2nd-5th Grade Writing Present Levels & Assessments

Writing a strong IEP begins with strong assessments and knowing what your student CAN do in each subject. This page walks through sample PLOPs for students working at a mid- to late-elementary level in reading and assessments you can use to write even better PLOPs for your own students!

Present Levels

The goal of a Present Level for any student is to tell about what that student can do. A PLOP that says, "Juan can read one work of a fifth-grade book per minute," tells you nothing about where Juan is at academically and nothing about what goals to set for the student. After having read far, far too many present levels that sound like that, I figured it would make sense to share what I think a strong PLOP might sound like. The ones below are very, very imperfect-- but they each give you concrete information about what the imaginary student can do-- information that you could use to come up with actually individualized goals.

Jenna is a willing writer who works hard on writing assignments. She uses a period at the beginning of the piece, a period at the end and capitalizes the word "I." When editing for complete sentences, she puts a period or an exclamation mark at the end of the passage rather than at the end of sentences—and she sometimes overuses exclamation marks. She has an emerging grasp of paragraph structure and can write a basic topic sentence for a paragraph and supporting details for a paragraph given a topic sentence. She needs support with writing concluding sentences. When she is asked to write to a prompt, sometimes her pieces ignore the prompt and seem to be on a different topic. She needs support to develop her ideas into stories.

Jenna is proficient at spelling beginning and ending consonants and digraphs. She can spell short vowels with 70% accuracy and blends with 50% accuracy. She is spelling vowel diphthongs with 33% accuracy, common prefixes and suffixes with 33% accuracy, and long vowels and "r" controlled vowels with under 10% accuracy.

Josefina loves to dictate stories! She can use a voice-to-text program to write long, complex stories featuring well described characters and exciting adventures. With teacher support, she can go back to the stories and edit them to have a clear structure and problem, but on her own feels that she is done once dictation is over. Writing by hand is more challenging for Josefina. On fluency assessments, she writes 8-10 words per minute. She is proficient at spelling consonant sounds, including CVC words, blends, and digraphs. She is spelling long vowel words with 40% accuracy, "r" controlled vowels with 30% accuracy, and vowel diphthongs with under 20% accuracy. Multisyllabic words are challenging for her and she will often write down only the first syllable. On worksheets, she can edit for beginning capitals and end punctuation, but in her own writing is inconsistent in the use of punctuation and capital letters. On dictated or handwritten text, she needs adult support to identify where sentences end and begin and on using quotations or commas. 

Assessments & Baselines

You have a lot of data on students’ writing from your groups and from their general education coursework! Use that as it is rich and valuable information!

  • Take notes when you are working with students. When they write an essay, are they writing it or you? What can they do in class on their own? With one or two prompts? Where do you need to substantially modify the work? Where do you see them get frustrated? What works to help them in class? All of this is data so use it!
  • The only catch is that you need to be cautious about presenting a polished classroom piece that took weeks and LOTS of adult support as an example of what the student can do independently. What we need to know for IEPs is what a student can do on their own– and where it is that they need our support.
  • Try to observe what happens during writing. Is the student writing or trying to surf the internet? Do they have lots of ideas during story boarding but then get bored during the writing process and want to move on? Does writing things by hand frustrate them? Is all their time getting sucked up by sounding out words for spelling?
  • Ask the student questions! Ask what is easy and what is hard, where they get frustrated and what they feel confident about.

In class, Viet is excited to use his voice-dictation program. He likes telling his stories, but is less interested in completing pre-writing activities, like a graphic organizer. The stories he dictates are often long and he needs significant support to go back and streamline them. On non-fiction writing activities, Viet similarly likes to dictate all of the facts he knows on topics but needs supports to complete pre-writing activities and to organize the facts he knows into paragraphs and an essay format.

Because classroom writing often includes a healthy dose of adult support, you probably want to include at least one example of what the student’s work looks like absolutely on their own. What happens when you ask them to write a story or essay?

  • You can give students any prompt that you want! I often use a basic story prompt because it is something that most of my students can complete in a reasonable time frame.
  • I often include guiding questions or a rubric to let them know what I am looking for– I am always interested to see if they read it and if they tried to do what I asked for (like did they go back and check for complete sentences?). That way, in addition to knowing about their raw writing, I can also get information on their editing and following of directions in writing.

The assessment packet a writing prompt, guiding questions, and, for the teacher, a narrative writing rubric that includes IEP friendly language to make your life a bit easier!

  • Read the prompts to them and clarify that you don’t just want them to copy the prompt. Many students try to just copy the prompt and add one or two sentences. If you are having trouble getting them to write, ask for their writing journal or uncorrected writing passages from class instead. Some students are better at typing– if they want to type or use a text prediction program for this assignment it is fine.

