Present Levels

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Picture of a young boy, sitting atop a bookshelf in the classroom.

September 2010

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IDEA requires that each IEP must include a statement of the child’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance.

This part of the IEP is commonly referred to as the “present levels statement.” For short, we’re just going to call it “present levels.”

If you’d like to know more about it– the information to include, where to get it from, and the importance of this statement overall to the IEP that’s developed– keep reading!

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IDEA’s Exact Words

It’s always helpful to know exactly what the IDEA says. So here’s the verbatim requirement for this component of the IEP, with the lead-in that…

Each child’s IEP must contain…

(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…

And what does this mean—present levels of academic achievement and functional performance? Let’s take a closer look, because a lot of the other information in the IEP will rise out of this “present levels” statement.
 
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A Closer Look at “Present Levels”

The “present levels” statement is crafted by considering the areas of development in which a child with a disability may need support. These are roughly divided into the two areas of development: academic and functional. Neither of these terms—academic achievement, functional performance—is defined in IDEA. However, both are discussed by the Department of Education as follows.

Academic achievement. According to the Department:

“Academic achievement” generally refers to a child’s performance in academic areas (e.g., reading or language arts, math,  science, and history). We believe the definition could vary depending on a child’s circumstance or situation, and therefore, we do not believe a definition of “academic achievement” should be included in these regulations. (71 Fed. Reg. at 46662)

Thus, when we’re talking about “academic achievement,” we’re talking about the academic subjects a child studies in school and the skills the student is expected to master in each: reading and language arts, writing, math and the various skills expected there, science, history, and so on.

Children’s circumstances will vary, as the Department notes, which means that the examination of the child’s academic achievement and performance is an individualized consideration. Where does that child stand academically, and—a critical question—how does the child’s disability affect his or her involvement and progress in the general education curriculum? The “present levels” statement must contain a description that answers these questions.

Functional performance. With respect to the meaning of “functional performance,” the Department of Education points to how the term is generally understood as referring to “skills or activities that are not considered academic or related to a child’s academic achievement.” This term “is often used in the context of routine activities of everyday living.”  The reason that examples of functional skills were not included in IDEA was because “the range of functional skills is as varied as the individual needs of children with disabilities” (71 Fed. Reg. at 46661). But we can understand that “routine activities of everyday living” refer to skills and activities of daily living skills such as:

  • dressing, eating, going to the bathroom;
  • social skills such as making friends and communicating with others;
  • behavior skills, such as knowing how to behave across a range of settings; and
  • mobility skills, such as walking, getting around, going up and down stairs.

All of these types of skills are important to consider when writing the child’s “present levels” statement, asking questions such as: Where does the child stand in terms of functional performance? How does the child’s disability affect functional performance and, from there, his or her involvement and progress in the general education curriculum?

As with academic achievement, consideration of a child’s functional performance is highly individualized.

You also won’t find a description in IDEA of how functional skills are measured, “because this is a decision that is best left to public agencies, based on the needs of their children.” (Id.) However, the Department goes on to note that:

[T]he evaluation procedures used to measure a child’s functional skills must meet the same standards as all other evaluation procedures [described in IDEA at §300.304(c)(1)]. (71 Fed. Reg. at 46661)

When all is said and done, then, the IEP Team must talk about the impact of the child’s disability on his or her ability to learn and do the kinds of things that typical, nondisabled children learn and do. This is the information that is then included in the IEP as the “present levels” statement.

Examples

Examples can be very illustrative, so we have included several below. None is a complete “present levels” statement, of course. These snippets are provided to suggest the range of information and detail you might find in a “present levels” statement.

  • Elise is essentially non-verbal and uses many ways to communicate including: gestures, facial expression, eye gaze, vocalizations, word approximations, head nods for yes, head shakes for no, and use of a Dynavox 3100 augmentative communication device which she accesses with a head switch.
  • Lawrence needs a quiet, separate place to do individual work.
  • Terri learns quickly when working in a small group.
  • Zung understands and remembers what he hears about a subject. Learning by reading or looking at pictures is difficult for him and doesn’t work as well.
  • Kim imitates other children and learns from them.
  • Results of standardized testing using the Woodcock-Johnson Revised (WJ-R) show Mario’s basic reading skills are at a beginning-4th grade level (standard score = 89). His basic writing skills are at a 3.7 grade level (standard score = 81).
  • David’s performance in basic reading and writing is significantly below his ability. David makes errors when he reads and has trouble decoding long words, but his comprehension skills are strong. He uses context cues and picture cues to help him understand what he is reading.

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Where does the information for a child’s present levels come from?

If the child is new to special education, the information used to craft the “present levels” statement will come from the tests and observations done during the child’s evaluation for eligibility. If the child’s IEP is being revised, the information may come from evaluations done during the year (by the school or from an Independent Educational Evaluation or IEE. Teachers and others who work with the child may offer information gained during the child’s day-to-day school routine. Parents also share information that help shape the child’s “present levels” statement.

