Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance

Pretty much every special education teacher I know dislikes writing IEPs. I’ll be honest, it isn’t my favorite. However the more I’ve dug into IEPs, the more I’ve come to love Present Levels.

My personal opinion is that Present Levels is the most important part of an IEP. I’d go as far to say that Present Levels are just as important or even more important than the goals of an IEP. Present Levels (if done well) should drive the rest of the IEP, including goals. 

I want to talk about how to write great Present Levels. Present Levels should viewed as the foundation of the IEP. Write great Present Levels, and everything else will fall into place. 

*** Disclaimer: Depending on your state, your IEP may have different pieces and parts, but for the most part the outline and concept are similar

Tell the Story

Every state is different, so the requirements from state to state can vary. However, one thing continues to remain the same: Present Levels will always be the building blocks of the IEP. I view the present levels as the most critical part of an IEP. IDEA is pretty specific about Present Levels. It states: A statement of the child’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance, including— How the child’s disability affects the child’s involvement and progress in the general education curriculum (i.e., the same curriculum as for non-disabled children); or For preschool children, as appropriate, how the disability affects the child’s participation in appropriate activities. Long story short, Tell the Story.

Present Levels are Where the Story of the Student is Told.

When you write Present Levels you should include up-to-date specific information that tells where the child is at the time when the IEP is written. Think your student needs a social skill goal? Tell the story! Think your student needs an on task goal? Tell the story! Think your student is ready to move from direct minutes to consult? Tell the story! It’s your job as the case manager of the student to share the child’s story so the team can make decisions together. 

What Should Present Levels Describe?

  • Student Strengths 
  • Parent Concerns
  • Academic information 
  • Social/Emotional information
  • Health information
  • Speech/Language information
  • Motor (gross motor and fine motor) information
  • Independent Functioning information
  • Vocational Interests (14 1/2 years old and up) 

In 2004, IDEA was reauthorized and changed Present Levels from just present levels of performance to present levels of academic achievement and functional performance. IEPs are more than just academic information. Use Present Levels to describe in detail how the child’s disability impacts daily life at school, accessing and making progress in general education. This can include emotional needs, social needs, and independent functioning. 

Show Me the Data!

Share all the data you have! If you have ABA data, include it. If you have state testing data, include it. If you have data from the most recent classroom assessments, include it. If you are taking data on it, chances are you should include it. Share what type of instruction the child is receiving, and how they are performing with that instruction. Do they perform well in a group or do they need one-to-one instruction? What accommodations are used and what data shows success in accommodations? Tell what curriculums they are using and their most recent grades. Whatever measures you have that show where the child is, you should share. 

Share the struggles the child has, but just as importantly share the strengths the child has! Please, whatever you do, don’t get so focused on what the child can’t do and forget to include what they child CAN do! Strengths are important. too!

The data that you provide in Present Levels should give a baseline of where the student is and provide a basis on which you write goals. 

(If you’ve followed my blogs, you know I’m huge on data binders. This is why! Every piece of data I need for an IEP is at my fingertips. No searching, no digging. It’s all there. Data binders will change your life!)

The Stranger Test

When you write your Present Levels, I want you to pretend that you are describing your student to someone who has never met them before. My district calls this ‘the stranger test’. Can anyone pick up the Present Levels and know exactly where your student is performing and what kind of instruction they are receiving? Would another teacher know how to teach your student? If not, go back and add more detail until it happens. Did you write enough information to justify and provide a basis for a specific, measurable, and challenging goal? If not, go back and add to your present levels. You never know when a student will move or when case loads will change. You won’t always be there to advocate for your student, so do it through the IEP. 

When you finish writing Present Levels, you should have a clear idea of what the student’s strengths are, where the student needs help, how the student is learning, and what the parent concerns are. With all of that information, you are ready for your next task: writing IEP Goals! You’ll find that if you put in the work to write amazing Present Levels, Goals will naturally follow. 

Jen Koenig
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