Rashed is a fluent writer, easily writing a full page in response to a writing prompt. He has exciting ideas in his writing and is able to write a story with a clear beginning, middle, and end. He also has good voice in his writing and is beginning to try on some advanced language  like “globlins.” His spelling can make his writing challenging to read and he is not yet using any punctuation in his writing.

Writing fluency is easy to assess (and fast!) and can be a helpful way to quantify a student’s willingness (or frustration) when asked to write. I don’t typically use it to shape IEP goals, but like to include it to convey a sense of what happens when it is writing time.

  • All you need for this is a prompt and a timer! I typically as the students to write for two or three minutes and then we count words.
  • Note that I count invented spelling– I count any words they write, not just perfect ones!

The packet includes two, one-minute prompts and places for students to write and to count their words.

  • The words don’t need to be spelled correctly to be counted– they just need to show an attempt to spell a word.

  • You can give a similar assessment on a computer to measure typing speed or using an assistive program like Co-Writer. You can then compare the numbers to get a sense of how much fluency the technology adds.

Student 1:

Given a writing prompt, Lin will write 18 to 23 words per minute.

Student 2:

Given a writing prompt and adult supervision and prompting, LuAnna will write eight to ten words per minute. On her own, given a writing prompt, LuAnna will often write one or fewer words. She will write more independently on a computer, but requires supervision to stay on the typing document.

There are two ways to look at  students’ understanding of grammar and paragraph structure– in context and in isolation. Basically, it is helpful to know what they do in their own writing and what they do when you test them on isolated skills. That can tell you where to support the student– in building skills, in applying them, or in both.

  • You definitely want a writing sample from a student! To look at grammar and paragraph structure, you need to make sure the student has time to edit the piece and knows that you expect them to edit it.
  • It is also helpful to have them try to split up your run on sentences into complete sentences or to add capital letters (or topic sentences) to existing paragraphs. That can give you a better window in where their strengths and skill gaps are.

The assessment packet includes a decoding assessment with a mixture of real, made-up, and multisyllabic words with six different letter patterns. The letter patterns include CVC words, digraphs, blends, long vowel, diphthong, and “r” controlled vowel words. There are ten single syllable real words, five nonsense words, and five real, multisyllabic words for each. The words vary as well in where the pattern is found– beginning or end of word– and the type of pattern (e.g., pl blend or sn blend).

  • I almost always offer to read the paragraph assessment to students. I want to know if they can write topic sentences, not if they can read a paragraph. For my lowest students (ones whose handwriting/spelling I really struggle with) I will also offer to write for them on the paragraph assessment or I ask them to read back to me what they wrote and I write a transcription underneath.rt on it!

Student 1:

Janine uses a capital letter at the beginning of her writing and puts a period at the end of her writing. She needs support to use question marks and to punctuate sentences. She is able to write a basic topic sentence for a paragraph but needs support to add details and to write a conclusion.

Student 2:

Honnah has an emerging grasp of sentence structure. She generally knows when to use a period, question mark, and exclamation point. She can punctuate three sentence paragraphs with over 67% accuracy and will capitalize some proper nouns. She also tends to add a lot of extra periods and capital letters. She can write a strong topic sentence for a paragraph add add some supporting details. She continues to need support with concluding sentences.

I am a firm believer in spell checker, voice dictation, and other programs that make spelling easier– but it is still helpful  to know what types of sounds a student can encode on their own!

  • You want an assessment that lets you know the types of sounds  a student can write. A lot of spelling assessments focus on which words a student can spell, which is much less useful for IEPs!

The assessment packet includes a spelling sounds assessment with 25 words that capture how well students encode beginning, medial, and final sounds in words as well as a variety of different sound patterns.

  • Rather than just testing one student at a time, I tend to give the spelling test to multiple students at the same time. There is also a Form B of the spelling test in the progress report assessments if you think that the kids are learning the words. I also tend to round the scores–  this is a sampling of how well they spell sounds so rather than saying “with 62% accuracy”, I often just say, “with 60% accuracy.”

Student 1:

Drake is proficient at spelling beginning and ending consonant sounds as well as consonant digraphs (sh, th, ch). He can spell medial, short vowels with almost 80%  accuracy, consonant blends (sl, nt) with 60% accuracy, and long vowels with 40% accuracy. Drake is not yet spelling “r” controlled vowels or vowel diphthongs (Spelling Sounds Assessment).

Student 2:

Dillon is proficient at spelling all consonant patterns including beginning and ending consonant sounds,  digraphs (ch, th, sh), and blends (sl, nt). He is proficient at spelling short vowels and he can spell long vowel sounds with 70% accuracy.  Other vowel patterns are more challenging for him and he can spell “r” controlled vowels with 40% accuracy and vowel diphthongs (oy, ou) with 33% accuracy.