When writing IEP goals for students with unique learning needs, the best practices for writing SMART goals apply. Make them:

Specific
Measurable
Attainable
Relevant
Time limited

By its very definition, an IEP is intended to present goals that are specific to an individual student’s needs. The real work begins with determining those unique needs and crafting an IEP in clear language that can be easily understood by all educators and caregivers who interact with the student.

Determining the areas of need begins with the PLAAFP statement—the Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance—developed by the entire special education team with family participation. Items listed in the PLAAFP must have a corresponding goal in the IEP. Because this foundational component is also informed by formal and informal assessments, it should identify the student’s specific needs and his or her strengths—both critical to developing short-term objectives and annual goals.

n2y tip

When completed by an IEP team with fidelity, the left-hand column of the Profile reports in Unique Learning System’s Goals, Preferences and Skills (GPS) provides a source to inform present levels of performance. Pair with assessment results, Student Daily performance data and observations to build a rock-solid PLAAFP.

What are specific goals?

Each goal should state specifically the targeted skill and what the child is expected to do in order to reach the agreed-upon level of mastery. Which leads us to measurement.

n2y tip

Use Student Daily Performance, benchmarks and Positivity behavior reporting reporting along with observations to identify standards-based skills that might be appropriate to specifically target.

How are goals measured?

In order to ensure that the student is making progress, each goal is associated with measurement criteria for demonstrating mastery. Many states require an indication of how the measurement data will be collected for each goal. Depending on the task, the measurement might be a percentage of accuracy or frequency of successful attempts. As part of the criteria, the goal should detail the conditions under which the student is performing the work. (For example, how many prompts does the student with the communication disability require from the teacher? Is the student one-on-one with a teacher during the attempts or in a group setting?)

n2y tip

Add skills to the Skills Tracking area of the GPS and set the aim line to track progress toward measurement outlined in the goal.

What makes a goal attainable—and why is this important?

Goals should be developed with the intent of increasing academic and/or transitional independence so that a student continues on a path to chronological grade-level skills or standards. To ensure the student experiences incremental success and builds the confidence that is so important to learning, the team should determine what is realistic for the student to achieve. If the student’s progress is faster (or slower) than anticipated, milestones can be recalibrated at a subsequent IEP meeting.

n2y tip

Use Checkpoint results and Student Daily Performance with other performance measures to set attainable goals. Checkpoints with yellow data points indicate skills a student is actively learning and more likely to acquire within an IEP year than skills indicated by red data points. Daily Performance reports documented by your state’s regular and extended standards will help you identify additional skills to target with attainable goals.

What is meant by a relevant goal—and how is that different from specific?

While specific refers to the detailed way in which a goal is written to ensure that the student can meet with success (including the what, when and how of approaching a task), relevant means that the same goal is helpful to the child and meaningful in the context of their need.

For example, if the student does not have a reading deficit, they should not have a reading goal on their IEP. If a student has a five-word expressive vocabulary, the goal should not be that they exchange conversation with complete sentences.

In other words, there is no copying and pasting of goals from one child’s IEP to another’s! In the case of a student with a communication disorder, the question to guide relevancy might be, “How will improving his responsiveness to a teacher’s gesture or prompt improve his choice making?”

n2y tip

Review Student Daily Performance (as this will report daily performance and alignment to state standards), GPS, Checkpoints and Positivity for behavior data.

What is a typical timeframe for a goal?

Specifying a time by which a student will accomplish a goal ensures accountability and gives a means to monitor progress at certain intervals. Legally, IEP goals must be reviewed at most a year from the start of the IEP process (the IEP year may or may not coincide with the school year). SMART goals give educators and caregivers a better understanding of student achievement and progress, eliminating uncertainty about whether it might be necessary to carry over certain goals to the next IEP year.

n2y tip

Use skill tracking in the GPS to monitor progress to mastery by the determined timeframe. If it looks like progress is falling behind, use the resources at the bottom of the skills tracking page to support and spark growth. Add reminders by adding a data review time block to your schedules in your n2y account.

Students may also benefit from having shorter-term goals. Which brings us to “objectives.”

Where do objectives fit in to IEP goals?

Objectives are smaller or interim goals that lead to achieving the overall IEP goal within a given timeframe. For example, if the IEP goal is that a student will correctly solve double-digit addition problems with carrying, then a short-term objective may be that the student will visually represent regrouping by placing the digit in the tens column.

Under the 2004 Amendments to IDEA, the inclusion of short-term objectives is no longer mandated for students with disabilities who are assessed on general education standards using the general education assessment. Although not required, short-term objectives should still be considered a best practice for educators. However, objectives do remain a requirement for students taking alternate assessments aligned to the extended standards.

Are accommodations and modifications part of the IEP goals?

For students who are having difficulty reaching their goals, accommodations and modifications might be added to an IEP. Technically, these learning supports are not written into the goals, but are recorded in the designated area of the IEP. An accommodation (such as being seated closer to the teacher or having extra time to complete a task) does not change what the student is expected to learn; it affects how the student learns by helping them more easily access the curriculum. Modifications do affect the difficulty of the curriculum and therefore affect what is expected of the student. An example of a modification might be for a student to answer fewer questions on homework or to continue working on more basic math concepts when the class moves on.

Putting it all together

A formula for writing SMART goals with clarity

One simple guideline for drafting an IEP goal that includes all the necessary components is to create a template:

By [date/time of year/number of months] the student will [name specific skill], [location or situation (classroom/behavior)] as measured by [type of data] with [what percentage of accuracy/how many successful trials] supported by [list any supports that have been agreed upon].

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About the Author
n2y’s blog team works closely with our special educators, in-house experts and program developers to share the latest topics and timely thought leadership from the field. It’s our goal to help keep you informed and ready to serve your students!