The Problems with Quarterly IEP Measurements

With the end of the quarter approaching, this article, originally published 1.11.23, is being shared again as a reminder that IEP progress doesn't have to be quarterly—and that there are problems that can exist with quarterly measurements.

Whether it is a functional or an academic goal, waiting a quarter is waiting too long, because the goal might need to be adjusted sooner. Why not assess whether the goal needs narrowing or expanding as soon as possible?

I've never understood why Individualized Education Programs (IEP) include goals for quarterly measurements. As a parent, if my kids failed to do their chores for a week, I wouldn't wait until the end of the quarter to assess the situation. Why wait an entire quarter to address a problem that's clearly getting worse? Why not assess sooner and narrow the goal until it can be expanded in full—or expand the goal if the student achieves the goal sooner than expected?

For example, the following is a self-advocacy goal right out of a Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), Virginia, IEP:

"Student will resolve concerns for which he self-advocates with staff on 75% of quarterly opportunities."

There's a lot wrong with this goal and I've written more about all the wrongs below if you're interested. For now, let's talk about the quarterly measurement piece and how measuring at more frequent intervals is important.

Quarterly Measurements

Whether it is a functional goal related to advocacy or an academic goal related to reading, waiting a quarter is waiting too long, because the goal might need to be adjusted sooner.

For example, in the case of the advocacy goal above, if the student doesn't take any actions for two weeks, an assessment might uncover that the student needs to have self-advocacy modeled for him before being expected to self-advocate on his own. Maybe he needs service hours to learn how to handle certain situations and then practice with a teacher he trusts before going out and trying it all on his own. Maybe he freezes up in certain situations and needs to learn tools he can employ when this happens. On the other end, maybe the student is flying along and nailing this right away. If this is the case, why not change the 75% to 100%? Why wait?

The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) Section 300.324(b)(2) states the following:

the IEP Team—

(i) Reviews the child’s IEP periodically, but not less than annually, to determine whether the annual goals for the child are being achieved; and

(ii) Revises the IEP, as appropriate, to address—

(A) Any lack of expected progress toward the annual goals described in §300.320(a)(2), and in the general education curriculum, if appropriate;

(B) The results of any reevaluation conducted under §300.303;

(C) Information about the child provided to, or by, the parents, as described under §300.305(a)(2);

(D) The child’s anticipated needs; or

(E) Other matters.

It does not state that the goals must be measured quarterly or monthly or weekly. It simply states that the IEP must be reviewed not less than annually and then makes it clear that lack of expected progress is an appropriate reason to revise the IEP.

For the goals themselves, IDEA Section 300.320(a)(2) states that the IEP must include the following:


(i) A statement of measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals designed to—

(A) Meet the child’s needs that result from the child’s disability to enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum; and

(B) Meet each of the child’s other educational needs that result from the child’s disability;

(ii) For children with disabilities who take alternate assessments aligned to alternate academic achievement standards, a description of benchmarks or short-term objectives;

(3) A description of—

(i) How the child’s progress toward meeting the annual goals described in paragraph (2) of this section will be measured; and

(ii) When periodic reports on the progress the child is making toward meeting the annual goals (such as through the use of quarterly or other periodic reports, concurrent with the issuance of report cards) will be provided;

It, too, does not state that the goals must be measured quarterly or monthly or weekly. In fact, it suggests different options for measurement timeframes, but doesn't specify a certain timeframe. It only requires periodic reports, which suggests at a minimum a few measurement reports a year. There's no maximum number.

If you feel strongly that one—or all goals—on your child's or student's IEP need to be measured with greater frequency, bring it up with the IEP team and provide your reasoning. It might be that other team members are setting measurements at quarterly intervals just because that's how it's always been done, rather than because that's what is in the best interest of the student.

Other Problems with the Goal

There's no definition of self-advocacy or resolve or opportunities. What do these words mean? What constitutes self-advocacy? If something is resolved, is it temporarily or permanent? What are opportunities? When the student doesn't understand something or is in disagreement with the teacher? What about if there's a confrontation? Is that an opportunity, too? Maybe the student has no problem asking questions about directions, but if the teacher misunderstands something, the student won't say anything. Maybe the student can speak with easy-going teachers, but shuts down with teachers who behave in other ways. Yes, the student has the ability to advocate, just like he might have the ability to read, but, as with reading, if the student isn't fully advocating, that's a problem. Did someone assess the student to determine the exact areas in need of improvement? If not, a student might continue to advocate in areas that are strengths, while the rest continues to go unaddressed.

