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Dear School District, My Son Is Not Just Another Brick in the Wall

There is a lot of great information to read out there about preparing for and participating in your child’s IEP.  So far, I have been fairly easy-going about the process, only putting my foot down during kindergarten to demand a functional behavior analysis (FBA), which is required to develop the behavior intervention plan (BIP).  This is something they do when you have a child with challenging behaviors, such as aggression or social skills challenges.

Connor’s goals have mainly focused on academics.  The teachers and SPED staff have done a fabulous job of pushing him to keep up with his peers, and I give them all the credit in the world for that.

But this year’s IEP has my hackles up and claws out.  They did it with one word, compliance.

This year’s IEP has only three goals, and two of them are about doing so many math problems in so many minutes (I could write a whole other post about those goals, as well as the lack of a social skills goal).  But the first goal on the list is:


Goal:  The student will maintain compliant behaviors.

Mastery Criteria:  Given a directive from an adult, Connor complies by mastering the following objectives at the levels indicated below:

Objective 1:  Connor voices no refusal and follows through with the request made by an adult with 3 or 4 prompts and/or begins within 5 minutes for 24 out 30 consecutive days.

Objective 2:  Connor voices no refusal and follows through with the request made by an adult with 2 prompts and/or begins within 3 minutes for 24 out 30 consecutive days.

Objective 3: Connor follows through with the request made by an adult with 1 prompt and/or begins within 2 minutes for 24 out 30 consecutive days.


Does Connor have problems following directions and doing what he’s told?  You betcha.  But let me go ahead and throw the flag and call BULLSHIT on this.  Here’s why:  the goal only focuses on the outcome the school wants, not the tools he will be given to be able to do this.

Let’s examine it more closely:

1.  Where’s the baseline data that tells us how often he is currently non-compliant?  I don’t see it.  How do I know he’s not already half-way mastered this goal?

2.  What tells us the reason he is non-compliant, since we all know that behavior is communication?  Well we would find that on the functional behavior analysis, which tells us that motivation is either for tangibles, escape, attention seeking, or sensory.  But that still doesn’t tell us why he doesn’t comply with an adult’s request.  It also doesn’t tell us when.  Or where.  Is he always non-compliant when asked to read?  When doing math?  This information is critical in understanding the motivation for the non-compliance.

3.  The goal is negative.  It tells us what Connor will do, which is to be compliant.  That’s it, just compliant.  It doesn’t tell us that Connor will learn how to manage anxiety.  It doesn’t tell us that he will learn any other skill, only compliance.  And compliance is not a skill.  The goal is written to make things easier for the school, not easier for Connor.

4.  The word “compliance” is better suited for the military.  I’m sorry, but the word itself just ignites a fire in me that wants to run out and start a rebellion.  These kids are not brainless robots, they are human beings.  And while arguing over doing a math worksheet isn’t quite the same as the sentiment to “question authority”, the overall goal is focused on restricting expression, rather than shaping it, honing it into a means of critical thinking.

Appropriate, no?

We spent an hour-and-a-half debating this goal.  The reality was that I stated all of the above as objections and it did not sway “the team.” That galls me to no end, to think I’ve been stroked and placated with statements of “you’re part of this team,” when the reality is that they will not budge on a goal that I have valid reasons to disagree with.

Five people at the table, all representing the school district.  One person at the table representing Connor…me.  Even though it was an unequal balance of power, I somehow stood my ground and managed not to cry.  Still, they did not budge.

Until I said, “we’ll just have to agree to disagree.”

See, the team does not want a parent signing off as “disagree” on the IEP acknowledgement page.  This is a bad thing.  So now we are keeping the current IEP in place so that the school social worker can finish up her 3-year re-evaluation, and then myself, the SPED teacher, and the district autism specialist will meet and try to hammer out some goals.

If a student has a BIP in place, then the school is required to have a behavior goal in the plan.  Since I’ve got a whole folder filled with samples of appropriate behavior goals, this should be no problem, right?


This is not an indictment of all schools everywhere, or even of our own district.  My hope is that this will serve as a guide for other parents that are navigating the school system and IEP regulations, and will show you how to advocate for your child, and how to become an active player in the drafting of the IEP.

Follow ups to come in the next month, after our planning and follow-up IEP meetings.


photo credit: <a href=””>Ken Whytock</a> via <a href=””>photo pin</a> <a href=””>cc</a>

About Flannery

Kid, husband, dogs, my mother, full-time job, maximum stress, minimal relaxation...sooner or later I had to vent. AND we moved from California to Texas. I could start a whole other blog about that.

