Goalbook - Social IEPs for everyone? Actually, yes

Goalbook could revolutionize how we approach differentiated instruction and outcome-based education.

Four of my five kids have been on IEPs (Individual Education Plans) at one point or another. Two of them still are and I have little doubt that my youngest will be too once she hits school. She's only two, but she's already dropping her s's just like her brothers did. I don't have a problem with this. To be honest, everyone should probably have an IEP, but the term IEP carries a certain stigma with it, so in modern educational settings we call this "differentiated instruction". Whatever.

What I do have a problem with is the IEP process itself. Once a year, we all walk into a room (usually the principal, a guidance counselor, specialists, teachers, my wife and me, and possibly the kid in question, depending on his age (or her age, as the case may be in a few years). Everyone goes around in a circle, gives an update (he's having trouble with this, he's doing well with this, he needs to work on this, etc.) and then the special ed liaison turns to us and says, "So what is your vision for ? Do you have any goals in mind for ?"

I've literally done this at least 30 times for my kids. I can come up with a brilliantly crafted vision statement faster than most people can sign their names. When I was teaching and sat in on other kids' IEP meetings, I used to help other parents write vision statements for their own kids. I couldn't help myself. And, not to pat myself on the back too hard, but mine were better than theirs anyway.

Then a couple weeks later, we get a big envelope in the mail with said vision statement featured prominently and a recycled set of goals from the previous year with minor updates. Or they're the same goals if the secretary forgot to change them. I skim the 20-page document to make sure they aren't slipping in some reduction in services we didn't authorize, tell my wife it's OK, she signs it, sends it back, and that's the last we hear of the IEP.

It's a legal document that obligates the school to provide services. Nothing more, nothing less. Whether or not my kid is achieving his goals or, better yet, having positive outcomes in school rarely has much to do with that document and much more to do with his teachers' efforts and my "active followup" (that's a euphemism for being a pain the butt). This is the same document, by the way, that teachers skim at the beginning of the year and then ignore for the rest of the year just like we do.

I know I'm making some very sweeping statements here and I know that there are very notable exceptions to the scenario above. I also know that there are schools and districts that are even worse, whether because of poor funding, poor training, or both. The point is that this process is generally broken nationwide and does nothing to address kids without disabilities but are either gifted or struggling in specific ways that should be addressed with specific differentiated instruction.

Enter Goalbook.

I found out about Goalbook during an interview with the founders of New Schools Venture Fund for this week's review:ed webcast (you can watch last week's episode and find downloads and podcast subscriptions to review:ed here). The company is one of New School's recent investments and I can see why.

Goalbook, as its name suggests, focuses on those very goals and outcomes that otherwise sit in binders and file folders through a familiar social interface that makes managing and adhering to IEPs easy.

The network is designed to give parents, teachers, and specialists at-a-glance visibility into a student's accommodations and goals. In an interface reminiscent of Facebook (without Zynga or any pictures of your nephew chugging from a beer bong) and Edmodo, users can post quick status updates, notes, and "Celebrations".

Digging deeper gives much more detailed information, but, more importantly, provides a very straightforward interface for updating and presenting progress on goals with specific, concrete, attainable objectives.

Teachers can add to a bank of goals that can be reused with many students and can upload files relating to individual goals, allowing them to build portfolios for their students. Goalbook also includes a universal goal bank that is aligned to the new Common Core standards.

Among early beta users, the most exciting use case, though, is the application of Goalbook to all students, not just those with IEPs. And there's the rub. It shouldn't take a legal contract for students to be assessed based on goals, objectives, and outcomes or for parents and teachers to be able to communicate through an intuitive social interface about a student's progress outside of the occasional progress report or grade report. Of course, as we know, even an IEP rarely leads to much straightforward communication.

Not surprisingly, although the website itself is quite outstanding, both conceptually and from a UI perspective, Goalbook is pushing hard to bring tablet and mobile apps to the table that will make it even easier for teachers to keep the system updated and actively manage their students' goals and objectives in real time or to quickly consult accommodations.

Goalbook is the first educational application (website, tablet app, or otherwise) about which I've been truly excited in a long time. This is a very different approach to managing student data and represents a realization of what "social" should be and do in education. It's still in beta and development is ongoing, but if this is the beta, I can't wait to see what the production version and the tablet apps bring to the table.


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