How will anyone determine the student advocates with staff on 75% of quarterly opportunities, unless someone shadows the student every minute of every day, since staff exist in all corners of the school? For example, when my son was in 8th grade, he was using headphones to listen to an audiobook in English when he had to use the bathroom. The teacher gave him permission to use the bathroom, which was just across the hall. My son headed out with his headphones still in place. While he was urinating, a teacher entered the bathroom in search of a different student. The teacher saw my son, instead, and started pointing at my son's headphones and telling him to remove them, because the school rule was "no headphones allowed". The teacher continued to stand there and tell my son to remove his headphones until my son finished urinating, washed his hands, and then took off his headphones. Did my son advocate for himself with this teacher, and tell the teacher he had an accommodation for headphones? No. The teacher turned what should be a safe place into a hostile environment and left my son stunned and upset.

If the goal above had been my son's at the time, the only way his failure to advocate could have been measured, would have been for me to advise the school of what had happened. No IEP case manager would have been there to see what happened, document the type of advocacy employed (or not employed) against what was needed, and keep count for the quarterly reports.

It might be that, after the first few weeks of the school year, the goals will be fine and not need any other adjustments, but if you're a parent or educator seeing something that wouldn't be filed under fine, then you can speak up. There's no regulation limiting the amount of times measurements can occur or when they have to occur.

2 comments on “The Problems with Quarterly IEP Measurements

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  1. Great article, thank you so much!! How would you rewrite the self-advocacy goal for a high school student who struggles self-advocating and is close to graduation? Thank you.

    1. Iona, Thanks for your kind words in multiple comments you’ve made. They’re much appreciated! Per the self-advocacy goal, it really depends on the student, if there are multiple areas in need of addressing, where the student is at, etc. For example, if I had a student about to graduate, who had clear-cut self-advocacy struggles and who hadn’t met his or her goals, I would immediately ask for post-graduation services. Under IDEA, schools are required to address academic and functional goals. If a child about to graduate still is struggling with self-advocacy, I’d ask how this will be addressed post-graduation since it wasn’t addressed pre-graduation. If the student needs comp ed to address this, the school can’t deny comp ed just because the student graduated. For the goal itself, I wouldn’t wait for quarterly progress reports or anything of such a long period. With graduation looming, I’d want to find out what is working and what’s not, and then tweak the goal as needed, rather than waiting another quarter or semester. If your school district is one that predetermines the release of IEP progress reports on the same set schedule for all students, I’d ask for a reporting schedule that meets my child’s unique needs under IDEA. If the school pushed back and insisted on following its own predetermined reporting timeline for all students, I would ask it to provide the IDEA and implementing state regs that support its decision to predetermine reporting. Per the need of the student, I’d get rid of percentages, and I would have it measured on occurrences and situations. For example, if a goal states a high schooler will self-advocate 80% of the time, how is that measured? Who is there every minute with the student overseeing every time the student is in a situation requiring self-advocacy? Instead, I’d break it down even more. If my child struggled to talk with teachers, I might ask if there’s a specific time this happens or is it all the time? Is it that the student won’t communicate with the teacher at all or is it that the student won’t ask the teacher questions in front of his peers? If the student knows his IEP accommodations aren’t being implemented, will the student say something to some teachers and keep quiet around other teachers? What’s the exact area/s of self-advocacy need? There’s no rule saying a student can have just one type of self-advocacy goal, so if breaking it apart to address multiple areas is needed, then that’s the approach to consider taking. Self-advocacy in particular is such a broad issue and wrapping it up into one goal can be difficult. Ask questions and then base the goal on the data collected from the answers to those questions. I hope this helps. Each child is different, so there’s no one way to write a goal. Ask a lot of questions of the school and your child and pay attention to your gut – and ask for data every step of the way to support decisions made.