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“Present Levels” for Preschoolers

Oh, and one more thing about the “present levels” statement. If we’re talking about a preschool child, the statement will be a bit different.

In this circumstance, “present levels” won’t be talking about how the preschooler’s disability affects his or her participation in the general education curriculum. For preschoolers, the statement needs to talk about how the disability affects the child’s participation in  appropriate activities—meaning preschool activities. Those are often different than what school-age children are involved in and include things like learning basic skills such as using scissors, coloring, grouping things, learning your letters, playing children’s games, and so on. So the “present levels” statement for a preschooler will describe how the child’s disability affects his or her participation and success in the preschool environment.

Here are two examples:

  • Dayton prefers to play in isolation and becomes upset (e.g., cries and hits others) when another child comes too close. As a result his peer interactions at playtime are limited.
  • Damien’s attention problems result in failure to follow the teacher’s directions, talking out of turn and responding inappropriately during group activities.

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Summary

The “present levels” statement is intended to comprehensively describe a child’s abilities, performance, strengths, and needs. It is based on, and arises out of, all the information and data previously collected and known about the child, most especially the full and individual evaluation of the child that must be conducted in accordance with IDEA’s evaluation/eligibility provisions of §§300.301 through 300.311. A well-written present level will describe:

  • the child’s strengths and weaknesses,
  • what helps the child learn,
  • what limits or interferes with the child’s learning,
  • objective data from current evaluations of the child, and
  • how the child’s disability affects his or her ability to be involved and progress in the general curriculum.

A fully developed, well-written “present levels” is the foundation upon which the rest of the IEP can be developed to specify appropriate goals, services, supports, accommodations, and placement for the child.

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Sources for the examples of “present levels” come from:

Anderson, W., Chitwood, S., & Hayden, D. (1997). Negotiating the special education maze: A guide for parents and teachers (3rd ed.). Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House.

New York State Education Department. (2005, December). Sample individualized education program (IEP) and guidance document. Retrieved December 11, 2007, from http://www.vesid.nysed.gov/specialed/publications/policy/iep/presentlevels

Rebhorn, T. (2009). Developing your child’s IEP. A Parent’s Guide, 12, 1-28. Available online at: http://nichcy.org/publications/pa12

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Would you like to read about another component of the IEP?

If so, use the links below to jump there quickly.

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Present Levels (you’re already here!)
How is the child currently doing in school? How does the disability affect his or her performance in class? This type of information is captured in the “present levels” statement in the IEP.

Annual Goals
Once a child’s needs are identified, the IEP team works to develop appropriate goals to address those needs. Annual goal describe what the child is expected to do or learn within a 12-month period.

Benchmarks or Short-Term Objectives
Benchmarks or short-term objectives are required only for children with disabilities who take alternate assessments aligned to alternate achievement standards. If you’re wondering what that means, this article will tell you!

Measuring and Reporting Progress
Each child’s IEP must also contain a description of how his or her progress toward meeting the annual goals will be measured and when it will be reported to parents. Learn more about how to write this statement in this short article.

Special Education
The IEP must contain a statement of the special education and related services and supplementary aids and services to be provided to the child, or on behalf of the child. This article focuses on the first element: a statement of the special education that will be provided for the child.

Related Services
To help a child with a disability benefit from special education, he or she may also need extra help in one area or another, such as speaking or moving. This additional help is called related services. Find out all about these critical services here.

Supplementary Aids and Services
Supplementary aids and services are intended to improve children’s access to learning and their participation across the spectrum of academic, extracurricular, and nonacademic activities and settings. The IEP team must determine what supplementary aids and services a child will need and specify them in the IEP.

Program Modifications for School Personnel
Also part of the IEP is identifying the program modifications or supports for school personnel that will be provided. Read more here.

Extent of Nonparticipation
The IEP must also include an explanation of the extent, if any, to which the child will not participate with nondisabled children in the regular class and in other school settings and activities. Read how this connects to IDEA’s foundational principle of LRE.

Accommodations in Assessment
IDEA requires that students with disabilities take part in state or districtwide assessments. The IEP team must decide if the student needs accommodations in testing or another type of assessment entirely. In this component of the IEP, the team documents how the student will participate.

Service Delivery
When will the child begin to receive services? Where? How often? How long will a “session” last? Pesky details, but important to include in the IEP!

Transition Planning
Beginning no later than a student’s 16th birthday (and younger, if appropriate), the IEP must contain transition-related plans designed to help the student prepare for life after secondary school.

Age of Majority
Beginning at least one year before the student reaches the age of majority, the IEP must include a statement that the student has been told about the rights (if any) that will transfer to him or her at age of majority. What is “age of majority” and what does this statement in the IEP look like?

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