One for the Sheesh-O-Meter: a 17-day special education hearing….

A special education Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in Oregon spent 17 days hearing the evidence, and then wrote a 163-page opinion. Do you think maybe we have over legalized special education?  In what universe does this make sense?  That’s what puts the case of Hood River County School District v. Student, on the Dawg’s Sheesh-O-Meter.  Despite the “sheesh” factor,   that 163-page ruling was essentially affirmed by a federal district court, and the ruling carries an important message. 

The case was about progress reports.  You know, those periodic reports that you provide to the parents to let them know how the child is doing.  The ALJ concluded that the reports issued by the school were inconsistent, confusing, and inaccurate.  Moreover, there was another problem. The progress reports “did not include quantitative data that corresponded with the quantitative goals and objectives” in the IEP.  Based on that, the ALJ ruled that the district denied meaningful parent participation.

How does your district write progress reports? Do you match them up with the goals you have established for the student?  And by the way, what is the starting point for the goal?  Do you have baseline data from which to measure progress? 

The school district in this case pointed out to the federal court that the law does not require quantifiable baseline data. It does require a statement of “present levels of performance” but nothing in the law explicitly requires that the “present level” be expressed in a measurable, quantitative way.  The court acknowledged that to be true, but held that since the district had established measurable, baseline statements, the district “created its own burden to provide that quantitative information” in the progress reports.  The court noted that “The District triggered the need for quantitative data in these reports by the IFSPs and IEPs setting specific, quantitative annual goals and short term objectives that were ‘readily capable of being quantified.’”

The phrase “no good deed goes unpunished” comes to mind.  

Sigh.  Let us set aside any whining about this decision, and remind ourselves that this is not the first or the only court to require that communications to parents about progress be expressed in easily understood and measurable ways.  Nor is it the first or only court to highlight that progress reports matter.  The case reminds me that the closer we can get to developing IEPs like we develop weight loss plans the better off we will be.  When we have a weight loss plan everything is easily measurable. 

Present levels: this is how much I weigh.

Measurable goal: this is what I want to weigh.

Deadline: One year from now.

It that’s my plan, I can easily chart my progress and see, at any point in time, whether I’m on track to achieve the goal or not. Goals that involve numbers (weight loss, savings, debt reduction) are easy to develop and track, although not so easy to achieve.  The closer we can get to writing IEPs like we write weight loss goals, the better off we will be.

This one was decided by the federal court in Oregon on July 1, 2021.  We found it on Special Ed Connection at 79 IDELR 40.


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Tomorrow: The Dawg’s Faux Paw….