Before deciding on where a student should be going in the coming year, it’s important to know where they are starting. The Present Level Of Performance (PLOP) is the section of the IEP where the nature of the disability is described and how it effects the student’s educational performance. In the written narrative it is important to give a picture of the student’s strengths and weaknesses. Even though I’m going to have most of these students next year, the possibility remains that they could move, I could move or they somehow end up with a new teacher. Being thorough in this section can save a future teacher a lot of time trying to figure the student out. Other agencies, such as social security, Medicaid, doctors and any courts involved in guardianship proceedings will also find this information useful. Included are recent test scores, grades, number of objectives from the previous year mastered, medications taken, medical conditions and diagnoses. This is why having private therapist and medical reports in hand can make this part go easier. OT, PT, SLP and hearing & vision services should also have input into this. For my students, there are also other concerns. Can the student feed themselves? Can they talk? Do they wear diapers? Are they susceptible to infections or other health problems?
This is where we put parent concerns, and there should be something written there to at least indicate it was addressed, even if the parent has no concerns. If the parent indicates on the invitation that they will not be attending, the case manager should make some attempt to ask them for some sort of input.
As a parent, I frequently write my own version of this, and indicate that it should be included with the IEP. Remember, this is what will eventually drive services and placement. If you want the student to get OT and speech services, make sure to include something that indicates that the student has needs in this area. Private assessments can be helpful, and the school must take those under consideration. Placement is also driven by the student’s needs and present level of performance.
A good example of this is my oldest, Thomas, and his need for typical role models to reinforce social skills. He functions academically 2-3 grade levels above his peers. But there are a lot of behavioral and maturity issues that will hold him back. So early on, we pushed for full inclusion, noting in his PLOP that he imitates peer behaviors. Putting him in a class of those with severe behavior problems would be disastrous for him. So, as a parent, make your case for the services and placement you want here, instead of waiting until that section of the IEP meeting comes along. By that time, it is too late. Lay the groundwork early on for what you want.
There is one other bit a parent can add in this section, since it is the most free form of all the IEP sections. If you have concerns or dissatisfactions to register about the current placement, services or situation, register that here. Put it in writing and make sure that it is included in the IEP. If there are good things happening, put those in as well. You can reward the good things and punish the bad right here. But it is important to put it in writing ahead of time. Parental input in this section, at the beginning, can turn the tide and change the mood of the entire meeting. As a parent, set your tone and agenda here and now. I’ve done it a couple of times in the past, and it has probably set Thomas up for a few years as the staff all know I’m serious and those notes are still in his files.
The PLOP is the foundation of the rest of the IEP, and it is the first and best place for parents to make their stand for their children. And parents, after all, are the best source of information about their children.
For that reason, it is in a teacher’s best interest to have as much parental input as possible. And having parents actually write some of their own portions make the IEP a much more valid and collaborative document; the way it was meant to be. Inviting parents to write tbeir own PLOP narrative can be tremendously positive and empowering for them, but it might also be intimidating. So, to at least give parents a fair shot, the PLOP is a prominent part of the draft parents are getting in advance from me. I have only had a couple of parents correct what I wrote in the PLOP. I’ve had none who wrote their own.
One other aspect of this is worth noting, that I have not covered previously: I have assumed involvement by both teacher and parent. However, at the age of 18, all rights transfer to the student. And for higher functioning students, having them write their own PLOP contribution might be tremendously instructive and enlightening to everyone. There is a movement afoot to let students take the lead on their own IEPs. Getting them to take greater ownership of their own IEP might produce better outcomes.
[Update: Here is a wonderful example of a parent/attorney adding his own documents for inclusion in the IEP by Charles Fox. Go download his examples and it should give parents a LOT of direction on what to include.]