The Proof is in the PLAAFP


There has been a lot of discussion among SLPs in our district recently concerning documenting a student’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance (PLAAFP) in the IEP. In our roles, we are continuously reviewing and recommending revisions to proposed IEPs. The present levels of performance (or PLOPs as we often refer to them) are one of the major areas of the IEP needing improvement.


In the definition of an individualized education program, section 300.320, IDEA (2004) provides general guidance on what should be included. It indicates that the present levels include a statement of how the disability impacts the student’s ability to participate and progress in the curriculum – or how a preschool child’s disability impacts participation in appropriate activities (Sec. 300.320(a)(1)).

It further discusses what is included in Sec. 300.324 Development, review, and revision of IEP. The team is responsible for considering the student’s strengths, parental concerns, most recent evaluation results, and the student’s needs related to academic, developmental, and functional performance (Sec. 300.324(a)(1)).

Those are the basics (and the legal jargon)…but in our district we are provided with additional specifics to assist in the development of descriptive and legally-defensible IEPs.

So here are some of the tips we share with our SLPs to insure this occurs and enable any SLP to pick up an IEP and get to work…no guesswork, no wondering!

  • The discussion of the student’s present levels of performance should be, first and foremost, data driven. Whether an initial IEP based on the results of the initial evaluation or an annual IEP based on progress on goals and objectives, it must include data, data, data! Areas of strength should be quantified with data! Areas of need should be quantified with data! If there’s no data, it didn’t happen!


  • The discussion in the PLAAFP should be descriptive and specific. Data should be quantified and explain how the student reached that level. Things to consider include:
    • Were prompts provided – visual or verbal; how many of each?
    • Was information presented orally? Was text provided? Was text on the student’s grade level or instructional level?
    • Did the student’s ability increase with repetition?
    • Was the student successful with sound production in the initial and final position of words but had more difficulty in the medial position?
    • Did the student’s dysfluencies increase when speaking to adults or peers outside of the speech room?


  • Remember that the needs in the PLAAFP are what drive the development of IEP goals (and objectives where required). The information provided serves as baseline so any SLP knows where therapy should begin.


We often find that it can be very helpful to think about the next steps related to goals before drafting up the needs in the present levels section of the IEP. More often than not we have easily identified the skills that the student continues to struggle with and have some ideas of what we want to recommend working on for the next IEP. Sometimes working backward can make for much more explicit, specific, and complete PLAAFP in the area of communication.

Let’s look at a specific case for an annual review IEP. Please be aware that different districts and states have varied requirements and IEP documents can look different. For the purposes of this post, we are focusing on the present levels related to strengths and needs related to communication; therefore, our sample below will not include a discussion of parent concerns, specific academic skills, or most recent evaluation results. These pieces are, however, legally required in the IEP.

Johnny is a 2nd grader. His previous IEP goals are as follows:

  • Johnny will produce /r/ in words with 80% accuracy for 4 sessions
  • Johnny will answer factual ‘what’ and ‘where’ questions about a grade level paragraph read aloud with 1 visual cue in 4 out of 5 opportunities
  • Johnny will point to items in a picture scene in response to ‘show me…’ to demonstrate understanding of the spatial concepts ‘in, on, out, under, over’ with 80% accuracy in 3 out of 4 opportunities.

So using data (quantitative and qualitative), we might write his present levels something like this:

When presented with picture cards in the speech-language room, Johnny currently produces /r/ in words independently with 95% accuracy in 5 sessions. He has begun making sentences with these words with 70% accuracy in 3 sessions independently. His accuracy increases to 90% when he is given a verbal reminder for accurate placement and asked to repeat his sentence. The SLP, Johnny and his teacher worked together to come up with a visual cue for use in the classroom (picture of a target). When the teacher hears an error with /r/, she will point to or hold up the target symbol to prompt Johnny to repeat the word. Johnny also has this symbol on his desk. This has begun to increase his carryover and independence with correct /r/ production in the classroom. Production of /r/ will continue to be addressed at the sentence level to increase his independence working toward production in structured conversation. He will be provided with verbal reminders for placement at first in the speech-language room and the visual ‘target’ will continue to be used with the SLP and teacher to encourage carryover in the classroom.

Johnny has demonstrated the ability to answer factual ‘what’ questions after listening to a grade level paragraph in 4/5 opportunities independently. He was originally presented with a visual showing what each question word refers to (i.e., where=place) and these were discussed at the beginning of each session. This is no longer verbally discussed with Johnny and he does not rely on this visual. He answers ‘where’ questions in an average of 2/5 opportunities. However, it appears that his difficulty with this task is not related to an understanding of ‘where’ but instead related to his difficulties with expressing spatial concepts. For example, he can point to the correct answer in a picture or provide a response such as ‘at school’ in 4/5 opportunities. When the question requires a response such as ‘under the table’ or ‘in the mailbox’, his accuracy greatly decreases. The spatial concepts ‘in, on, out, under, over’ have been addressed receptively with Johnny and he is pointing to items in a picture to demonstrate his understanding (i.e. ‘show me the girl who is under the table’) with 75% accuracy in 3 out of 4 opportunities. Language therapy will continue to focus on Johnny’s ability to answer factual ‘who’ and ‘when’ questions after listening to grade level paragraphs to help increase his comprehension in the classroom. The visual of the question words will first be utilized as a reminder to be sure Johnny has understanding that who=person and when=time. ‘Where’ questions and spatial concepts ‘in, on, out, under, over’ will also be addressed as Johnny is asked ‘where’ questions to elicit these concepts about a picture scene. Visual and verbal prompts will be utilized as needed as we fade to independence.

Johnny’s proposed goals for the upcoming IEP are as follows:

  • Johnny will produce /r/ in structured conversation with 1 visual cue with 80% accuracy in 4 sessions
  • Johnny will answer factual ‘who’ and ‘when’ questions about a grade level paragraph read aloud in 4 out of 5 opportunities
  • Johnny will state the spatial concepts of ‘in, on, out, under, over’ by responding to ‘where’ questions about a picture scene with 80% accuracy in 3 out of 4 opportunities.

Do the PLAAFP above include the necessary components? Are they descriptive and specific? Is the information data-driven and directly related to the new proposed goals? Without knowing this student, would you be able to pick up this IEP and have a good idea how to gather baseline, where to start with therapy and what he is expected to achieve in the course of this IEP?

What are some tips you use to write legally-defensible PLAAFP?