MDE Issues Updated Special Education Guidance

MDE’s Office of Special Education recently issued two guidance documents intended to ensure compliance with state and federal law when drafting and amending individualized education pro­grams (IEPs). One updates MDE’s previous guidance on shortened school days, and the other provides new guidance on measurable annual goals and short-term objectives for a student’s IEP. Both doc­uments apply to students who are eligible for special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Shortened School Days

The original shortened school day guidance, issued in June 2019, noted that the IEP Team must consider alternative ways to meet a student’s needs before shortening the student’s school day. The September 2019 updated guidance provides examples of other ways to meet the student’s needs, including “additional instructional and/or behavioral supports, increased program and/or service time, and/or a positive behavior support plan.” The guidance in­structs school officials to document consideration of these alternatives.

The September guidance emphasizes that shortened school days may not be used to manage behavior or discipline a student, noting that “removing a student from school is NOT reasonably cal­culated to result in progress or educational benefit.” Instead, if a stu­dent’s behavior impedes his or other students’ education, the IEP Team must address it through annual goals, related services, and supplementary aids and services.

School officials also should not simply acquiesce to a parent’s request for a shortened school day. Instead, school officials should respond to these requests by “providing written notice” consistent with the IDEA and allow the full IEP team to determine whether a shortened day will address the student’s unique disability-related needs.

MDE’s updated shortened school day guidance may be found at:

Measureable Annual Goals

The Michigan Administrative Rules for Special Education (MARSE) require that a student’s IEP contain measureable annual goals and short-term objectives. MDE issued guidance on both procedural and substantive compliance with this requirement.

In August 2019, MDE addressed the procedural requirement, identifying four components that should be reviewed to determine if a student’s annual goal or objective is measurable:

  1. Current level of performance;
  2. Specific skill or set of skills to be taught and measured;
  3. Target or outcome; and
  4. Method of measurement.

MDE also created a measurability formula involving the four components: “Measurability = cur­rent level + skill/set of skills + target + method of meas­urement.” When identifying a “set of skills” to be taught and measured, the August 2019 guidance reminds school officials that a student’s IEP must include short-term objectives identifying the specific subskills to be taught.

MDE’s new guidance, issued in October 2019, addresses how to determine substantive compliance with the measureable annual goals and short-term ob­jectives requirement, focusing on whether the IEP pro­vides an educational benefit to the student. For an IEP to provide a student with an educational benefit, the an­nual goals and short-term objectives must be designed to meet: (1) the student’s disability-related needs to en­able the student to progress in the general education curriculum; and (2) each of the student’s other disability-related educational needs.

MDE pinpoints four IEP components to review when assessing substantive compliance:

  1. Areas of need;
  2. Current level of performance;
  3. Alignment of needs, current level, and goals; and
  4. Progress reports.

Because an IEP must be individualized, the IDEA does not mandate that a specific number of goals be in­cluded. School officials should, however, clearly define each area of need and address each need in the IEP sec­tions dedicated to goals and short-term objectives, sup­plementary aids and services, and related services and programs. Additionally, for transition-age students (age 16 and over), at least one measurable goal must relate to the student’s transition services needs.

School officials may address these procedural and substantive components in the goals section of a stu­dent’s IEP or in other areas throughout the IEP. MDE may determine that annual goals and short-term objec­tives that do not follow this guidance are noncompliant or deficient.

MDE’s August 2019 guidance on measureable annual goals and short-term objectives can be found at:

The October 2019 guidance can be found at: