Fulfilling the Purpose of IDEA through Academic and Functional Skill Development

By Dale Pennell, C.A.S.

May/June 2011 Link Lines
 

The first stated purpose of the Individuals with Disabilities Educational Improvement Act (IDEA) of 2004 is “to ensure that all students with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living” (300.1). To that end, Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) must include statements describing students’ present levels of academic achievement and functional performance (PLoPs) (300.320(a)(1)).  IDEA does not define academic achievement or functional performance; however, the Virginia Department of Education provides the following guidance to help IEP teams appreciate the scope of this requirement.

In Virginia, statements of academic achievement must include data summaries in the areas of (a) reading, (b) writing, (c) mathematics,grad (d) science, and (e) history/social science (Virginia Sample IEP, 2010). Indeed, it is prudent to summarize data from any academic discipline if such data have implications for further education, employment, and independent living. Similarly, statements of functional achievement must include data summaries of students’ strengths and needs in the areas of (a) social competence, (b) communication, (c) behavior, (d) personal management, and (e) self-determination (Virginia Sample IEP, 2010). Again, IEP teams must consider the significance of such data in relation to students’ preparation for further education, employment, and independent living.

IEPs must also include statements “of measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals designed to address needs … to enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum and meet each of the child’s other needs that result from the child’s disability” (300.320(a)(2)). The relationship between academic achievement data and academic goal development is obvious, as is the relationship between functional performance data and functional goal development. While the relationship between academic and functional skill development may be less apparent, potentially, it is just as powerful in preparing students for further education, employment, and independent living. Several examples that illustrate this relationship follow.

 Example #1 

Skill Need
Alzenia has difficulty resolving conflicts with peers that arise during cooperative learning activities in science and history/social science, and when she participates in physical education team activities.

Annual Goal
By June 2011, when presented scenarios of circumstances that typically result in conflicts with peers, Alzenia will (a) identify at least two strategies for resolving each conflict respectfully; (b) analyze the pros and cons of each strategy using a reflection log or blog; and (c) select the most respectful strategy to use for five out of five scenarios bi-monthly as measured by reviews of the log/blog.

Alzenia’s difficulty resolving conflicts with peers during group activities illustrates her need for skill development in the functional areas of communication, adaptive behavior, and social competence. Failure to address this need will negatively impact her ability to benefit from academic instruction provided through group activities, which in turn may impact further education. Failure to address development of skills to manage peer conflict may also impact future employment in a job that requires teamwork, as well as affect Alzenia’s ability to participate in independent living activities, such as team sports for leisure and fellowship.

Example #2

Skill Need
Conversion of liquid units of measure (e.g., conversion of quarts to pints)

Annual Goal
By June 2011, when presented with a conversion chart and a list of ingredients for making four servings of a recipe, David will convert ingredient quantities to two and eight servings with 100% accuracy in nine out of ten trials, as documented monthly on a teacher observation log.

David’s difficulty converting liquid measures illustrates his need for skill development in the academic area of mathematics. Failure to address this need will negatively impact achievement in mathematics, as well as other classes that require this competence, both presently and in the future. Failure to address this need will also impact future employment in a field that requires such measuring skills, as well as the ability to prepare meals, an independent living skill.

Example #3

Skill Need
Self-advocacy to seek help

Annual Goal
By May 2011, during periods of independent work time, Ravi will initiate requests for academic assistance on at least 80% of the occasions when he requires help over six consecutive data collection days, as measured by a teacher-made checklist.

Ravi’s reluctance to initiate requests for academic assistance illustrates his need for skill development in self-advocacy, a sub-skill of self-determination. Failure to address this functional skill will negatively impact Ravi’s current academic achievement, and it will negatively impact his plans for further education. If Ravi requires reasonable accommodations in order to be employed but fails to advocate for them, it also will negatively impact his job performance. Finally, in adulthood, Ravi will need to advocate for himself in order to successfully navigate independent life.

References

Virginia Department of Education. (2009). Sample individualized education program. Retrieved June 29, 2010, from http://www.doe.virginia.gov/special_ed/iep_instruct_svcs/iep/index.shtml