Do y'all remember MapQuest? It was a startling innovation at the time. Having a computer program to give you turn by turn directions and an estimated time of arrival? The future had arrived! (And yes, for the sake of this blog post I went and looked-- www.mapquest.com is still operational)
So what did you do before big trips? You logged on, input your starting addresses, input your destination address, and printed the plan. You might have even had one of those cool holders to put on your dash that held the printed directions for you. It took a fraught process (getting someplace you'd never been before) and made it relatively fool proof.
But here's the thing: MapQuest (or Google Maps now) only works if you have both points of data: where you're starting from and where you're going.
Can you imagine trying to figure out how to get to Hershey, PA if you don't know where you're starting from? Your path would certainly look different if you were coming from Philadelphia than if you were starting from Dallas. Trying to make a plan to get there, without knowing your starting point, is next to impossible. It would be a complete waste of time and energy.
And yet, this is how the IEP process operates for many students.
A benchmark is a "point of reference against which things may be compared or assessed."
In simpler terms, a benchmark is your starting destination.
In the IEP process, "benchmark" has a different name: Present Levels of Performance.
Present Levels of Performance (known as PLEPs or PLOPs) exist to be the benchmarks for assessing future growth. Using the definition above, PLEPs are intended to be the point of reference against which future mastery is compared and assessed.
A good benchmark is as detailed as possible-- again, you'd want a map that leaves from your numbered address, not from your city or state. One of the biggest issues I see with IEPs are Present Levels that are insanely vague.
A Present Level of Performance that says "Jonathan is doing much better in math, he's able to add 2 digit numbers and use a calculator correctly most of the time" is a BAD Present Level.
It doesn't provide any real information about where Jonathan is starting from, and as a result, it's going to be incredibly hard to create a pathway for him meet his goals.
Good Present Level of Performance benchmarks must include the following:
All this to say: Benchmarks are important. They are the foundation upon which the entire IEP is built, and more often than not, they're not nearly as solid as they should be.
Does your child's IEP include lackluster benchmarks? My challenge for you is to use this information to advocate for more detail. Always more detail! Once you do, share it with us on Facebook! I'd love to hear about your success.