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IDEA Complaint Decision 17-050

On August 7, 2017, the Department of Public Instruction (department) received a complaint under state and federal special education law from XXXXX against the Milwaukee Public Schools (district). This is the department’s decision regarding that complaint. The issues are whether the district, beginning on August 7, 2016, properly developed the individualized education program (IEP) of a student with a disability regarding development of appropriate annual goals, and properly developed and implemented a post-high school transition plan for a student with a disability.

An individualized education program must include, among other required components, measurable annual goals designed to meet the student’s needs that result from the student’s disability to enable the student to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum. Annual goals must align with grade appropriate academic standards. Central to the development of appropriate annual goals is the IEP team’s determination whether the student will participate in curriculum and assessments aligned to the general education standards or in curriculum and assessments aligned to alternate achievement standards. In order for a student to participate in the curriculum and assessments aligned to alternate achievement standards, the IEP team must determine the student has a most significant cognitive disability. A student with a most significant cognitive disability is characterized as typically functioning at least two and a half to three standard deviations below the mean in both adaptive behavior and cognitive functioning; performing substantially below grade level expectations on the academic content standards for the grade in which they are enrolled, even with the use of adaptations and accommodations; and requiring extensive direct individualized instruction and substantial supports to achieve measurable gains, across all content areas and settings. This determination has significant implications for the student’s ongoing educational plan and program throughout the student’s educational career.

Beginning at the age of 14, the student’s IEP must include a post-secondary transition plan (PTP) including appropriate measurable post-secondary goals based upon age appropriate transition assessments related to training, education, employment, and, where appropriate, independent living skills; and the transition services (including courses of study) needed to assist the student in reaching those goals. The plan must be reviewed at least annually.

The student’s IEP in effect at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year was developed on December 1, 2015. The student’s academic skills in both math and reading including comprehension were described at levels well below the student’s eleventh grade high school assignment. The IEP states, “Due to limited comprehension skills and simple math skills, (the student) requires specialized education services all day and assessments given through an alternative curriculum.” The IEP included annual goals to address telling time, counting money, reading comprehension, and written expression. The IEP included a postsecondary transition plan (PTP), with transition services including demonstrating employability skills and to schedule a work experience, demonstrate good attendance and punctuality, complete an intensive, off site functional vocational evaluation, and to demonstrate time management skills. There is no evidence instruction related to any of the transition services was provided, no work experience was arranged, and no off site vocational evaluation occurred.

On October 24, 2016, the student’s IEP team met to develop an annual IEP for the student. Although the IEP team determined and stated, “delays in retention of material as well as continued placement in an alternate curriculum determine that (the student) be given special education services and modifications to access the common core curriculum,” the team also indicated the student would participate full-time in the general education curriculum and participate in district-wide assessments. No explanation is provided for this internal inconsistency in the IEP. Although no evidence was provided that the student had attained the annual goals in the previous IEP, the team revised the annual goals to address writing coherent paragraphs with proper punctuation and grammar, single step algebraic equations, self-advocacy skills, and attempting class/homework assignments. The student’s PTP was not revised, and there is no evidence PTP services were provided prior to the October 24, 2016, IEP team meeting.

On February 28, 2017, the student’s IEP team met to conduct a reevaluation. The IEP team determined the student met educational eligibility criteria in the area of intellectual disabilities and required specialized instruction in all academic and vocational areas using the alternate achievement standards. An IEP team meeting was conducted on March 13, 2017. The IEP states the student would receive a certificate of completion when she finishes her education program at the age of 21. The statement includes information about the student’s mathematics, reading, writing and functional performance. No evidence was provided regarding the student’s progress toward attaining the annual goals in the previous IEP. The IEP team revised the annual goals to address single variable algebraic expressions, writing a five sentence paragraph, sounding out words and attending assigned classes. The student’s PTP was reviewed and revised but there is no evidence PTP services were provided.

On June 6, 2017, a fourth IEP team meeting was held to review and revise the IEP and determine placement. The IEP team determined the student required all specialized instruction in all content and vocational areas in a special education classroom to provide additional repetition in a small group setting with an alternate curriculum. A June 9, 2017, semester progress report indicated the student was making adequate progress on each goal but provided no further information to support that determination.

On August 29 and September 11, 2017, the IEP team met to conduct an annual review of the student’s IEP. A transition specialist and credit recovery special education teacher attended the meeting. In addition, the adult student, parent, and an advocate for the student attended the meeting. During the meeting, the student and the student’s parent expressed concern regarding the student’s involvement in the alternate curriculum, and were concerned the student was not taking courses necessary to graduate with a regular high-school diploma. The IEP team determined the student did not meet any of the annual goals from the previous IEP. The IEP team revised the student’s annual goals to address reading comprehension, writing, math problem solving, and self-advocacy skills. The IEP team determined the student would participate full-time in the general education curriculum, explaining the student was not successful in programming aligned toward alternate achievement standards. The student’s PTP was reviewed and revised to include transition services for the 2017-18 school year of self-advocacy instruction and job exploration, and counseling services to determine the student’s skills and strengths related to work. The student currently attends school on a half-day schedule from 8:45 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. in a general education curriculum credit recovery program and participates in Department of Vocational Rehabilitation job training programs in the afternoon.

Since the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year, the student’s IEP team changed its determination of whether the student would participate in the general education curriculum or one based on the alternate achievement standards several times without providing appropriate information to justify or support these decisions. Following each determination, the student’s IEP team changed the annual goals for the student. It is unclear whether the team’s intention was to change the goals to align with either the general education curriculum or the alternate achievement standards since the team not provide justification for the changed focus of these goals. The district did not provide consistent reports of the student’s progress toward meeting the annual goals. The district did not properly develop the student’s IEP regarding appropriate annual goals. In addition, during the 2016-2017 school year, the student was not provided transition services in accordance with the student’s PTP.

This concludes our review of this complaint.

//signed CST 10/6/2017
Carolyn Stanford Taylor
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support
For questions about this information, contact Margaret Resan (608) 267-9158