I remember the spring day that the Endrew Decision was released like it was yesterday. This was a BIG deal in the world of special education and many special education directors spent the day refreshing their computer screens waiting on the decision. I know I was. Finally, a special education case was being heard at the Supreme Court level…so exciting! The last Supreme Court case addressing IEP services to this degree was the first one, the Rowley case in 1982. “In this case, the Court held that an IEP must be reasonably calculated for a child to receive educational benefit, but the school district is not required to provide every service necessary to maximize a child’s potential” (Landmark Cases in Special Education Law). Thirty-five years later the Endrew Case challenged this long-held ruling.
Let’s start with some background information on this case. ”Endrew, a child with autism, attended public school from kindergarten through fourth grade. In April of 2010, Endrew’s parents rejected the 5 th grade individualized education program (IEP) proposed by the Douglas County School District. Endrew’s parents believed the proposed IEP was basically the same as the previous IEPs under which their child’s academic and functional progress had stalled. Endrew’s parents subsequently withdrew him from public school and placed him in a private school that specialized in the education of children with autism. Endrew’s behavior in the private school setting improved significantly; his academic goals were strengthened and he thrived. This case arose because Endrew’s parents were unable to obtain tuition reimbursement for the cost of the private school placement” (Questions and Answers (Q&A) on U. S. Supreme Court Case Decision Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District Re-1).
Landmark case decision time: “The Court held that to meet its substantive obligation under the IDEA, a school must offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances. In clarifying the standard, the Court rejected the “merely more than de minimis” (i.e. more than trivial) standard applied by the Tenth Circuit. In determining the scope of FAPE, the Court reinforced the requirement that “every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives” (Questions and Answers (Q&A) on U. S. Supreme Court Case Decision Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District Re-1).
Why is this a BIG deal? The ruling of Endrew changed the long-held ruling around Rowley with the IEP providing “merely more than de minimis” educational benefit shifting to the expectation to include challenging objectives. The analogy I remember during my special education law classes was, “we are required to provide Chevy services, not Cadillac.” IEP teams had to provide services that would provide minor educational benefits, but now the Endrew decision has set a new standard. “This meant that in order to meet its FAPE obligations, the school district only had to show that the child’s IEP was designed to provide a child with a disability more than trivial or minor educational benefit” (Questions and Answers (Q&A) on U. S. Supreme Court Case Decision Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District Re-1).
If reading Supreme Court decisions is not on your top five fun activities to do on the weekend, I recommend the Questions and Answers (Q&A) on U. S. Supreme Court Case Decision Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District Re-1. This is a tremendous resource that breaks down the major components of decision, background history, and how the decision will impact practice.
So now what? Impact of the Endrew Decision into Daily Practice
The biggest question I heard after the decision was how does this impact me and what do we need to do differently based on the outcome? I need to preface that I am a practitioner in special education and bystander of the Endrew case and have had no contact with the school district staff or lawyers. The following tips are based on my understanding of the decision and potential opportunities to create systems to intervene early on and avoid due process.
1. Write challenging goals based on current data.
The first issue addressed in the Endrew decision is setting challenging objectives. “Each child with a disability must be offered an IEP that is designed to provide access to instructional strategies and curricula aligned to both challenging State academic content standards and ambitious goals, based on the unique circumstances of that child. The IEP must be developed in a way that ensures that children with disabilities have the chance to meet challenging objectives, as reflected in the child’s IEP goals” (Questions and Answers (Q&A) on U. S. Supreme Court Case Decision Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District Re-1).
The biggest red flag here for you to consider as an administrator is checking the progression of goal development. I’ve reviewed too many IEPs that state the goal will be continued for another year due to lack of progress. NO! If a student is not making progress on an IEP goal, the IEP team must reconvene to address the lack of progress. The same goal or slight variation of the goal should not be recycled year after year.
The purpose of the IEP is to create a program designed “for one student and must be a truly individualized document. The IEP creates an opportunity for teachers, parents, school administrators, related services personnel, and students (when appropriate) to work together to improve educational results for children with disabilities. The IEP is the cornerstone of a quality education for each child with a disability (A Guide to the Individualized Education Program).
Start with reviewing the proposed goals and ensure the goals have baseline data (not just 0%), aligned to grade-level standard (no off grade-level), and designed with the Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP). If the proposed goals are missing any of these components the team is charged with revising and collecting data to provide “challenging objectives”.
2. Develop a system for PROGRESS MONITORING.
Yes I meant for that to be all caps! I cannot stress this tip enough. Review your data cycle and make sure progress monitoring is included and frequent. There are two areas to review in the IEP to check for progress monitor and setting the frequency expectations. Goals must be reported out as often as non-disabled peers receive progress. Most of the time this is four times a year aligned with report cards. You can report out more often if decided, but not less! The second area to check is within the goal. In order for a goal to be measurable a time expectancy must be included (e.g.weekly or monthly). Do not assume that this time measurement is the same as how often the data is shared with guardians (report cards). This time requirement should be to support the data collected based on instruction and specific goal. For example, a reading fluency goal can be measured weekly. A writing goal that requires moving through the process of pre-writing to publishing could be measured monthly. I do not recommend a measurement past a month. The frequency is too low to determine progress and make adjustments if needed.
3. Find a way to share the data in a meaningful way.
As a parent I have been guilty of receiving information from my son’s school about data and thoughtfully placing that information in my “to read later” folder. For the most part I rely on my son’s teacher to let me know how he is doing. I only become concerned when I see a dip in his grades and then I become highly engaged in data and a bit of a detective. I think most parents are like this. However, some parents have experienced difficulties with school and have been conditioned to expect the worse and should be comforted with frequent and meaningful data. Share the data in an accessible way. Do not assume parents know the cut scores for your benchmark assessment or expected words read correct per minute for reading fluency. The takeaway here is, “more is more” when it comes to sharing student progress.
4. Use the data for designing instruction.
I know this one might seem obvious but in my experience it is not always put into practice. I’ve sat in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) reviewing data and heard a teacher say “we can make that adjustment next quarter”. We only have our students 180 days in the school year, give or take a few days. We have to make the most of every instructional moment. Once data is available the next step is analysis and designing instruction based on what the data is telling us. As an administrator review your data cycle and time to act on the data. The key is to create a data and instructional system that is fluid and responsive to student needs. There is no need to wait for the annual IEP meeting to modify a goal based on data. Meetings can be held virtually to update a goal and create a Prior Written Notice highlighting the changes. Do not wait, use the data.
5. Incorporate data literacy into professional development.
I’ve been in education for twenty years and have been immersed in data for that entire time. It is easy for me to forget that at some point early on I had a mentor to guide me through data analysis and probably even took a professional development class on data literacy. Do not make assumptions that teachers or related service providers have experience in data literacy. Modeling use of self-talk is a helpful strategy to lead an IEP team through.
Te greatest thing you can do as a leader is have frequent communication around student progress with all stakeholders. Nat Turner said it best, “good communication is the bridge between confusion and clarity.” Remember more is better when it comes to sharing progress and answering questions about the data.
Questions and Answers (Q&A) on U. S. Supreme Court Case Decision Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District Re-1. (2017). https://sites.ed.gov/idea/files/qa-endrewcase-12-07-2017.pdf
U.S. Department of Education. (2019). A Guide to the Individualized Education Program. https://www2.ed.gov/parents/needs/speced/iepguide/index.html#:~:text=The%20IEP%20creates%20an%20opportunity,each%20child%20with%20a%20disability.