The U.S. Department of Education recently issued a Q&A document providing guidance on the issues the U.S. Supreme Court addressed in its decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District Re-1 (which we summarized here). The document explains the Department’s interpretation of the Endrew F. FAPE (free and appropriate public education) standard and how it should be implemented. The Department places significant emphasis on equity and high standards, repeating throughout the guidance document the Court’s directive that “every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.”

The Court in Endrew F. clarified the FAPE standard previously set out in Rowley, stating that the school must offer an IEP that is “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.” The Department notes that this standard is “different from, and more demanding than, the ‘merely more than de minimus’ test applied by the Tenth Circuit.”

The guidance underscores that the “’reasonably calculated’ provision recognizes that developing an appropriate IEP requires a prospective judgment by the IEP Team.” Decisions are thus informed by the team members’ expertise, the student’s previous rate of progress, the student’s potential for growth, any behaviors interfering with the student’s progress, and parent input. The standard is “not whether [the IEP] would be considered ideal” and an “IEP is not a guarantee of a specific educational or functional result.” Teams do, however, have an obligation to design an IEP to meet a student’s individual needs and to revisit the IEP if the student is not making expected progress.

The Department also recognized that “the Court did not determine any one test for determining what appropriate progress would look like for every child.” Accordingly, the guidance provides that IEP teams should focus on clear present levels of academic achievement and functional performance, measurable annual goals, and how to measure and report a child’s progress toward those goals. Indeed, the guidance highlights the direct relationship between the Endrew F. standard (progress is appropriate in light of the student’s circumstances) and the student’s annual goals, which must reflect challenging objectives relative to the student’s unique needs. The present levels and periodic progress reports play a similarly important role in determining whether the Endrew F. standard has been met.

The Department invites comments and questions, which can be directed to EndrewF@ed.gov. Schools with specific questions about how to implement the Endrew F. decision should contact their attorney.