OSERS: IEPs Must Be Aligned with Grade-Level State Academic Content Standards

The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (“OSERS”) recently issued a “Dear Colleague” letter reminding school officials that an individualized education program for a student with a disability must be “aligned with the State’s academic content stand­ards for the grade in which the student is enrolled.” Dear Colleague Letter, 66 IDELR 227 (November 16, 2015). The Department of Education has designated the letter a “significant guidance document.” The let­ter, which is available on our website under the “Links” page and labeled “November 16, 2015 ‘Dear Colleague’ Letter,” emphasizes the importance of en­suring that students with disabilities must be able to access grade-level content with appropriate instruction, services, and supports.

An IEP team must consider the student’s present levels of academic achievement and functional per­formance, as well as the impact of the student’s disa­bility on his or her involvement and progress in the general education curriculum. OSERS’s guidance reminds school officials that IEP goals must be aligned with state grade-level content and cautions that such alignment “must guide but not replace the individualized decision-making required in the IEP process.”

OSERS acknowledges, however, that students with “the most significant cognitive disabilities” may be offered alternate academic achievement standards in accordance with state requirements.

For a student whose present levels of academic achievement and functional performance are signifi­cantly below grade level, OSERS recommends that the IEP team estimate the student’s expected growth and set goals that are “sufficiently ambitious to help close the gap,” but that are also achievable. For example, a student with a specific learning disability who is reading four grade levels below his or her current grade level must be provided grade-level content in a manner that allows him or her to progress in the gen­eral education curriculum based on state content standards. The delivery of the content, however, must be modified for the student’s specific needs. The IEP must address the student’s reading deficiencies and allow him or her to increase reading fluency.

OSERS’s “Dear Colleague” letters often signal an area in which OSERS will be increasing scrutiny and monitoring. To ensure compliance with this guidance, an IEP team should discuss whether a student’s annual goals allow him or her to make progress on grade-level content standards as well as disability-related needs.