How to Read an IEP: Goals

The Goals section of the IEP charts where the team anticipates the student should be on their educational journey in one year’s time.  Each IEP goal states a desired measurable achievement for the student to accomplish within the upcoming calendar year with the assistance of the educational team.

When you are reviewing your child’s individual goals, consider whether it meets the following “SMART” criteria:

Is the goal SpecificThe goal should be written in a way that clearly informs the reader what the student will do (desired outcome), where they will do it (setting/context), when they will do it (date), how they will do it (supports), and how we will know they are doing it (method of progress monitoring).  A common “formula” for writing a goal is:

By [DATE]. Student will [DESIRED OUTCOME] in [SETTING/CONTEXT] with [SUPPORTS] as measured by [METHOD OF PROGRESS MONITORING] increasing/decreasing from a baseline of [PRESENT LEVEL OF ACHIEVEMENT].

Is the goal MeasurableAn observer should be able to validly and reliably “measure” the student’s progress toward the desired outcome. To start, the goal needs to show the child’s starting point or “baseline” with respect to each desired outcome reflected by their present level of academic and functional achievement. Then, using objective criteria, an observer must record data that can be used to quantify the student’s rate of improvement. Examples of methodology for measuring progress include curriculum-based assessments, rating scales, rubrics, or structured observation.

Is the goal Appropriately AmbitiousThe Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Endrew F.: “goals may differ, but every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.” Accordingly, the desired outcome of IEP goals must be “appropriately ambitious” in light of the child’s circumstances. Goals should not aim so low that the student is essentially “sitting idly” waiting to either drop out or age out of the public education system. If a student does not achieve or make progress toward their annual goals, the appropriate response is to increase and/or modify the supports and instruction that the student receives; not to set a lower bar.

Is the goal RelevantThe desired outcome of the annual goal should advance the student on their journey to meet their long-term goal of post-secondary success.  The IDEA establishes two intended purposes for IEP goals: (1) to meet the child’s needs that result from their disability to enable them to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum; and (2) to meet each of the child’s other educational needs that result from the child’s disability. Generally, if there is an identified area of need, there should be a corresponding academic or functional goal.

Is the goal Time-Bound â€“ Typically, IEP goals are written to be accomplished within one calendar year. Progress, however, should be monitored and reported much more frequently. For students with disabilities who take alternative assessments (e.g. PASA), goals also must include short-term objectives or benchmarks for the student to achieve leading up to the final IEP goal.

When reviewing your child’s “Goals” section of the IEP, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you understand what the desired outcome is?
  • Do you understand the specific supports in place that will help your child achieve the desired outcome?
  • How will your child’s progress toward the goal be measured?
  • Is the child’s baseline (i.e. present level of achievement) of the goal specified?
  • Is the goal ambitious yet attainable?
  • Do you think it’s important that your child develops this skill?
  • Have the goals changed from the prior IEP? If not, what has changed in this IEP to support your child to achieve the goal this year?
  • Is there a goal for each of the identified areas of development?
  • Is there a goal for each related service that is being provided?
  • If your child is over 14, are goals for post-secondary education, employment, and independent living included?

By Jennifer Grobe, Esq.

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