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Present Levels of Educational Performance (PLEPs)
|Aligned. The focus is on helping students achieve the state's standards. The Anchors align directly to the state's standards in Reading and Mathematics. The Anchors simply clarify the standards.|
|Grade Appropriate. Teachers may have different ideas about what skills should be mastered by which grade levels. The Anchors provide clear examples of skills and knowledge that should be learned at the different grade levels that will be assessed on state tests.|
PDE's Assessment Anchors cover both mathematics and reading. They are found here:
Each section has an introduction which parents should read.
The grade level sections themselves are not layperson friendly. They are educator specific. However, the Overview contains a good glossary section that define terms and concepts that will be covered at each grade level.
If you are considering acceleration for your child you should look over the glossary material with them. For example, here is the 8th grade Math glossary:
A simple review of terminology and concepts might help the parent gauge whether the child is ready for district curriculum testing.
The Division of Assessment also provides resource materials for both Mathematics and Reading. These are found here:
These resources are geared more for teachers than for parents. However, there are summaries of formulae that are to be learned at specific grade levels and other items that can help a parent judge where their child is relative to the state standards.
Another value for parents in reading over these materials is that they become more familiar with the rubrics used to score the PSSA tests. For example, this material might help a parent work with a gifted student who has difficulty writing down the steps it took for them to solve a math problem.
Also, there is an Item Bank of test questions for each PSSA test as well. That Item Bank is found here:
While the test items in the Item Bank do not definitively determine the student's performance levels, the test items provided can help a parent gauge their child's achievement against Pennsylvania curricular standards.
Districts must meet, but can exceed, the requirements set out by the Dept. of Education. The Dept. of Education sets out the lowest permissible level to districts. This leads situations where districts will state that its students are 'actually' a grade or two higher than their enrolled grade when compared to an outside group.
For example, parents of a gifted fourth grader who achieves at a sixth grade level on nationally normed achievement test may be told those results are irrelevant as the fourth graders in this district are 'really' sixth graders when they take a nationally normed test.
There are a couple of problems with that. At face value, a statement like that does not make sense. Secondly, if the fourth graders are 'really' six graders then why are they in fourth grade?
If the district asserts that its students perform at a level significantly above the national standard then the parent is justified in asking two questions:
Textbooks are published to meet the requirements of states. States require minimum levels of achievement. Usually, but not always, minimum standards make lousy guidelines for gifted ed.
The issue of standards and grade levels applies to textbooks as well as achievement tests.
While the district's curriculum may in fact exceed the state requirements for any particular grade level, the textbooks used provide a good insight into the instructional level of the course. Textbooks are, in effect, nationally normed.
This is an article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article in 2004 that addresses the role of textbooks and PSSA scores:
The company generated sales of $4.4 billion and a profit of $560 million in 2003. About a fourth of the company's revenues and profits come from sales to K-12 schools, according to Pearson Prentice's Web site. The company's K-12 profits jumped 13 percent in 2003, as textbook sales outpaced other competitors', according to the Web site.
Like other textbook publishers, Pearson Prentice has little choice but to work the niche market standardized tests have produced, said company spokeswoman Kate Miller.
If a company's books don't focus on the state's assessment test, she explained, "You're not going to be able to sell in the state."
Another example of how the textbook and course material that the student uses are matched to Pennsylvania curricular standards, which are the lowest standards that can be used, is found here:
This material is educator-specific, but illustrates that the grade level on the textbook is set to Pennsylvania standards, which are minimum standards.
Districts may extend or enrich their curriculum beyond what is found in the textbook, however it's not too big a stretch to hope that a student who achieves at above-grade results on a nationally normed achievement test should have a textbook at that nationally normed level.
Caveat: Levels -
Parents need to understand the meaning of the assessment results. A good primer on evaluation and assessment is located at www.wrightslaw.com and is found here:
Some tests give material at a particular level and then report the student's achievement compared to other students. The PSSA is one such test.
These tests can report the student's performance compared it to older students who took the same test. For example, your seventh grade student scored the same as a tenth grader taking that seventh grade test.
