IEP Spotlight: Statement of PLAAFP and Why it’s so Important 

Over the summer, we posted about the importance of and tips for successful IEP implementation and progress monitoring. Today, we continue a series of articles focused on the components of a great IEP. In this post, we will discuss the foundation of the IEP: the statement of present levels of academic achievement and functional performance (PLAAFP).

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates that IEPs include a statement of PLAAFP. If you’ve ever attended an ARD, you know that this statement is one of the first things covered. And with good reason: the statement of PLAAFP provides an overview of the student’s current functioning and baseline for new goals. Without a clear, specific, and individualized statement of PLAAFP, the IEP may be deficient. Keep reading to learn steps to ensure that every IEP is built on a solid PLAAFP foundation.   

1. Understand the IDEA’s requirements for the statement of PLAAFP

The IDEA requires IEPs to include a statement of the student’s Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance. The Department of Education has declined to define “academic achievement” or “functional performance” as used in the PLAAFP mandate. Generally though, “academic achievement” refers to a student’s performance in academic areas – i.e. core content areas. And typically, “functional performance” encompasses any other activity or skill not directly connected to academic performance but relevant to the student’s school participation – i.e. activities of daily living, social skills, behavior, mobility, etc. So then, what the IDEA requires for the PLAAFP statement is a description of the student’s current performance in both academic and non-academic areas.

In addition to describing the student’s present levels of achievement and performance, the IDEA requires the PLAAFP statement to include information about how the student’s disability affects their involvement and progress in the general education curriculum (or early education activities if the student is in preschool).

2. Use clear, descriptive, plain language 

As the foundation for the IEP, the PLAAFP should be clear, up-to-date, and individualized to the student. Outdated, repeated, vague, inaccurate, or incomplete PLAAFP can lead to a deficient IEP and denial of FAPE.  

As with all sections of the IEP, it is critical that all members of the ARD committee, including the parents, are able to understand the PLAAFP. The PLAAFP is a snapshot of the student and communicates to parents and educators crucial information about the student’s current strengths and needs. Accordingly, confusion about the PLAAFP can negatively impact parental participation.  To ensure that all committee members can meaningfully participate, be direct and specific and avoid or explain technical terms, acronyms, and jargon.

The next section will address the importance of data, but here we want to stress clarity. If the student moves to a new district or state, will reading the PLAAFP enable the new teacher and other service providers to understand the student’s current abilities and be prepared to continue the student’s learning? If the parents compare the PLAAFP from last year to this year, will they see clear signs of growth? Using plain language and direct observations in addition to data will go a long way to achieving these objectives. Additionally, when acronyms, terms of art, and proprietary names are necessary, include an explanation. And when scores are provided, include reference information, such as the percentile, expected score for the student’s age or grade, and/or a comparison to the student’s prior scores.

3. Use Data in a Meaningful Way

The statement of PLAAFP should include data, including but not limited to scores on various assessments. To avoid vagueness, ensure measurability, and objectively detail a student’s skill levels, data is critical. At the same time, a chart of grades or assessment scores is not sufficient.

One way to effectively use data in the PLAAFP is to include statements of the student’s performance on the goals from the prior year as well as baselines for the proposed new goals. Connecting the PLAAFP to the goals helps create a coherent and relevant IEP document. Providing data on the student’s performance on prior goals helps demonstrate progress and also tees up the next goal for the student to work on (whether that be a higher level of complexity following a mastered goal or a new approach or direction when the student did not master the skill). The baseline data for the new proposed goals is also critical for measuring progress on those goals. The ARD committee needs to know the student’s starting point on the targeted skill in order to evaluate the student’s progress.

Remember, the IDEA also requires that the statement of PLAAFP includes information on how the student’s disability affects their involvement and progress in the general education curriculum. Data gathered from general education and special education settings may be relevant and will inform the ARD committee’s decisions related to placement.

Some examples of data that can be used to build the statement are full individual evaluations (FIE), functional behavioral assessments (FBA), parent observations, teacher observations, IEP progress report data, medical records, discipline records, attendance records, and outside evaluations. State assessments and district-wide or other curriculum-based assessments or benchmarks may also be useful. Make sure to provide explanations so that scores and data are understandable and meaningful for all ARD committee members, including the parents.

Keep these tips in mind when preparing PLAAFP because a clear, detailed statement of present levels is the first step toward creating a great IEP that your attorney would be proud of. And be sure to check back for our next post which will discuss goals!

Please reach out to our Special Education Team with questions or for support in implementing these or any other special education tips.