Access to the General Education Curriculum

Access to the general education curriculum is about ensuring that all students with disabilities have access to be involved in and show progress in the general curriculum through curricular/instructional adaptations in the least restrictive environment (LRE).

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) and ESC 20 have developed the Progress in the General Curriculum Network (PGC).  The PGC Network has developed documents on Standards-Based Individualized Education Program (IEP), Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), Specially Designed Instruction (SDI), and Grading/Progress Monitoring.  The goal of the PGC Network is to increase results for students with disabilities. This includes:

  • An increase in state assessment proficiency rates in reading and mathematics for students with disabilities;
  • An increase of students with disabilities served in general education; and
  • A decrease of students with disabilities served outside of general education classrooms.

Included on the PGC’s website is a copy of the 11/15/2015 letter from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services that reminds schools that

  • “Research has demonstrated that children with disabilities who struggle in reading and mathematics can successfully learn grade-level content and make significant academic progress when appropriate instruction, services, and supports are provided.”
  • “IEP goals must be aligned with grade-level content standards for all children with disabilities.”
  • “We expect annual IEP goals to be aligned with State academic content standards for the grade in which a child is enrolled.  This alignment, however, must guide but not replace the individualized decision-making required in the IEP process.”
  • “In a situation where a child is performing significantly below the level of the grade in which the child is enrolled, an IEP Team should determine annual goals that are ambitious but achievable.  In other words, the annual goals need not necessarily result in the child’s reaching grade-level within the year covered by the IEP, but the goals should be sufficiently ambitious to help close the gap.”

Individualized Education Program (IEP) Annual Goal Development – IEP Q&A

The following information is excerpted from the PGC’s  Individualized Education Program (IEP) Annual Goal Development – IEP Q&A document which is available in English and Spanish:

This question and answer document is intended to serve as a resource to provide current information about developing IEP goals. … We encourage you to disseminate this document to a wide range of educators and parents throughout your local education agency (LEA).

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 2004 requires that all students who receive special education services have measurable annual goal(s) included in their Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).  This may include academic (standards-based) and/or functional (non-standards-based) goals, which are based on the individual student’s needs, as documented in his/her Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP) statements.  The purpose of these goals, as is the purpose of all special education services, is to assist the student in accessing and progressing in the general curriculum.  Academic (standards-based) goals are goals directly linked to progressing toward enrolled grade-level content standards; functional (non-standards-based) goals are goals which assist the student in accessing the enrolled grade-level content standards.

The required general education curriculum for each grade level in Texas schools is the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).  It is noted that IDEA regulations say that modified academic achievement standards are allowed for some students, but require that all students have access to and instruction in grade-level content.

1.2 What is the purpose of an annual goal?

Annual goals identify the areas in which a student with a disability needs special education services/specially designed instruction (see Question 1.11). That is, they identify specific areas where a student with a disability needs assistance from a special education professional (i.e. special education teacher, speech language pathologist, related services personnel such as Occupational Therapist, Physical Therapist, etc.). The goal addresses critical needs identified in a student’s present level of academic achievement and functional performance (PLAAFP) statement that are keeping the student from accessing and/or progressing in the general curriculum.

1.5 Does the goal criterion relate to passing an assignment/course?

No. While the passing standard for a course/assignment is generally 70%, the criterion should specify the amount of growth expected to meet the annual goal, not the score required for passing the course/assignment. The criterion should be based on how the progress will be measured, and this may not always be a percentage measure.

1.11 How does specially designed instruction relate to measurable annual goals?

IDEA 2004 defines special education services as “specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability” (34 CFR §300.39(a)(1)). IDEA 2004 goes on to define specially designed instruction as “adapting, as appropriate to the needs of an eligible child under this part, the content, methodology or delivery of instruction to address the unique needs of the child that result from the child’s disability; and to ensure access of the child to the general curriculum, so that the child can meet the educational standards within the jurisdiction of the public agency that apply to all children” (34 CFR §300.39 (b)(3)). The ARD committee will utilize the student’s PLAAFP, which details the student’s current levels of academic achievement and functional performance to develop measurable annual goals. Then the ARD committee will determine what specially designed instruction the student needs in order to meet his/her goals. This specially designed instruction will be detailed in the IEP.

1.19 For a student who receives special education services in a general education (mainstream) setting and does not have modified content in any subject area, can the ARD committee write a “mainstream” or an “inclusion” goal for the student to master the TEKS for his/her enrolled grade-level?

No. A goal that addresses 70% mastery of TEKS simply expresses the standard that is required for all students (not just students who receive special education services), and does not inform the specially designed instruction the student should receive from a special education professional in order to be able to access/progress in the TEKS.

1.31 What does an annual goal that facilitates movement toward a postsecondary goal look like?

The postsecondary goals and annual goals in this example are adapted from www.nsttac.org.

