The “Summary of Performance” of a Student’s Special Needs

Published on June 14, 2009 by Jennifer Laviano

When the IDEA was reauthorized by Congress in 2004, a number of changes were made to the statute.  One such change was the creation of the Summary of Performance (“SOP”) for students who have IEPs and are either graduating from high school, or being exited from special education services due to “aging out” of the system.

What is a Summary of Performance?

The SOP is basically a document which is to be generated by a group of people, including the student when appropriate, which will hopefully follow the student to their next destination, whether that is post-secondary education, employment, or a more restrictive environment like a group home or a “sheltered workshop.”  The IDEA states that the SOP shall be developed for a student whose special education services are about to terminate because she is either graduating with a high school diploma, or will be “exceeding age eligibility.”  For such students, the school district is required to “provide the child with a summary of the child’s academic achievement and functional performance, which shall include recommendations on how to assist the child in meeting the child’s post-secondary goals.”

Does the SOP have to be developed by the student’s IEP Team?

No.  Nothing in the IDEA requires that the SOP be created at an IEP Team Meeting.  In fact, the individuals who actually develop the document are not delineated in the statute.  Students should have input into the document, where appropriate, and it should be developed in the last year of the student’s eligibility.

Why does a student need an SOP?

One of the nice things about this new creature of the IDEA is that it allows students the opportunity to have the accommodations which they are likely to require based on their disability condensed into a document which might assist them in getting necessary accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Once your child is no longer the responsibility of your local school district, the IDEA is really no longer applicable.  Legal protections then come, usually, in the form of reasonable accommodations in education or employment under the ADA.

Being able to crystallize a student’s needs in the SOP will, hopefully, lead to obtaining reasonable accommodations in his or her post-secondary environment.

The SOP is a very new requirement, and parents and professionals are still struggling with how to fill them out, when to do them, and what if any legal ramifications result from them.  I have many parents of students with disabilities who I represent in my Connecticut special education law firm who are also conflicted about the extent to which they should include their child in the process, and how much information the student needs about his or her special education needs.

The good news is that the SOP is relatively new, so your school district is probably not deeply entrenched in how to write it.

There are a number of forms out there to assist you in the development of the SOP, including this one which I think is a good start.  However, just as in every other aspect of addressing the needs of students with disabilities, the SOP should be individualized based on the specific needs of the child in question.  Look around and see which ones make the most sense based on your case.

And as a practical tip…I suggest scheduling the date to develop the SOP as soon into that last year of eligibility as possible, because you don’t want to be rushing a document that will be following your child into adulthood.

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