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Designing Meaningful IEPS - Crafting the PLoP

By Dale P. Pennell, C.A.S.
September/October 2012

Disability is a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the right of individuals to participate in or contribute to society. Improving educational results for children with disabilities is an essential element of our national policy of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities (20 U.S.C. § 1400: US Code - Section 1400)

The Individuals with Disabilities Educational Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA) operationalizes this statement to ensure that students with disabilities receive a free, appropriate education that prepares them to lead productive adult lives. To this end, IEP teams must create Individualized Educational Programs (IEPs) that meet the educational needs of these students (§300.320). An IEP is a written statement that incorporates seven required elements, the first of which is a statement of the student's Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance.

 The purpose of the PLoP is to create a comprehensive picture of the student as a learner. Current data gathered by educational professionals, family members, community members, and students themselves provide the academic and functional information that is summarized in the PLoP. Academic achievement includes acquisition of concepts, knowledge, and skills described in content standards for the following areas:

  • English
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • History/social science
  • Career and technical education
  • Drivers education
  • Economics and personal finance
  • Family life education
  • Fine arts
  • Foreign languages
  • Health education
  • Physical education
  • Character education
  • Leadership

Functional performance refers to “— skills or activities that are not considered academic… Instead, ‘functional’ is often used in the context of routine activities of everyday living” (Federal Register, 2006, p. 46661). Functional skills include, but are not limited to:

  • Social competence
  • Communication
  • Personal management
  • Behavior
  • Self-determination

Gleckel and Koretz (2008) describe the PLoP portion of the IEP as being comprised of two complementary components: — One component “defines the specific student competencies with regard to skill clusters in the area(s) of concern,” the other profiles “the student’s status in the area(s) of concern with reference to learning experiences, environments, and instructional demands, indicating strengths and accounting for identified needs and patterns of difficulties” (p. 196).

In the following, we first take a look at the component related to area(s) of concern.

Sample Excerpts from PLoPs

Academic Area: Mathematics

Results of the Virginia Algebra Diagnosis Test (April 2012) indicate that Joe has strengths in the following general mathematics SOL skill clusters: 

  •   Number and Number Sense
  • Measurement and Geometry
  • Probability and Statistics
  • Computation and Estimation

In the Patterns, Functions, and Algebra cluster, Joe has strengths in all but the following four skills:

  •   Solving two-step equalities and inequalities in one variable (SOL 8.15)
  • Graphing linear equations in two variables (SOL 8.16)
  • Creating and solving problems using formulas and functions (portions of SOL 8.17)
  • Using the algebraic terms domain, range, independent variable and dependent variable (SOL 8.18)
Functional Areas: Communication/Social Competence

Aiko waves and smiles at students and staff members who approach her in class. She seldom initiates verbal exchanges, but she does acknowledge efforts to engage her in conversation by nodding and answering questions with a few words. Although Aiko faces people as they speak to her, she seldom makes eye contact (summary of social interaction/communication log for period February—May 2012).

As for the second component, Gleckel and Koretz (2008) advise IEP teams to consider three kinds of questions in pursuit of this information.

  • How to Approach (strategic thinking)

How does the student approach tasks and solve problems?

Sample Excerpts from PLoPs

Academic Area: Mathematics

Joe says he comprehends best when he can read equations aloud; however, he says he does not understand how a math equation is similar to an incomplete sentence (interview with student, April 2012) 

Functional Areas: Communication/Social Competence

Aiko’s grandmother reports that Aiko does not like to talk with other students because she fears they will say she is “stupid” (note from Aiko’s grandmother dated January 2012). Aiko says it is easier for her to talk with her teacher and paraprofessional or ask them for help if other students are not around (interview with Aiko, January 2012).

  • Under What Conditions (context for participation)

“How do the use of time, amount of work, instructional arrangements, and space impact the way the student attends, engages, and performs?” (Gleckel & Koretz, p. 46)

Sample Excerpts from PLoPs

Academic Area: Mathematics

Joe is able to concentrate and maintain attention to task when he is asked to complete math problems in class. However, he is reluctant to ask for assistance when he begins to have difficulty (paraprofessional classroom observation report data, April 2012).

Functional Areas: Communication/Social Competence

Aiko is most likely to converse with other students when the class is working in small cooperative learning groups. She often volunteers to do group work that involves artwork, and she volunteers suggestions for creating artistic visual representations for project assignments (summary of social interaction/ communication log for period February—May 2012)

  • Why Teach (investment)

“How does the student feel about his or her performance and participation in the area(s) of concern? What is the student’s sense of purpose, sense of self, interests, and responses to expectations, feedback and incentives?” (Gleckel & Koretz, p. 46)

Sample Excerpts from PLoPs

Academic Area: Mathematics

Joe’s mom reports that he approaches math problems with a sense of purpose when he understands how their solutions relate to real activities of daily life (parent interview, May 2012).  Joe says he doesn’t like to do math problems for which he doesn’t see any practical use (interview with Joe, May 2012). Joe’s teacher confirms that Joe becomes easily frustrated with abstract concepts (math teacher report, May 2012).

Functional Areas: Communication/Social Competence

Aiko resists leaving class to meet with the speech-language therapist. She often asks her teacher if she “has” to go to therapy (teacher anecdotal report, March-May 2012). However, once she arrives, Aiko is usually compliant and engaged, particularly when she and the therapist work on articulation skills (therapist anecdotal report, March-May 2012). Aiko says she wants to improve her communication skills, particularly articulation, because, “Then the kids won’t think I am dumb” (student interview, May 2012). While Aiko is progressing in expressive language skill acquisition; she sometimes refuses to participate in activities that encourage eye contact, saying, “I don’t want to” (therapist’s progress reports and anecdotal notes, March-May 2012). Aiko’s grandmother suggests that her limited progress in making eye contact may be related to the influence of Aiko’s mother’s cultural background, one that discourages children from making eye contact with adults (IEP meeting minutes, May 2012).

Such information “provides a rationale for the design of proposed individualized instruction, identifying teaching approaches and methodologies and organizing the time, spaces, and social structures of the learning environment” (Gleckel & Koretz, p. 197).   

Together, these two components provide rich data that enable IEP teams to design beginning instruction, justify instructional goals, determine the progression of learning outcomes, establish criteria for evaluating student performance (objectives), and identify tools for monitoring and documenting student progress (Strickland & Turnbull, 1993).

The template that follows provides a means by which IEP teams may assess the extent to which their PLoPs provide the material necessary to paint a vivid portrait of students and design the remainder of the IEP.




Is the information that describes the student’s levels of skill development organized by reading, writing, mathematics, and functional skill clusters?




Are the sources of information/data summarized in the PLoP cited?




Is the summarized information current; that is, less than one year old?




Does the information describe the skills the student has mastered in areas of concern and the conditions that have contributed to mastery of these skills?




Does the information indicate a starting point for instruction in areas of concern?




Does the information indicate how the student approaches learning tasks in areas of concern?




Does the information explain how the student responds when the teacher changes the way the student must demonstrate mastery of a skill?




Does the information describe how the student responds when he/she encounters difficulty with a skill?




Does the information describe the student’s successes and challenges when he/she participates in related reading, writing, math, content area instruction, and independent and group (functional skills) activities?



Future LinkLines articles in this series will address the remaining six components every IEP must include.


Gleckel, E. K. & Koretz, E. S. (2008). Collaborative individualized education process. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill/Prentice Hall.

Strickland, A. A. & Turnbull, A. P. (1993). Developing and implementing individualized education programs. (3rd ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Prentice Hall.