To start, the jargon: an SOP stands for “summary of performance”. It may go by a different name where you are (although I’ve never encountered one in the wild).
Whatever you call it, it has the same purpose. This is the document that is a final summary of a student’s special education (k-12+) experience.
An SOP is legally required, so if you teach at the high school level, you will write hundreds over your career. Like many special education documents, they can seem like a perfunctory chore, but can actually be quite useful.
Students can use it when entering college, to give to their educational support office, or it may help an employer accommodate their needs. In some cases, it can be very helpful to an assisted or supportive living arrangement they may be entering.
Here’s how to write this document, so it helps your student as they make this big transition.
Step 1 – Gather your data and documents
Let’s start at the beginning. What goes in this thing? Most schools will have a form for this document for you to use but it may not be the most helpful.
The things you will need at a minimum to complete an SOP are:
- The most current IEP a student has
- The most current MET a student has
Since the two biggest summaries in an SOP are of impact of disability (helpfully found in the MET) and overall performance (helpfully found in the IEP), these documents are vital.
Depending on your student and their needs you may want to collect other information. You may need the most recent Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) or the most recent reports from their service providers.
Basically, you just need to round up the most recent data on the student you can get your hands on, so that the next destination for that student gets a good picture, at a glance, of where they are and how to best support them.
Step 2 – Check in with your student
A summary of performance should be helpful to your students. It should be a short, easy-to-use document full of insightful information for both them and the people who will be supporting them.
In order for this document to be properly helpful to your students, you need to know what they plan on doing.
Let’s go beyond copying the transition section of the IEP for this. People change their minds all of the time, and it’s a fantastic thing that they do. Your student may have made thoughtful changes to their plan/goals since their last IEP.
Find out what they want for themselves at this point in their life, so your assistance can be appropriately targeted.
Checking in can take several forms, from a quick, informal conversation to a survey to a full exit interview. Our transition bundle has a SOP work page (with a google form version) for your students if you don’t want to make your own. No matter how you do it, make sure to check in with the student.
Things you may want to learn from the student:
- Where, if anywhere, are they planning on going to gain additional education?
- Where if anywhere, are they planning on being employed?
- What agencies have they reached out to for support after high school, and are they confused by that process?
- What are their plans for independent living? Are they planning on moving away from home?
- How are they feeling about the transition overall?
For students with slightly less independence, it might be a good idea to check in with their family or guardian for their future plans as well.
Checking in is a great time to learn what further education and/or employment opportunities a student is considering for their future. It is also a great time to see if a student (or their families) needs a little extra support.
Transitions are a time of high stress for everyone, and sometimes needs come up. This is a great time to offer more support.
Step 3 – Gather helpful contact information
In the last step, we checked in with our student, in this step we use that information.
In the section where you input the student’s next steps to accomplishing their transition goals, there is usually a section for including resources to assist them.
This is going to, of course, be individual to the student, but here are a few sources of information that I went back to repeatedly:
- College Student Services Offices – for students who are going to college or community college, they will no longer have the same support, but those that they are able to access through the ADA are handled at these offices. I found that putting their address, email, website and direct phone number helped students to access these supports. If a student was thinking of a few colleges or community colleges, I would put them all.
- Vocational Rehabilitation – In many states students who had an IEP qualify for vocational rehabilitation services. Ideally, this process is started in their last year of secondary education, but it’s always good information to make available to the student. Again, address, website and phone number along with any more specific information you have (email, direct lines, etc) are helpful.
- Job Search Services – Although Indeed, Monster, and Glassdoor may be obvious to us as adults, students may have a more difficult time finding job listing sites. Listing them in the SOP puts them in a spot they may already be looking at for other supports.
- Job Fairs in their chosen field(s) – a quick search can bring up a wealth of information on job fairs for many industries in your area. I had a lot of aspiring mechanics, and there are many job fairs throughout the year put on by the state employment department. I would put the website that lists them in the SOP for the student.
- Apprenticeship information – A quick look at your local unions for many skilled trades can give you information on how a student gets started as an apprentice. Again, this is helpful information for a student who may be interested in a few things and gives them options.
No matter what a student is planning on doing there are probably great resources in your community for it. If you’re not sure, access resources on your campus. Career counselors, job coaches, academic counselors, social workers and other service providers can most likely supply you with a variety of wonderful resources for students after graduation.
Step 4 – Write it
Since you took all that time to get the information you need together, writing the SOP is a snap!
Most schools use some sort of IEP software at this point to fill in the basic information, but if your school doesn’t, do put that all in.
I provided the MET information about the impact of the disability on the student, as written by the school psychologist.
In the summary of performance section, I took time to explain how far the student has come, highlighting any achievements or milestones that the student is especially proud of. I noted the places that the student still needed supports and what those supports were.
I gave recommendations for how the student could continue to make progress and grow after high school. Use the most recent information that you collected from the student for their post-secondary goals.
Provide the contact information that supports that go in the section for ongoing supports and activities.
If you’ve done all this, you created a great, helpful (and legally compliant) document. Go you!
Step 5 – Give it to the student
This final step is likely optional, but I think it’s helpful and really meaningful.
Once you have finished the Summary of Performance, make a care package of documents.
In mine, I included:
- Any support documents such as BIPs, speech assessments, PT assessments, etc
- Any additional supports requested by the student or family (like a VR brochure or information about community services like counseling)
- Any requested letters of recommendation
Although these have all been certainly sent home already (except possibly the additional supports), it is SO HELPFUL to have everything in one envelope. It can make it easy to give these documents to the next place a student is going.
They also may have misplaced the old documents or changes may have been made. It’s just nice for them to have the most recent versions of everything in one place.
And that’s it!
Honestly, I found SOPs to be the most meaningful document that I created as a special education teacher. Nothing is more rewarding than helping a student take that next big step in their life.
An SOP is part yearbook, to see how far they’ve come, part road map and part message in a bottle. Thank you for making great ones that are worthy of the person they are written for!