Compliance Corner – September 2022

By Cindy Soo Hoo, TAP Consultant

Avoid a Serious Gaffe by Developing a Comprehensive PLAAFP

Federal regulations and State rule require several components in an IEP, one of which is the Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP) of the child.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)provides a definition for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and determines what must be addressed.  Among other components, the following must be included:

34 CFR §300.320 (a)(1) A statement of the child’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance, including-

(i) How the child’s disability affects the child’s involvement and progress in the general education curriculum (i.e., the same curriculum as for nondisabled children); or

(ii) For preschool children, as appropriate, how the disability affects the child’s participation in appropriate activities;

The PLAAFP (also known as Present Levels or Present Levels of Performance) should include information that is current, relevant, specific, objective, and measurable. (Technical Assistance Manual: Developing Quality IEPs, pg. 36, NM PED, October 2011) 

Information that is current would include recent data that pertains to the child’s current performance. This could involve any assessments, evaluations, observations, unit tests, attendance, etc.   Information that is relevant relates to the scope and sequence of the curriculum and what the student is expected to learn based on his/her grade level.   Specific refers to information that is as precise as can be and allows the parent or educator the ability to determine the child’s strengths as well as areas of growth.  Information that is objective is free from bias and is based on multiple sources.  These can include formal observations, work samples, input from providers and/or parents, etc.  Measurable documentation could include evaluations, formal assessments, curriculum-based assessments, test scores and any other data that can be quantified.  All data would include academic areas such as reading, written language and/or math as well as functional areas such as percentage of times homework assignments are turned in, the level of participation during class time or the number of absences a student has accumulated.

Regardless of what is being measured, data should come from a variety of sources, as appropriate, and be available to the IEP Team in such a way as to allow members to develop an IEP so the child may be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum. (34 CFR §300.320(a)(2)(i)   This information determines the unique needs of the child, what services the child requires to address those needs and what the child is expected to accomplish as a result of those services. Without quantifiable data, the IEP Team would have a difficult time determining the goals the student should be working toward as well as the services he/she needs.

The New Mexico Public Education Department (NM PED) provides the following guidance to reiterate the provisions in IDEA: 

“To record the Present Levels, the IEP team should develop statements that give a specific account of the student’s skills, knowledge, behaviors, or other areas that are to be addressed in the IEP. The Present Levels should also indicate problems that interfere with the student’s education and detail the needs of the student so that all participants (including any outside service providers) have an accurate picture of the student.”  (Technical Assistance Manual: Developing Quality IEPs, pg. 36, NM PED, October 2011) 

Including progress regarding previous IEP goals and identifying supports that have proved successful allows the IEP Team to examine how the student has progressed and determine if those goals and supports should continue.  It permits implementors of the IEP to continue those strategies and supports that are, in all likelihood, going to allow the student to continue benefitting from his/her services. 

Additionally, IDEA 34 CFR §300.324(a) states:  In developing each child’s IEP, the IEP Team must consider-

(i) The strengths of the child;

(ii) The concerns of the parents for enhancing the education of their child;

(iii) The results of the initial or most recent evaluation of the child; and

(iv) The academic, developmental, and functional needs of the child.

With the above information in mind, let’s examine two distinct present levels of academic achievement and functional performance for a student in fifth grade:

Jackie is reading at below grade level.  Her most recent curriculum-based measurement testing showed that she is reading 108 words per minute.  Jackie scored a 32 on the Developmental Reading Assessment.  Her Lexile level is 550.

The above PLAAFP is very vague.  The reader would not know the grade level at which Jackie is currently reading nor would one necessarily know if reading 108 words per minute was on target for her grade level.  In addition, one would not necessarily know if 32 on the DRA and a Lexile score of 550 are on target for her grade level as well.

Conversely, let’s examine a more concise PLAAFP:

Jackie has made progress since her latest IEP using knowledge of phonetic patterns to decode words.  She recognizes words with short vowels in consonant-vowel-consonant words such as “pit” and “top” with 80 percent accuracy.  She sometimes struggles to decode words containing consonant blends with short vowels such as “stop” and words with r-controlled vowels, such as “farm” (she has 60 percent accuracy).  Her most recent curriculum-based measurement testing showed she reads 108 words per minute, which is at the 60th percentile on local norms.  She scored a 32 on the Developmental Reading Assessment, which places her at the third-grade level.  Her Lexile level was 550, a grade level of 3.0.

In the above PLAAFP, members of the IEP Team have available to them her areas of strength (recognizing short vowel c-v-c words) but also areas to be addressed (words with consonant blends with short vowels).  The IEP Team also has information as to how she compares with her classmates in terms of grade-level expectations.  In addition, members have information as to the strategies that have been proven effective (using knowledge of phonetic patterns).  The IEP Team would be in a better position to develop appropriate goals and determine the appropriate services for Jackie.

In conclusion, providing a concise PLAAFP provides the IEP Team with a baseline, not only for initial IEPs but for every subsequent IEP thereafter, allowing the IEP Team members to determine appropriate goals and ways in which to monitor progress.  This, in turn, allows members to consider the unique needs of a student, resulting in a more likelihood of the student progressing.  Anything short of a concise PLAAFP could result in the student being denied a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). 

The information included herein is not intended to provide legal advice.  Should you need legal advice or guidance on any issue involving special education, please contact the appropriate person for your district.

More from the Compliance Corner: