Special Education and Grade Level Expectations


The topic of “standards” takes on a whole new meaning in special education. When your child is exceptional, can he still meet average standards? What do IEP standards mean when plans are specific to the individual? How do these standards factor into an IEP?


When the school year starts, understanding grade level expectations is an important part of understanding your child’s IEP goals. Additionally, if your child does not have an IEP, it is still helpful to understand what is expected of your exceptional child. 

What Does “On Grade Level” Even Mean?


Have you seen your child struggle with skills that you think he or she should be able to manage? Do you know what is expected academically for students at your child’s grade level? How do you figure out what’s really “expected” for a typical child, as well as for your exceptional child? Parents always have lots of questions and concerns, and often become frustrated, when trying to figure out grade-level expectations for their student.


You may have heard terms like “at grade level” or “grade level expectations” from teachers.  Both terms usually refer back to learning standards. Teachers and schools districts constantly evaluate student performance against skills that a student should master by the end of the school year. Standards can be national (e.g., the Common Core State Standards), state based, or even created at the district level. These standards are not specific to special education. Instead, they apply to all general education students at that grade level. 

IEP Standards

What Are Grade-Level Expectations in Special Education?

Most students with IEPs still go for their grade level curriculum. Thus, students with IEP standards will be evaluated against grade level expectations. An exception may be when it isn’t realistic that a student could “catch up” to their peers. In that case their IEP would outline an “alternate curriculum” for that child.  This will outline a set of standards that will meet that child’s needs more effectively than the standardized grade level expectations. The plan will also include modifications. Modifications are changes to WHAT is taught and learned, not HOW it is taught and learned. 


Unless your child’s IEP says they aren’t going to learn the same materials as their peers, they are expected to learn the grade level curriculum. Any of your child’s teachers should be able to show you what the standards are that describe grade level expectations for your child. Ask them to show you the standards and describe what they mean for your child. 


How Do Grade Level Expectations Affect IEP Standards?


Learn more about grade level expectations with ExceptionALLY


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