Task list that represents a paper process that teachers used to follow to plan standards-based goals for students
Written by Susan Milliones on August 24, 2020

Multiple Tiers of Instruction (, , , , )

How to Write Problem and Impact Statements

Follow the Yellow Brick Road- The Munchkins

In this post, we will show you how to write problem and impact statements for IEPs and MTSS plans. First, we will define problem and impact statements for IEPs and MTSS Plans. Next, we will look at three steps to writing them with examples. Then, we will show you how to individualize them. Finally, we will provide tips for aligning impacts to services.

Who can forget that scene in the Wizard of Oz when the Munchkins show Dorothy where to put her ruby red slipper on the tip of the Yellow Brick Road? She carefully places her toe on that very first brick and the entire adventure in Oz unfolds from there. Impact and problem statements are kind of like that. They set your whole journey off in the right direction. Yet, many teachers find it difficult to write impact and problem statements. Sometimes they write them as performance gaps. Some read more like need statements or removal justifications. So how can you write better problem and impact statements that will get you started on the right foot?

What is an empathetic problem or impact statement?

An empathetic impact statement is not an analysis of the present level performance gap. It is not a statement of the disability itself. Empathetic problem and impact statements show a deeper understanding of how unique students learn. Good impact statements reflect the student’s learning process. They describe the challenges in parent-friendly language. The impact statement’s purpose is to inform the instructional decisions in the plan.

What is the difference between an Impact Statement and a Problem Statement?

Just because a student does not qualify for special education doesn’t mean that the student is not experiencing cognitive challenges. It just means that the cognitive challenges are due to something other than a specific learning disability or other eligibility requirements. All teachers need to know how to address cognitive challenges, whether a student qualifies or not. This is true for two reasons.

The first reason is learning is a cognitive activity. It is critical that teachers understand how students are learning. How do they absorb information? Can they relate it to prior knowledge? Do they apply it to solve problems or answer questions? Are they successful in completing the expectations?

The second reason is most special education students are served the majority of time in the general setting. When you know how students with disabilities are impacted, you can apply similar strategies to  students with like challenges who do not qualify.  This approach improves the pedagogy of even the most experienced teachers.

What should be in your problem and impact statements?

  1. The statement must describe how a deficit or disability is impacting learning the grade-level standards. Grade level standards are not optional. They are required by law for everyone.
  2. The statement needs to give meaningful information that informs instruction. The whole purpose of the statement is to describe what exactly the plan will address so the student can progress in the curriculum.

Three Simple Steps

When a student qualifies for special education you need to address the impact of the disability. So, what exactly should be in your impact statement? How could you individualize it? Follow these simple steps to write a compliant impact statement.

First, use your state test or screener to determine the impacted content area. Is it foundational skills? Is it reading comprehension? What about math or written expression? Does the student need social-emotional skills? Then write the first part of an impact statement. You will have one of these statements for each content area impacted.

Wanda’s disability impacts grade-level reading comprehension in informational text…

2. Second, use your benchmark assessments to choose the content area domain. Is the disability impacting performance in key details or in craft and structure? Is it numbers in base ten or algebraic thinking? Add that next.

Wanda’s disability impacts reading comprehension in informational text in the area of key details.

3. Third, individualize the cognitive impact using the psychological evaluation or observations. Let’s look at how to do that next.


How to Individualize the Impact Statement

Let’s say Wanda has a memory deficit. Her impact statement might read like this:

Wanda’s disability impacts reading comprehension in informational text in the area of key details. She has difficulty remembering key details to form an inference.

What would this impact statement look like if verbal comprehension was the biggest deficit? Let’s see.

Wanda’s disability impacts reading comprehension in informational text in the area of key details. She has difficulty understanding how key details are related to prior knowledge and experience in order to support an inference.

What if fluid reasoning was the biggest deficit? 

Wanda’s disability impacts reading comprehension in informational text in the area of key details. She has difficulty identifying relevant key details and organizing them to support an inference.

Processing speed?

Wanda’s disability impacts reading comprehension in informational text in the area of key details. She has difficulty processing key details efficiently and is slow to form an inference.

Of course, each of these impact statements will align with goals, services, and accommodations that address that particular impact.

How to individualize your impact statement one step further

You can individualize your impact statements one step further. Look at the scale score compared to peers. Then, simply add an adverb that means something. For example, Wanda’s working memory score is above 80. You could just leave the word “impacts” in the impact statement. What if her working memory score is 70-80?  You can cue the team that she may need more support. Just add the adverb “considerably” impacts.  What if her score is below 70? You might say Wanda’s disability “severely impacts.” For Dot It users, you will notice that the recommendations for level of service in Dot It is already linked for you.

This is not meant to be a cute trick. Describing impacts this way helps teams recognize the intensity of the impact. From there, the team can consider the level of services needed.

How empathetic problem and impact statements can lead to better service

Your plan is driven be an empathetic problem or statement. Understanding cognitive challenges makes it easier to understand impacts across content areas. For example, Wanda may have difficulty recalling math facts, retaining the directions for doing group work, or forgetting the purpose of a writing assignment. Her IEP could include conditions at the beginning of a goal such as “given opportunities to repeat directions and multisensory strategies, Wanda will…” Sensible accommodations could include chunking, pre-teaching, or anchor charts for group activities. 

Teaching learners with cognitive challenges takes brains, hearts, and courage. Empathetic problem and impact statements lead to services that will help students overcome their unique challenges so they can put their best feet forward.

Susan Milliones

If you would like to connect with me, just click here or send me a message on LinkedIn.



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