That does not mean that the student can do the same work as the tenth grade student. It simply means that your gifted seventh grader scored the same as the typical tenth grader who took the seventh grade test.
The other type of testing presents material at a particular higher level or at an increasing level of difficulty.
The results then show how the student did working above their grade level or age level. The student's results are then pegged to the scale and then compared to either age peers or against the older group. The SCAT and Explore tests are examples of above-level tests.
The issue with a district in which they claim that the students are 'all above level' is that they go beyond Pennsylvania curricular standards.
Remember: those standards are minimum standards. However, they are important. Those minimum standards are the ones assessed during the PSSA test.
By definition the PSSA is not an above-grade level test.
The PSSA only tests those items identified in the Anchors and only does so at the grade level of the test. The PSSA makes a point of saying that only grade level material, as defined by the requirements, will be on the test.
This means that, regardless of how well the student scores on their PSSA test, they have only done work at that test's grade level. This quote is from the Division of Assessment's main web page:
The annual Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) is a standards based criterion-referenced assessment used to measure a student's attainment of the academic standards while also determining the degree to which school programs enable students to attain proficiency of the standards. Every Pennsylvania student in 5th, 8th and 11th grade is assessed in reading, math and writing.
The PSSA only measures the degree to which the student attained the grade level standard. The PSSA does not establish a present level of educational performance.
This is particularly true for gifted students.
The PSSA shows only whether a student is performing at one of four levels (Below Basic, Basic, Proficient, Advanced) with respect to that grade level.
While the PSSA is, absent a parent filing a religious objection to taking the test, an inevitability, the results of the PSSA are more significant to the district than to the gifted student.
Students with GIEPs are eligible for accommodations while taking the PSSA. The accommodations need to be discussed and approved by the GIEP team and added to the GIEP. Some examples of accommodations include the following:
|testing in an environment with fewer children,|
|having the student type their answers to questions (the test administrator then transcribes the typed answer verbatim),|
|taking the test in a less distracting test environment|
Accommodating gifted students appropriately while they take the PSSA should be one of those common-sense areas where interests align. Parents want the student to do well. Presumably the student wants to do well. We know the school wants the student to test well. Why not have the gifted student take the test in an environment which helps them demonstrate their abilities?
A fact sheet for PSSA Accommodations Guidelines can be found here:
I called last year regarding a gifted ed student's ability to have accommodations. I was told that, so long as the GIEP team puts it in writing, there's no problem.
The biggest area this can help, I think, is to allay district fears that gifted kids won't do well on the PSSA test and, as such, the gifted kid needs to spend 14 hours reviewing material that was below their ability a year or two ago.
The GIEP team could include PSSA prep issues and PSSA testing accommodations in the GIEP itself. Which is good for the kid. And, if the district is interested in maximizing its scores, it's good for the district as well.
At least it's something to talk about at the GIEP table, other than the gifted pull-out program.
At this point, you're probably wondering if was necessary for you to spend ten minutes or so reading about fairly arcane stuff. Well, maybe.
Good Gifted IEPs are based on accurate PLEP sections. Report cards and PSSA scores do not, and never have, established PLEP. Without an accurate PLEP section, the GIEP Team is simply guessing at what's going to work in a Gifted IEP, provided you're in a district which offers any kind of individualization.
The first hurdle a lot of parents will face for their kid's Gifted IEP is the PLEP one. What's maddening is that getting an accurate PLEP isn't expensive, isn't time-consuming, and is fairly straight-forward. The complicating factor to all this is the gifted student. There's no one test or series of tests to establish PLEP.
The goal of the exercise is to know enough about the student in order to determine if they are receiving an education of meaningful benefit - based on the student's needs. That's about as simple a requirement as can be given to a team.
Unfortunately, simple things are rarely easy.
For a variety of reasons I think the Present Levels section is the most important section to work on when trying to individualize a GIEP. I'll talk about those reasons is in a moment, but first I need to make five quick points about the PLEP section of the GIEP.
Many Gifted IEP PLEP sections consist of the latest report card and, perhaps, scores from tests like the OLSAT, Stanford Achievement Tests, and/or the PSSAs. Some also include teacher observations and checklists. That information is good to have in the PLEP section, but those items alone do not tell you the student's present level of educational performance.
Report cards tell you how the student is doing against material already presented. Report cards also tell you how much material has been covered. As a result, report cards do not tell you where the student is academically on any objective scale.
Also, report cards consist of grades which have a subjective component. For example, students can lose points, possibly grades, for tardiness, neatness, or not completing assignments. That information is important to have, and the student needs to develop skills regarding each, but those reasons have nothing to do with the student's present level of educational performance. Also, in some cases the reason for the lowered grade may due to a gifted-related need that is going unmet.
The PSSA is not an assessment tool for gifted either, it's a minimum skills test tied strictly to grade level. As described in the previous post, the PSSA does not tell you what the student's achievement level is, it only tells you how they did against grade level material. The PSSA information is good to have in a PLEP section as well as it can be used to identify areas of need for the GIEP team to address.
Teacher observations and checklists are, by their nature, subjective evaluations. While they have a role in discussing PLEP - for example, if a particular teaching method is effective given the nature of the child's giftedness - those observations and checklists do not provide a gifted student's present level, either.
PLEP sections which have only report cards, PSSA scores, and teacher observations are insufficient. The question then is how should the GIEP team go about getting a proper PLEP established.
The GIEP team's task is to modify the regular education curriculum to make it provide 'meaningful' benefit to the gifted kid. The variable here is the child, not the curriculum. As such the GIEP team needs to know 'enough' about the gifted kid to decide if the regular unmodified curriculum will be one which gives the gifted kid 'meaningful benefit. That requires objective assessment of the student. The results are then discussed in light of the regular education curriculum. That conversation can be fairly commonsensical in nature.
If, after the results of the assessments and evaluations are known, the district can show the parent that the gifted student will be engaged in their learning, and make the case persuasive, then the parent should approve the plan. An example of this includes gifted students doing independent research in a class while the rest of the class is learning material the gifted student has already mastered. If the district's lesson plans allow for differentiation, then that subject may not need to be put into a GIEP. The regular curriculum is adjustable enough to accommodate the gifted kid.
In certain subjects that's not the case. Math lends itself most readily to the subject of acceleration. That is, there's only so much enrichment that is useful before a student gifted in math no longer is receiving an education of 'meaningful benefit'. There are specific tests that can be used to determine both a student's math ability and math achievement, ask your school psychologist to attend the GIEP meeting. Also, ask the math teacher to be present.
The question for the parent boils down to "Will my gifted kid learn anything in this course next year?" The testing should provide a basis for that conversation. The subject of gaps, and how much time will the student spend engaged in their learning is a fit topic for a GIEP meeting. Insist that the testing be done and the conversation happen.
Understand, though, that a district cannot declare by fiat that its proposed curriculum is appropriate. They need to convince you. If they can't convince you, they'll need to convince a hearing officer.
Warning: The remainder of the post talks about what happens when GIEP Teams decide to not do appropriate PLEP evaluation, when districts dig their heels in and cite policy or practice rather than showing why their regular ed curriculum is appropriate for the kid and what tests were used to make that claim.
Situations where districts and parents fail to agree on gifted educational placement decisions are common. Many times those disagreements are resolvable at the GIEP table through discussion. Other times, they are not resolved.
If districts and parents fail to come to an agreement about a GIEP their disagreement will be resolved by a Hearing Officer at ~ big gulp ~ a Due Process Hearing.
Caveat Lector: I'm not an attorney, educator, or school psychologist. An attorney can help you protect your gifted child's rights. Consult with one or two. A school psychologist with a training in special ed/gifted ed can interpret test scores and make diagnoses. Consult with one or two. People on PAGEList can provide referrals if you ask.
(For Pennsylvania residents - you can join PAGEList by clicking on www.penngifted.org and looking for PAGEList.)
This advice is, in my opinion, best suited for people who meet the following criteria:
|Gifted-only issues are involved, possible LD/Chapter 14 issues have been ruled out|
|District at least acknowledges that Giftedness exists|
|District is not inclined to retaliate|
|District is 'hesitant' or 'moderately unwilling' but not 'evil'|
|Simple 'black and white' issues are initially involved. These include:|
By following this advice you may adversely affect your ability to get compensatory education for your gifted child should you later go to Due Process with or without an attorney. Reading this advice, however, will give you a better understanding of your options at GIEP meetings and your role in the Gifted Ed process.
Advice not valid in New Jersey, Delaware, Ohio, or Maryland, or any of the other 49 states in the U.S..
See dealer for details.
Let's say that good PLEP testing/assessment does not happen, that your
district opts not to establish PLEP or declares itself to be 'minimally
compliant' or claims that a report card grade is, in and of itself, sufficient
to establish PLEP, or says that it wants to do Gifted Reevaluation rather than
simply conducting a PLEP assessment. Well, from a Gifted Ed process perspective,
you are in a situation where the district has proposed a GIEP based on a PLEP
that you feel is inadequate.
In that case the parent has no choice but to disapprove the proposed GIEP on the basis that the PLEP section is insufficient. Your belief is that the PLEP does not provide the basis for the GIEP Team to create a plan that is 'reasonably calculated' to be of 'meaningful benefit.' If you believe that, then you need to signify that belief by disapproving the GIEP in writing.
Signing a NORA 'Disapproved' triggers a series of events which leads, ultimately, to a Due Process Hearing. The hearing can be avoided at any point prior to the date if the two sides come to an agreement - that agreement can happen when there's been additional assessment and a revised GIEP. (note: You can ask that a hearing be postponed, not cancelled, to allow time for additional testing to take place. Never cancel a hearing until you have an agreement you can approve.)
Technically, the district should, upon receipt of the disapproval on the NORA, file the hearing request. The reasoning goes like this: the GIEP team is there to act in the interest of the gifted student. Once there is a disagreement in writing on the NORA the district is obligated to file for Due Process to prove that its recommendation is the appropriate one.
The basic reasoning is that the gifted student is a student with an exceptionality and, as such, requires an approved, appropriate educational plan. Only two people can approve educational plans and neither one gets paid by the District. Those people are the parent and the Hearing Officer.
In cases where the parent objects to the GIEP, but does a sort-of 'pocket veto' of the plan, the parent has tacitly endorsed the district's proposed plan. This makes that plan the current plan. (As the song goes 'if you choose not to decide you still have made a choice.')
However, in Pennsylvania's 502nd School District known as Reality, districts do not file Due Process over gifted issues and take parents to hearings to justify the district's plan. So it's up to the parent to check the box on the NORA, get the Due Process form, write the reasons, and make a copy of the completed form. Send in one copy of the completed form to the Office of Dispute Resolution and drop the other one off with the district. (again, I'm not an attorney, consult with one.)
Filing for Due Process over this PLEP issue may seem a bit drastic, but, I think not. I'll go into reasons why in a moment, but first a brief digression into Due Process itself.
First, at the moment, given the lay of the gifted educational landscape, absent any of the following occurrences:
Nothing is going to change with regard to your kid's Gifted IEP unless you get involved. You may have to initiate a Due Process Hearing in order to effect a change. So you'll need to at least think about Due Process.
There are two basic aspects to Due Process issues:
Those two points are not mutually exclusive.
In the former case the parents are making the claim that the student was not properly educated and, generally, that the district should therefore provide compensatory education.
The purpose of compensatory education is to help the student by making up for services which should have been given had the district acted reasonably, given what it knew at the time. (Note: consult an attorney. Comp ed awards often turn on issues involving perfect conditional clauses, those can be tricky things)
In these types of situation parents go to Due Process because they're extremely frustrated and/or angry and, it's possible, that the student has suffered from the neglect and requires remedial services. That may be the case and I'm not arguing against a parent going to Due Process for the specific purpose of remediating a need through comp ed hours while ensuring that an appropriate plan is in place.
However, if you are a parent thinking through your situation, you might want to separate the two issues, past wrongs and better tomorrows.
In the latter case a Due Process hearing results from a disagreement that the proposed plan meets the basic definitional requirements contained in Chapter 16. The issue in these types of cases do not turn on fine points of Chapter 16 interpretation.
