This might be of interest to the members of SNAC. This is my summary. The decision itself is worth reading.
Howie Kallem (past SNAC secretary)
After passage of the IDEA, there was considerable dispute about what "free appropriate public education" (FAPE) meant. Many parents argued that it required "an opportunity to achieve full potential commensurate with the opportunity provided to other children" and an "equal educational opportunity" relative to children without disabilities. Many school districts disagreed, arguing that the FAPE requirement was essentially aspirational, with no particular standard that they had to meet.
In 1982, the Supreme Court’s Rowley decision rejected both approaches. Instead, it held that FAPE requires a substantively adequate program of education. The requirement would be satisfied if the IEP set out an educational program "reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits." For children receiving instruction in the regular classroom, this would generally require an IEP "reasonably calculated to enable the child to achieve passing marks and advance from grade to grade."
But this didn’t address students in self-contained settings, nor did it address behavioral and other issues that could affect a student’s educational progress. Subsequent lower court decisions variously interpreted “reasonably calculated to receive educational benefits” as only a minimal benefit or progress (a very low standard), some benefit (pretty much the same as minimal), or a meaningful benefit or progress (a somewhat higher standard, but not clear how much higher…and certainly less than the equal educational opportunity standard rejected in Rowley).
Instead, the Court now comes up with what it calls “a general approach”: to meet its substantive obligation under the IDEA, a school must offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child's circumstances. The “reasonably calculated” part requires a prospective judgment by school officials and parents/guardians. A districts can’t use a form document for IEPs – it really does have to make an individualized determination as to what progress each student can make given the nature and impact of their disability.
How does this play out? Rowley reflected an expectation that most students with disabilities will be integrated in the regular classroom. Based on that, the Court holds: “[F]or a child fully integrated in the regular classroom, an IEP typically should, as Rowley put it, be ‘reasonably calculated to enable the child to achieve passing marks and advance from grade to grade’…through the general curriculum.” [Note that some courts after Rowley had specifically stated that passing grades and promotion may not be enough to meet the “educational benefit” requirement, particularly when it came to social development and/or behavioral and related issues (e.g., where a student was getting passing grades but engaging in disability-related misconduct or behavior). It isn’t clear whether/how this decision would apply in those situations.]
For a student not fully integrated into the regular classroom and not able to achieve on grade level, the IEP “must be appropriately ambitious in light of his circumstances…every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.” The Court recognizes that this is a general standard, but makes it clear that “this standard is markedly more demanding than the ‘merely more than de minimis’ test” used by a number of courts – the minimal standard approach.
Endrew v. Douglas County School District RE-1, U.S. Supreme Court, 2017 -- http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/15-827.html