23 responses »

  1. That damn box. And “compliance” is so subjective. What is “compliance” to one teacher may not be to another. Our kids need CLEAR consistency, so any room for such subjectivity is not a clear goal that will get them the results they are seeking. It just baffles me that they think they will get results without giving a child the TOOLS to succeed.

    No, wait, it shouldn’t baffle me. Not giving children the tools to succeed is a recurring theme I’ve been seeing across a lot of schools in a lot of states. I’ve even seen kids without the tools to succeed first hand – in so called “typical” kids at the college level. People wonder why our education system is failing. It’s because at the lower levels these schools want the kids to just fall in line and not question anything or think for themselves, and then they get released out of captivity into the world and they can’t cope.

  2. You have reasoned this out well. Compliance, as I see it, is something that is pre-educational. It is necessary in order to learn. If Connor has no compliance with school staff, then, to me, the only credit that can be taken for how smart he is lies with him and you & hubs!!

    It drives me nuts to hear the lack of effort by some educators to find the right way to teach our kids. Clearly, he is lucky to have such a feisty and smart mom to get him what he needs.

  3. I hate that goal. I’m sorry, I hope I’m not being too harsh. I hate how it’s written and the data needed to collect it seems so subjective and with too many pieces and too long a time frame. My kid could never reach that goal. And what are the supports behind it to get him there?
    I’m happy to share our goals with you if you want. I know you have a lot of papers and supports already, but our kids sound a lot alike so maybe it might help. Just let me know.

  4. been pounding my head against the compliance wall for years and I have gotten is a headache. comply in what way. everyone’s idea do compliance I’d different. school drives me bonkers

  5. We have similar problems with Little Miss’s school — no specific IEP goal for them, but the gist of the deal is the same. I keep trying to argue that the school cannot expect compliance without first teaching and using the appropriate supports. Give my kid the tools to comply and you won’t need a ridiculous goal like that on the IEP. End of story.

    The whole thing kind of reminds me of a talk given by Diane Twachtman-Cullen (editor of ASQ) at our local Autism conference. Here is a link to my notes:

    She also has a book out on writing IEPs… — Only $20 for the ebook… might be worth it?

  6. Flannery, bottom line? You are right. And a FBA is the perfect solution for all of you in order to write the goals you can all be happy with. Why, why, why is that so hard to understand??? Go get ’em!

  7. o my, I would be livid too if I saw that. What some of these professionals dont get about our kids astonishes me. Go get ’em, mama!

  8. I am so glad you are standing your ground on this. I totally agree with you. Totally!

  9. Compliance is the longer of the “C” words in my book. We are not raising little compliant, mailable little robots. We are raising little children that have their own mind and their own way of doing things. To be different is not akin to being bad. To use the word compliant assumes noncompliance and that sends shudders up my spine. So are they insinuating that Connor is consistently noncompliant? Because that irks me to no end. No end.

    Stand your ground, you are right on this. You may be part of something but in my book you are certainly not part of a team.

    And big fat hugs. It’s never easy being the only one who disagrees and cowing down to them will not help Connor. Hugs again.

  10. I think the word compliance has very little place in an academic setting. I never wanted a compliant child. Cooperative, yes. Compliant? Dear God, No!

  11. Great post! Thankfully when we were starting out we had an amazing SEA whose motto was “How do we make it ‘meaningful’ for R?” She always looked at things from the behaviour is communication angle and taught me to do the same. I miss her. *sigh*

  12. That goal wouldn’t have flown with me, either. For one, it is too broad and general to be measurable. And, two what is the purpose behind it? You can’t just throw up a goal onto an IEP without it being defined as being needed by the student for a specific reason. There isn’t one, because the goal isn’t for Conner’s benefit, but rather for the staff’s. Good for you for standing up to the team when it’s just you against them. I know it’s hard, but you were courageous and did it.

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  14. Thank you for this. I’ve had similar issues with “our team”. They had the nerve to tell me that I was taking it too seriously, because after all, he’s still in pre-k. What??? We have our next IEP mtng scheduled for Oct 3rd. It should be interesting.

  15. I love that quote. What’s that from??

    I had the thoughts about the goal. Student will do what we tell him without complaint. WTF is that?

  16. Love this post. Will have this in the back of my mind at our IEP meeting in 2 weeks. They’ve already hinted they want to add some new goals about social behaviors and I’m nervous. This is still so new to us, he’s only in pre-K.

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