Let’s face it – if you are an average school SLP, you are going to write hundreds – probably thousands – of IEPs in your career. If you’re like me, you had a little practice in a couple of your grad classes, and in your school internship, you had your supervisor’s example to follow. But once I was on my own, I realized how challenging it can be to know what to include in the present levels, how to make it succinct and yet still include all the relevant information, and be able to write each one in a time efficient manner. (I’m pretty sure I might cringe at some of the present levels I wrote in my first few years, or ones that were written on the same day as five others!)
And if you’re also like me, you’ve received transfer IEPs on students that moved into your district, read the present levels and the goals, and realized you had NO idea who the student was or what they could or couldn’t do. For example, I received paperwork on a move in student a few years ago. I checked the minutes page to confirm this student was speech-only, then I flipped to the goal page. The goals read, “Student will produce all sounds in initial positions of words in conversation,” “Student will produce all sounds in medial positions of words in conversation,” and “Student will produce all sounds in final positions of words in conversation.”
“Hmm,” I thought. “Well, I’ll just flip to the present levels to see if they just forgot to include the specific sounds on the goal page, and see where the student was at when the present levels were written a few months ago.”
What did the present levels read? “Student presents with an articulation disorder, which makes conversational speech difficult to understand.” <insert face palm>
I went to a training once, and one line that really stood out to me was that the present levels should help an outsider understand who the child is, along with their strengths and weaknesses. What makes sense to me, as someone who has worked with a student for a long time, might not make sense or include enough information for someone who doesn’t know the student.
So, how do we make this happen? On students where I am the case manager, I am responsible for writing the entire IEP. On students where I am a related service provider (not the case manager), I don’t have to write as much, but I still want my information to be helpful, relevant, and provide a concise picture of their communication skills… plus, I need to be efficient with my time!
My first course of action is always to pull out my progress monitoring tools. I use these one or two weeks before I need to write my present levels (just in case the student gets sick or something unexpected comes up!). I see what level of accuracy the students are at with each of their current goals, and probe accuracy with anything I think might be a future goal. (For example, if I have a second grader that has mastered earlier developing sounds, I likely will go ahead and see how stimulable they are for the /r/ sound.)
For language, I use the overall screenings in the lower and upper versions of my progress monitoring tools to see if I can spot any areas of need, and then administer the full probe in that area for more information if needed. This helps me immensely to spot both strengths and weaknesses.
For articulation or phonology, I see how they are doing with the current goals/levels, and probe accuracy with higher levels (for example, sentence level if they are working on word level), or other error sounds I might notice in conversation. (I use the tools for articulation, for R, phonology, and early developing sounds.)
For stuttering/fluency, I like to use my friend Maureen’s (The Speech Bubble SLP) Stuttering Screening to gather current information.
For students with articulation, phonology, or stuttering/fluency goals, I have them fill out these self rating scales. These are invaluable in helping bring the student’s perspective – often different than my own! – of their disorder’s impact on their academics and daily life. I use these in present levels as direct quotes from the student.
Ex: “Susie stated that she feels her speech is ‘sometimes’ difficult for other people to understand, and that it makes her feel ‘sad or mad’ when she isn’t understood. She reports that she ‘loves’ coming to speech language therapy, and that she wants to learn ‘to say sounds right so other people can understand’ her.
Teacher rating scales for articulation, phonology, and fluency are also included in these forms, which helps me to include information on the classroom impact of the disorder.
I find these rating scales also to be very helpful when I’m on the fence about continuing therapy or not with a student, and allow for discussion with the team at the IEP meeting.
I also often include quick notes and quotes from conversation during therapy. This might be in my first few sessions with the student, or recent things I’ve heard them say. Things I particularly tend to note include their favorite color and a few of their interests or favorite things for the student strengths section, and any direct quotes to illustrate any goals we might have worked on or I am proposing to add. For example, I might include a direct quote with pronoun or irregular past tense verb errors, or how a speech sound error might have changed the meaning of a sentence.
For students with phonology goals, I will use this free phonological snapshot form I created to help me quickly identify what sounds the students are using and in which positions, as well as which processes may be present, and if they are stimulable for any sounds they aren’t currently using in conversation.
When I am the case manager for speech-only students, I have to fill in all the other information on the present levels page myself. I use this free checklist to help me keep all the information organized and on one page.
I often find the “student strengths” section the most difficult to write, but this checklist helps me keep track of my notes and make it easier.
Example strengths section: “Susie is an outgoing student who loves to talk and interact with others. Her favorite color is purple, and her favorite parts of her school day are recess and science. She enjoys playing with her cat Lily, painting, and drawing pictures. When asked, she is able to identify three of her four current speech goals.”
I hope this helps you feel a little more confident in writing your IEP present levels pages! If you have any more questions, feel free to leave them in a comment below, and I would be happy to answer!
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