There's no issue for the parents whether last year's teachers harmed the gifted kid by denying educational services, the issue presented here is more direct. The issue is whether a particular section of the Gifted IEP is Chapter 16 compliant. The questions become:
|Is this a valid PLEP Section, or not?|
|Has enough testing been done? Or Not?|
These questions come on PAGEList and at conferences frequently. As a parent, one test for this is whether the district is 'making sense' at the GIEP meeting or 'citing policy/regulation'. If they're making sense, then listen. If they're citing policy or regulation, be skeptical.
Going to Due Process for those basic issues strikes me as being non-adversarial and presents a situation that can be rather easily resolved.
I mean, is the district going to go to a Due Process hearing on the basis that the report card is sufficient and that it does not need to prepare an accurate Present Levels of Educational Performance to create a Gifted IEP?
Sure ... odder things have shown up in Appeals Panel decisions. But there are a couple of things to consider here should you go to Due Process:
The goal all along has been to have an appropriate, individualized educational plan. To do that you need accurate testing in the Present Levels section. If all else fails, the Hearing Officer can order testing. You might need to go to Due Process to get that testing done.
Besides having the charm of being a regulatory requirement, good PLEP testing does two things:
Once the PLEP testing is done, the results must be considered and used in the creation of an individualized gifted education plan. Once the PLEP testing is done, the results will be known to any future hearing officers or Appeals Panels members that might cross your path down the road. So, if you don't want to file for Due Process over what happened the past year, consider that you might need to file for Due Process for the coming year.
If your motivation for filing is that your child should get a big comp ed award for what was done to them, then chances are you will need an attorney to assist you with that effort.
If your motivation for filing is that you want an actual, effective, implemented GIEP based on an accurate PLEP, and your child doesn't have one, you should file for Due Process over that reason - comp ed hours may result from going to Due Process. If they're awarded, then use them to help your gifted kid.
The district, unless they're evil and retaliatory, may offer to 'settle' the case before going to Due Process,. This is especially true if they haven't really done any of the things called for by Chapter 16 and recognize that fact.
The district's settlement offer may be less than what a Hearing Officer would award, especially if you have an attorney representing your child. But then you didn't have to go through the hearing.
So you have to make a decision.
The other need for PLEP testing is more straightforward. Gifted education is supposed to be commonsensical in nature. Once you have accurate information about the child, the GIEP should begin to take shape. If the student is well above enrolled level in a subject, then subject acceleration should be considered - regardless of district policy - because the kid might need that.
Problems occur when educational choices are left out because the student is thought to be educated appropriately. Once data is available then you know whether they are.
So, this is a long post. Ideally, this would be a rather short post that consisted of four words:
Test Appropriately, Use Results.
Instead these have been a rather rambling series of posts.
Unfortunately, there is no one answer to the correct test nor is there only one way to appropriately educate a child. More unfortunately, there isn't widespread compliance monitoring nor have Ouiji boards been found to be effective.
What's needed, though, is recognition and discussion. Remember:
If your district won't provide a good Present Levels section -
they can't provide a good Gifted IEP.
At the moment, you need to insist that they do.
P.S. There are Appeals Panel cites and a whole buncha stuff in the nuts-and-bolts of the Gifted Guidelines, the BEC, Chapter 16 and all that. The two take away steps for parents are these:
If your district decides to call your bluff - you will need to show them that you weren't bluffing. Ask them to contact the PDE then disapprove the GIEP by signing the NORA, file for Due Process on the PLEP issue along with other issues, depending on your specific situation.
(Standard disclaimer: The decision to file for Due Process isn't easy or fun, but it's sometimes necessary to file for one. Remember, this post is offered for advice only to parents dealing with 'gifted-only' issues in districts which might not be doing things 'right' but aren't actively doing things 'wrong'.
If you're in a district which is 'evil' and/or retaliatory, you've got a different set of problems besides gifted ed - consult an attorney. If you've got a possible LD involvement and the district won't test further- consult an attorney and a school psychologist.
But, if you're at the point where you're seriously considering filing for Due
Process consult with an attorney.