1.32 How does mastery of annual goals relate to grading and promotion?

TEC §28.0216 requires that school district grading policies, “(1) must require a classroom teacher to assign a grade that reflects the students’ relative mastery of an assignment; [and] (2) may not require a classroom teacher to assign a minimum grade for an assignment without regard to the student’s quality of work.” These rules apply to classroom assignments, examinations, and overall grades for each grading period. Because of this, teachers may not assign a grade based on effort, and teachers cannot pass a student who has not mastered the curriculum. Mastery of an IEP goal does not automatically constitute passing a course and passing a course does not automatically equate to mastering an IEP goal. If the IEP goal is not academic in nature, it may not figure into mastery of the course (and, thus the assignment of a course grade) at all.

TEC §28.021(a) requires that promotion from one grade level to the next be determined “only on the basis of academic achievement or demonstrated proficiency of the subject matter of the course or grade level.” For a student who receives special education services, the ARD committee, which includes the parent, makes the promotion/retention decision, but must base the decision on the student’s mastery of the curriculum, not on
his/her behavior or the amount of effort he/she puts into assignments. Again, this decision may or may not include mastery of specific IEP goal(s) related to the required curriculum and must always follow the district’s/charter’s policies related to promotion/retention.

Regardless of the grade earned in the course or of the promotion decision, if a student does not master an IEP goal, the ARD committee needs to examine the goal and analyze the situation to determine what factor(s) played a part in the student’s not mastering the goal. The ARD committee will need to determine whether the goal was appropriate, whether it was implemented correctly, and will determine any other adjustments that need to be made in the goal in order to meet the student’s need.

1.33 If a student does not master his/her enrolled grade-level goal(s) but progresses to the next grade level, should the goal(s) from the previous year be continued?

The measurable annual goal(s) the student needs will be based on his/her PLAAFP. If the PLAAFP indicates a need for standards-based/academic goals, then these goals will need to be based on enrolled grade-level content standards. If a student did not master his/her previous year’s enrolled grade-level goal(s) but progressed to the next
grade level, the ARD committee will need to determine if the previous goal(s) should be included as short-term objectives/benchmarks to master the enrolled grade-level goal(s).

1.36 How should progress be reported in IEP periodic progress reports to parents?

Report Progress in the same manner the goal (and associated objectives) is measured. For example, if the goal/objective state that the child will master a goal/objective 4 out of 5 times, then report progress in that same way, i.e. how many times out of 5 times the student is able to accomplish the goal/objective. If the goal/objective is written as a percentage, then report progress as a percentage. Notations such as “progress being made” or “continuing” are not adequate for reporting progress.

2.16 How do you write enrolled grade-level goals when a student is not performing on grade level?

The National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE) has produced a document that illustrates a recommended seven-step process, with accompanying guiding questions, to assist special education teachers and other professionals in developing a standards-based IEP. The Standards-Based Individualized Education Program Examples are available on the following NASDSE webpages:
http://www.nasdse.org/publications-t577/standards-based-individualizededucation-program-e.aspx.

2.18 Should ARD committees still consider modified content if there is no modified assessment available?

Yes. The decision is based on the PLAAFP and there must be a corresponding goal in the subject area where the student is receiving the modified content. The elimination of the modified assessment does not equate to the removal of modified instruction in the classroom. If modified instruction is part of the student’s specially designed instruction in the student’s IEP, its implementation is required by IDEA 2004.

3.2 What type(s) of measurable annual goals might be functional in nature?

Goals that are non-academic are considered functional. Some examples may include related services such as occupational therapy (OT), physical therapy (PT), counseling, and orientation and mobility training (O&M). Other examples might include behavioral goals and use of an assistive technology (AT) device. While the ultimate purpose for providing these services is to help the student access the general education curriculum, this type of annual goal is not required to be based on TEKS.

Reminder: Because of the developmental nature of young children, many of the standards in the Texas Infant, Toddler, and Three-Year-Old Early Learning Guidelines, the Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines, and/or in district-adopted prekindergarten curriculum may fall into both the academic and functional categories.

3.4 Must measurable annual functional goals be standards-based?

No. Because there are no state adopted standards for functional goals, there is no standard on which to base these goals. For example, if the ARD committee decides the student needs a goal to help him/her transition independently between class periods, there are no TEKS related to this skill. Write the goal in measurable terms (including timeframe, condition(s), criterion and behavior), but base in on the student’s PLAAFP and the skills that the student needs for transitioning between classes independently.


More Resources

Standards-Based Individualized Education Program Guidance (TEA website)

IEP Goal Development in Texas (Online Training) – The Statewide Access to the General Curriculum (AGC) Network, in collaboration with the Texas Education Agency (TEA), has developed a free online training titled, “IEP Goal Development in Texas (Online Training) 2016-2017.” This free training (Workshop #PD150301-A41) is available through the ESC-20 iLearning website.

The training focuses on the portion of the ARD process related to developing a student’s Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP) and using the PLAAFP to create enrolled grade level measurable annual academic goals. The training should take approximately 2 – 3 hours to complete, and upon successful completion a certificate will be created. The intended audience is general and special educators who are involved in the ARD/IEP process, but other personnel, including parents, are welcome to participate.