic achievement and functional performance. 20 USC Sec. 1414(d)(1)(A)(i). Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition p. 99. When the child's team works to develop an IEP, the Present Levels must be accurate and up-to-date.

When the IEP does not include accurate, up-to-date information about the child's present levels, the IEP is defective -- it has no foundation.

Parents and their advocates often focus their efforts on the "last pages" of the IEP. That is, they focus on goals and placement in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) instead of the child's present levels of academic achievement and functional performance. They place the cart before the horse. The IEP will not be educationally or legally correct until it is based on accurate and up-to-date Present Levels.

Let's talk about the procedure that IEP Teams should follow when developing an IEP.

First, we fill in the child's name and biographical information.

Next, we provide information about how the child currently functions academically and in the real world.

This is where the IEP Team usually fills in test scores and grades. However, Present Levels are about much more than that.

Although the Present Levels are the most important part of the IEP, this is also the section that most parents and advocates prepare for the least. The parents' input is essential during the IEP Team's assessment of the child's Present Levels of Functional Performance. Parents know how their child functions at home, while doing homework, at work, in the community, and in the real world.

As school attorney Joe Hatley said, "The present levels of performance are the foundation for everything else in the IEP. If your starting point is fundamentally flawed, then everything that comes after that is flawed, too."

Updating the Present Levels

Each time the IEP Team meets, it should update the child's Present Levels.

A New York school District failed to do this and simply copied the last year's "Present Levels" into the new IEP, despite having information that showed the child made progress in all academic areas in the private placement that his parents secured.

The decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that the child's IEP "was likely to cause [the student] to regress or make only trivial advancement."

The school district's fatal flaw cost it dearly. The Court ordered it to pay the student's private placement tuition and to pay the parents attorneys fees and expenses of over $156,976.00. Read the the decision in E.S. v. Katonah-Lewisboro School District.

To learn more about how to develop your child's IEP, read these articles:

Present Levels of Functional Performance & Functional Goals in IEPs

10 Tips about Special Education Placements

This article was originally published on Pat Howey's Blog, Ask the Special Education Advocate.

Meet Pat Howey

Pat HoweyPatricia Howey has supported families of children with disabilities since 1985. She has a specific learning disability and became involved in special education when her youngest child entered kindergarten. Pat has children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who have a variety of disabilities and she has used her experience to advocate for better special education services for several of them.

Pat is a charter member of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), serving on its Board of Directors from 2000 through 2003. She has been a Commissioner on the Tippecanoe (County) Human Relations Committee, a graduate of Leadership Lafayette and Partners in Policymaking, and a member of the Wrightslaw Speakers Bureau. She has been on the faculty of the College of William and Mary Law School’s Institute of Special Education Advocacy since its inception in 2011.

Pat has an A.S. and a B.A. in Paralegal Studies from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, where she graduated magna cum laude. She is an Indiana Registered Paralegal and an affiliate member of the Indiana Bar and the American Bar Associations.

In 2017, Pat closed her advocacy practice and began working on a contract basis as a special education paralegal. In January 2019, she joined the Connell Michael Kerr law firm where her duties expanded to assisting with federal court cases.

Read more of Pat's answers to questions submitted by people just like you in Ask the Advocate on Wrightslaw.

"Changing the World -- One Child at at Time"

Contact Information
Patricia L. Howey, B.A., IRP
POB 117
West Point, Indiana 47992-0117
E-mail: specialedconsulting | at |

Revised: 03/17/2021

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