[ABCs of SPED] B is for Benchmarks..alternatively titled, My Discussion of MapQuest

abcs of sped Mar 09, 2018

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.

Enter benchmarks.

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:

  • Quantitative, numerical data that illustrates current mastery on an assessment, or by using a tool, that can be given again
    • For example, "Jonathan verbally identified 15 of 50 words on the Dolch sight word assessment and completed the assessment in three and a half minutes." 
  • Contextual information about where, when, and under what conditions the performance takes place
    • For example, "When in a small group setting, Jonathan is able to maintain two-way reciprocal conversation for up to two minutes"
  • Information about how the child's deficits impact his/her ability to meet grade level standards
    • For example, "Jonathan's poor muscle tone limits his ability to correctly hold a pencil, which inhibits opportunity to meet 1st grade writing standards."
  • Information about the child's strengths and successes in addition to weaknesses
    • For example, "Jonathan has grown growth in this area by increases his proficiency on quarterly math assessments from an average score of 67% in November 2017 to an average score of 78% in February 2018."
  • Narrative information about the teacher's assessment
    • For example, "Jonathan is a hard worker who consistently demonstrates a commitment to task by beginning his work within a minute of directions being given."

The IEP document is intended to outline the turn-by-turn directions for how a child gets to their final destination-- their annual goals. In order for this to work well, the Present Levels of Performance HAVE to give a "starting address"-- the necessary details that show exactly where a student currently IS in their academic journey.

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.




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