A Review of “The IEP from A to Z : How to Create Meaningful Measurable Goals and Objectives” by Diane Twachtman-Cullen and Jennifer Twachtman-Bassett

When I read the latest works of Diane Twachtmen Cullen and her daughter Jennifer Twachtman-Basset, “the IEP from A to Z : How to Create Meaningful Measureable Goalsand Objectives” I expected the book to be a basic guide that can be used by teachers and parents to help them understand the IEP process and its requirements.  While this book certainly serves as a guide and does speak to an audience of both parents and educators, it offers much more information than I expected.  I was surprised by its comprehensive dissection of all aspects of the IEP, from the appropriate development of present levels of performance (PLP) to the careful crafting of individually tailored goals and objectives.  In addition, I found this guide to be a user friendly book and its use of bullet points, case studies and checklists make it easy to understand.  In this practical guide, the authors identify examples of common problems and solutions as they relate to the mechanics of writing IEP goals and objectives.

The IEP from A to Z further expands on an earlier version published in 2002 which targeted solely the student on the autism spectrum.  This latest addition is even more comprehensive in scope as it provides practical information not only for students on the autism spectrum but for students with speech or language impairments, non verbal learning disabilities, attention deficit disorders/attention deficit hyperactivity disorders and emotional disturbance.  As noted by the authors, a common trait among these students is that these students interfering behaviors do not present with obvious signs of a disability. For example, the students who do not submit homework assignments in a timely fashion due to executive functioning deficits can be unfairly misperceived by CSE’s as lazy or non-compliant.  In order to dispel such unfair misperceptions, the authors solve this common problem by offering solid statements of this type of students’ present levels of performance and template goals and objectives in areas such as time management and organization. The author’s format of sample PLPs and template goals in other areas such as impulse control, flexibility in thought, and self-monitoring, aptly addresses the critical deficit in executive functioning skills that are often exhibited by this population of students.

This compelling work addresses other problematic areas of IEP development such as ensuring that IEP goals are “measureable” as required by the IDEA.  There are certain social/behavioral norms, so to speak, such as following social rules; sizing up social situations or inferring the mental state of others that are not easily quantifiable.  As a result, CSE’s often fail to create appropriate methods to measure the progress of  these types of behavioral/social skills. The authors offer succinctly crafted and creative examples of goals and objectives in order for progress to be measured within the social domain.  As a special education attorney who has appeared at countless CSE meetings, I have found that a CSE’s ability to be thoughtful and creative in developing goals and objectives for “interfering behaviors” is of paramount importance.  I take the position that while the use of computerized goal banks are a useful starting point in the process of developing IEP’s, these lists should not be relied upon exclusively. Goal banks cannot possibly contemplate the individual needs of each student.  I cannot overstate how helpful this practical guide can be for educators and parents who are working together to develop measurable goals and objectives in challenging areas such social behaviors.

The authors point out another issue that, in my experience, often fails to make its way into the IEP --- that is whether a particular skill can be achieved with or without prompts.  This practical guide provides a  “prompt hierarchy” list that serves as an excellent resource for CSEs.  For example, in order of interventions from less intrusive to more intensive, prompts may include:  1) a simple gesture, 2) verbal cues, 3) communication of verbal and manual signs, and 4) physical cues/assistance.  I find that this level of  guidance for teachers who must teach a particular skill is necessary in an IEP in order to avoid dramatic differences between measures of progress between teachers and service providers.  Without the appropriate inclusion of  which level of prompt will be utilized,  different educators might otherwise apply different prompt levels or no prompts at all.

Another area that the authors recognize as problematic relates to the issue of generalization of skills.  Generalization refers to the transference of the acquired skill over settings, activities and people. The authors share their view that generalization is often an afterthought and not considered as an IEP goal or objective until after a student has mastered a skill.   I would expect that there should be a certain level of skill acquisition before generalization skills can come into play.  However, the authors provide specific examples of how generalization skills can be incorporated into an IEP without first waiting for that skill to be fully mastered.  Through supports such as:  1) providing structured opportunities to practice a particular skill, 2) providing the student with assistance in making connections across the differing settings, and  3) scaffold skill development, IEP’s should incorporate generalization objectives similar to other skills that are measured for progress over the course of a given academic year.  I was impressed by the authors’ suggestion that skills that have been mastered by a student should be regularly recycled throughout the IEP across activities, environments and people.  To do so would serve to produce the “outcome oriented” IEP that the IDEA now requires.      

In this comprehensive user friendly work,  Diane Twachtmen - Cullen and Jennifer Twachtman –Basset express their hope that through the use of their latest book, parents and schools will better be able to work together cooperatively, with the best interest of the child at heart.  While some CSE’s will invariably be reluctant to write goals and objectives like the ones suggested in this book for fear of  “locking” themselves into a specific service model thereby setting themselves up for potential lawsuit, I strongly believe that is that if PLP’s, goals and objectives were developed using the templates and suggested language offered in this book, this would result in far less litigation. I would recommend that educators and parents alike take the time to read The IEP from A to Z : How to Create Measurable Goals and Objectives with an open mind that will open the gates towards helping our children acquire the skills necessary to lead productive and functionally independent lives. 

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