Learn Your Special Education Laws, Special Education Rights, and Share IEP Goal Ideas

Jan 23
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by Dennise Goldberg

The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) requires that all Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) include:

A statement of measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals, designed to (a) meet the child’s needs that result from the child’s disability to enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum; and (b) meet each of the child’s other educational needs that result from the child’s disability.

While many parents focus their attention on placement and services they inadvertently overlook the goals section which is one of the most essential components of an IEP. The discussion of the proper amount of services and placement will be decided directly based on the written IEP goals. This is why it’s important to write effective IEP goals. The following ten steps will help you write effective IEP goals:

1. Start at the beginning with present levels of academic achievement and functional performance. Just as IEP goals drive services and placement, the present levels of performance drive goals. This will be your road map to writing all of the goals. Accurately written present levels of performance will provide you with key information on both 1) what goals to write, and b) what strengths the child has to help compensate for the disability. If your present level of performance doesn’t include strengths then it hasn’t been written appropriately;

2. Familiarize yourself with your State’s Academic Content Standards. At this point 44 States have adopted the Common Core Standards. You can review the Common Core Standards website to download the standards. If your State is one of the 6 that doesn’t follow the common core you will be able to find the standards on your State’s Department of Education Website;

3. Make sure you write a goal for every area of need. This may include writing more than one goal for every subject area. By familiarizing yourself with the academic standards you will have a better understanding of what types of goals to write. For instance, math can be broken up into subsets such as math fluency, math facts, math computation, math comprehension, statistics or algebraic functions. If you are writing goals for a modified curriculum the standards for lower grades may still be useful in writing goals. Goals also incorporate more than academics and should include social/emotional and other related services needed to help the child access the curriculum;

4. Spur conversation using the Six W questions; Who, What, Where, When, Why & How. Asking and answering these questions will help make the goal more specific. For instance, “Jimmy will learn to read”, can be made more specific by saying, “When given a second grade passage, Jimmy will read 75 words per minute correctly using proper decoding methods”;

5. Make sure the goals are easy to understand, if you can’t understand the goal in the first reading neither will anyone else. Considering the amount of turnover seen in school personnel making sure a new therapist or teacher can understand the goals is very important;

6. All IEP goals need to be measurable so that parents and school personnel can establish how much progress has been made on reaching the goal. Make sure the measurement is being conducted using a specific method of data collection. Allowing an IEP goal to be measured by teacher observation alone is too subjective;

7. All goals should be attainable. Set up goals that will gradually get your child up to grade level. You want to instill confidence in the child so that they are reaching milestones that will eventually catch them up;

8. All goals should include a timeframe in which the goal will be accomplished. The maximum length of a goal should be no longer than one year to match the requirement to hold at least annual IEP meetings;

9. All goals should be realistic. A realistic goal is a goal that can be achieved with the implementation of a well thought-out IEP; and

10. When writing goals for a transition plan these goals should not be a repeat of other goals in the IEP but should be based the student’s interests and preferences based on 1) specific age-appropriate transition assessments and, 2) transitions services needed to assist the student in achieving their post-school outcomes.


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5 Responses to “Ten Steps to Writing Effective IEP Goals”

  1. Hi Dennise,

    I just wanted to let you know that I shared this blog with my student teachers. They are learning about IEPS and have so many questions.

    I asked them to write a response to it and they were unanimous in feeling that the blog was extremely useful and practical. One of them wants to use it a “cheat sheet” when she writes IEPs in the future.

    I am sending them the link to your site so they know they will have a place to find answers to their questions.

    Thanks Dennise.


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  2. I feel #3 (write a goal for every need) is literally impossible. Even if it were theoretically possible to identify every need, new ones creep up as additional skills are learned.

    3 should read, “Focus on 3-4 manageable goals for the year. Trust that your child’s teacher will be working on a whole host of skills with your child, but the IEP goals reflect key areas of greatest concern and attention.”

    I’ve had kids with 8 IEP goals. That means up to 24 objectives. So that’s 32 Progress Report entries every 4 weeks. Multiply by 8 kids and you see where this goes: 2,048 Progress Report entries over 9 months.

    And this doesn’t even address gathering and analyzing data on the goals.

    Do you want your child’s teacher planning meaningful, engaging, and relevant activities or do you want them running off worksheets for the aids so he/she can sit in the back of the room doing paperwork?

    The exception would be if you felt the teacher was not addressing enough of the child’s needs and has been unresponsive to constructive input.

    Brian Harris, M.Ed


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    • Hi Brian,

      I have to disagree. Needs drive goals in an IEP and Goals drive services. If you do not attempt to write goals for all areas of needs then the child will not receive all of the services they require. If the Teacher is overwhelmed then the School must provide additional support, otherwise the child will not receive FAPE (Free Approrpiate Public Education). While I sympathize with your plight as a Teacher your real gripe is with the School not providing you with adequate supports to implement the IEP correctly.

      I can tell you are very passionate about your job and if my son was in your class I would make sure the School provided you with the support you needed to implement the IEP even if that meant going to due process to get it. That doesn’t mean I don’t respect you as a Teacher it means the exact opposite. I am willing to go the extra mile needed to get you the extra help in the classroom.

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      • Doug,

        I’d actually have to disagree with you and partially agree with Brian. When we create an IEP the focus needs to be what can actually be manageable in a years time. This needs to be determined per student. One year I had a student who had about 8 areas of need and her IEP team felt like including 8 goals for this student would be manageable and she would be able to progress throughout the year. I also had a student who had about 15 areas of need. What we decided was to focus on the areas of greatest concern, ensuring that we developed goals that wouldn’t overwhelm him and that turned put to be 4 from the special education teacher and 2 from the SLP. Paperwork is the name of the game. It is expected in special education so trying not to write goals because of that alone isn’t right, however, drowning a student in 20-30 goals over the course of the year is unreasonable and could ultimately be setting the student up for failure. We look at the individual needs of the student and their ability levels. We want to set them up for success to hopefully accomplish their goals and add more as they continue to grow. I have received IEPs that had so many goals on them that you wonder if the child has had the opportunity to master any of them. In those cases we just do not adopt them and rewrite our own to better fit the student. These are just my thoughts on the matter. To each his own though.

        Karmen K., M.Ed

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Ten Steps to Writing Effective IEP Goals

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