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I have an IEP but my child isn't making progress! What now?

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

We have an IEP but my child isn't making progress. The IEP isn't working and the school won't help because they say my child is "making progress". What do I do now?

When a little progress is not enough!

Many children with disabilities can make progress academically, behaviorally, and socially. They can learn, adapt, and apply knowledge to new situations. They just may not learn like everyone else. They may need repeated instructions and extra practice. They may need simpler ideas and concepts, but they can absolutely make progress.

When I say “progress” I do not mean the 1-2% that many school districts will see as “progress” but rather real and substantial growth that can be measured in newly acquired skills and knowledge that students have and can use. It is important that a child’s individualized education plan (IEP) is challenging enough to push them to acquire new skills but also provides enough support to help give them the security they need to try. This is a delicate balance and often one that school districts struggle with.

Questions abound about how much progress is enough or not enough and how progress is measured. For too long school districts have simply rested on the idea of “if ain’t broke, don’t fix it” regarding IEP development and changes. In other words, if the goals, accommodations, support staff designation, and programs identified in the previous year’s IEP are "working" for the child, it doesn’t need to be changed. “Working”, in this case, can mean simply that they aren't failing, making little to no growth, have no new behavioral challenges, and no regression. This does NOT mean the IEP is working. This does NOT mean that the child is acquiring new skills, improving, or showing real growth (more than 1-2%). It simply means that the IEP is maintaining skills.

Which is NOT ok.

It is CRUEL and further handicaps the child.

The Supreme Court has made it clear that the IEPs of children with disabilities must be written in a way that they are “appropriately ambitious” to enable the children to make progress and grow (Endrew F., 137 S. Ct at 1000[k1] ). No growth, or 1% progress, is not what they had in mind.

The Supreme Court determined that IDEA requires that an educational program be reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate to the child’s abilities and needs. It further determined that merely “some” progress, as we discussed earlier, was no longer adequate (ID at 2001).

Instead, the court explained that children with disabilities (regardless of the severity of their disability) are to be challenged to reach their potential, just as their non-disabled peers are challenged to master the broader general education curriculum set by each state. One

percent growth in any academic, social, or behavioral area would not be adequate for a general education peer, so why is it adequate for someone with a disability?

For example, let’s imagine that a 1st grader, without a disability, entered 1st-grade reading at the beginning of the 1st-grade level (1st grade 1st month). The goal, for this child, is that by the end of 1st grade, they will be reading at a level commensurate with the end of 1st grade, if not the beginning of 2nd-grade level. Throughout the year this child would be assessed to determine whether or not she was learning more words and improving her ability to read. Based on the results of those assessments slight changes to how she is being taught would be made to ensure that she can gain some new reading skills.

At the end of first grade if this child is still reading at the beginning of first-grade level 3rd month (1st grade 3 months) this would be 1% growth. For a child without a disability, this would be a red flag and a serious problem.

Now, let’s imagine a 1st grader with a disability in reading (dyslexia) and math (dyscalculia) entered 1st-grade reading knowing only 23/26 basic letter sounds, reading 5 kindergarten sight words, and knowing how to sound out only a few blends (-th, -sh, -er, etc.). The goal, for this child, should ideally be that with instruction specially designed for them, they would end 1st grade knowing all of their basic letter sounds, be able to read some 1st-grade sight words, and have learned quite a few of the blends that we mentioned before. Assessments should be done throughout the school year to determine progress and, based on those assessments, changes to how he is being taught or his IEP should be made to ensure that he is gaining new reading skills.

At the end of the school year, let's imagine that this child now knows 24/26 letter sounds, can read 7 kindergarten sight words, and knows 5 blends. Based on this, he has made 1% progress. At the IEP meeting, the campus decides that this is sufficient progress and is "proud" of his steady growth. The campus staff stated that his IEP will be continued, goals will continue unchanged, the level of additional teacher support in the classroom will not be changed, and accommodations will not be changed. This is not OK.

The school district will often come back in cases like this and say, “He has made some progress, so we are doing OK. Let's keep everything the same and monitor to see how he does and then meet later to determine if any changes need to be made."

Endrew F. says otherwise. Endrew F. mandated that IEPs need to be appropriately ambitious and have challenging goals/objectives that push the child to learn and grow. When considering whether or not a school district has denied children a free and

appropriate public education (FAPE) by failing to implement an IEP changes to an IEP to meet student needs having an IEP that is appropriately challenging to the child will be examined, Endrew F. teaches that one must consider the student’s ability to make progress in light of the child’s disability. Endrew F. goes on to say that one must look beyond the evaluation of a student’s ability to learn and consider underlying social, emotional, and other conditions that may be inhibiting a student’s ability to access instruction, make progress, and learn.

To make sense of this let’s go back to our first-grade friend who has dyslexia and is struggling with reading. He currently has only 30 minutes a day of extra time when a special education teacher comes into the regular classroom to help out. To provide extra help, the general education teachers have begun pulling him, and 2 other children, individually, a few times a week to work on letter sounds and blends while the other children work on more complicated reading materials. His special education support does not change. At the end of the year, he has made a 1% growth in reading. Yet his IEP for reading does not change.

In math, he is soaring. Even with a disability in math, he is making progress. In just 1 year he has made a 34% gain in his skills and abilities. This should indicate that he can make growth and that an adjustment to his IEP is necessary. That he should have some specially designed instruction, and increased support to help him make the growth that is possible.

Now a new problem has arisen, he has become aware that he is different. He has become aware that he can’t read like the other kids. Now, he won’t try. When he is in a small group in his first-grade class, he won’t answer questions or ask for help. When he goes home, he tells his mom how he is dumb and can’t read like all of the other children. Now, having a special

education teacher push into the general education classroom to help him learn and do his work will not be as effective because now he knows his brain learns differently, he doesn’t want his friends to laugh at him, and he is likely not to accept the help.

But still, his reading IEP does not change. Still, his special education support does not change. The way he is taught does not change. After all, many schools have the opinion, "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it."

This is NOT ok. If this is being done with your child please reach out to the school. Indicate your concerns, in writing, Let them know that you want an IEP that is appropriately challenging to your child. Ask for an IEP meeting to review progress and goals. Push for change, challenge, and growth for your child.

If you need help with this or would like to talk more, please feel free to reach out for a FREE consultation to us at

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