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How to Write Effective School-Based Occupational Therapy Present Levels of Performance (PLOPs)

Welcome to the first post in our three-part series on effective school-based occupational therapy. As school-based occupational therapy practitioners, one of our most important responsibilities is to develop Present Levels of Performance (PLOPs) for each student we work with. The PLOPs provide a snapshot of the student's current skills, abilities, and challenges, and are used to guide the development of individualized education programs (IEPs) for each student.

In this post, we will focus on the importance of writing effective PLOPs, and provide practical tips for doing so. We'll also discuss how PLOPs can be used to develop effective accommodations and therapy goals, which will be the focus of our second post. In our final post, we'll discuss how to determine an appropriate service frequency for school-based occupational therapy, using PLOPs and therapy goals as a guide.

By the end of this three-part series, you'll have a clear understanding of how to use PLOPs to guide effective occupational therapy services in the school setting. So let's get started!

Part one: The PLOPs

The present levels of performance section is a substantial piece of every Individualized Education Program (IEP). The PLOPs are the foundation of an IEP, and they provide the team with a clear and comprehensive description of the student's current abilities, needs, and challenges.

With a good set of PLOPs, the rest of the IEP often flows with ease.

However, with a poor and unclear set of PLOPs, the IEP team may struggle to create meaningful goals for the student, misidentify appropriate modifications and accommodations, and over (or under) recommend service frequencies.

So, how can you be sure to set a proper baseline for the student's performance that will guide the development of appropriate goals and objectives?

Using a strength-based approach to the PLOPs, we can focus on the student's strengths and abilities while still providing a comprehensive picture of their needs and challenges.

Here are some ways you can keep the PLOPs strengths-based and still provide value to the IEP team:

  1. Use positive and descriptive language: Use positive and descriptive language to highlight the student's strengths and abilities. For example, instead of saying "the student struggles with fine motor skills," say "the student demonstrates strength in gross motor skills during PE and at recess and is working to improve fine motor skills to allow for increased independence in completing writing assignments."

  2. Emphasize what the student can do: Focus on what the student can do, rather than what they cannot do. This approach reinforces a positive self-image for the student, and encourages them to continue to build on their strengths. It also gives the parents the opportunity to hear what wonderful things their child is doing. The IEP does not need to be traumatizing for the parents.

  3. Include the student's interests and preferences: Incorporate the student's interests and preferences into the PLOP section, and identify how these strengths can be used to support their academic and functional goals.

  4. Highlight progress and achievements: Include information about the student's progress and achievements, and celebrate their successes. This reinforces a strengths-based approach and encourages the student to continue to build on their progress.

  5. Include the Data: Just because we are using a strengths-based approach doesn't mean you can omit the data. Share data points that show the progression the student has made. If the data doesn't show progression, what can be gathered from that?

  6. Collaborate with the student, teachers, and the family: Involve the teachers, student, and their family in the development of the PLOP section, and ask for their input regarding the student's strengths and needs. The IEP is a collaborative document, and it is beneficial to include the family's beliefs, opinions, and observations in the document.

Here is an example of a PLOPs section using these guidelines:

Brad is a bright and enthusiastic 2nd grade student who demonstrates strengths in reading and physical activity. He has a learning disorder and requires support to achieve his academic and functional goals. Brad loves reading, and he excels at citing text from a story. However, he struggles with writing and requires assistance documenting his ideas. Brad is an active and engaged learner, but has difficulty attending to his teacher for extended periods of time. During recess, Brad struggles to engage with his peers and requires support to initiate play. However, he is very physically active and enjoys running and playing games. Brad is highly motivated by his interest in Pokemon, and this can be used to engage him in therapy activities. He engages better in play with peers when there is structure. Brads parents have noted to observe this as well at church and at the park. Last year, Brad had a goal to independently write a three-sentence summary after reading a short story. He has achieved this goal with support, using a worksheet that prompts Brad to write three important points about the story. When he writes out his points, his teacher sometimes struggles to read what he has written, which impacts his ability to demonstrate his comprehension of the story. Overall, Brad is a hard-working and motivated student who benefits from strengths-based support focusing on his interests and abilities. By building on his strengths and providing appropriate support, Brad can continue to make progress toward his academic and functional goals.

This is an example of a PLOP in an IEP where the OT practitioner is provided a space to write a narrative section of their own. In some IEP programs, you may need to split this up into various areas. You may add pieces of it under the fine motor, sensory processing, behavior, and daily living sections. There may be other sections that you can add to as well. No one section is only for one individual provider.

Completing the PLOPs is the first step in the IEP process for related services providers, and they create the baseline for the rest of the IEP.

If you think of an IEP as a story, the PLOPs is the first chapter. It sets the scene, introduces the main character, and even alludes to what may be coming in the next few chapters. If you read the PLOP above carefully, you may just see where I may be headed with the goals and services I plan to recommend.

That story is by design. It helps parents, other team members, and potentially even advocates see how to link the PLOPS to the goals, accommodations, and services.

Click here to check out the next article in this three-part series on developing strong present levels, goals and accommodations, and service recommendations.

See ya next time,

👋 Jayson

Want to learn more about developing strong present levels, goals, and services?

Sign up for the A-Z School-Based OT Course to help you better understand school-based OT and to create systems to ensure you are giving each student your absolute best.



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