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How to Write SMART IEP Goals

A major task for special education teachers is writing Individualized Education Programs, or IEPs.  A major part of the IEP is the statement of annual IEP goals and objectives. 

We can think of the goal as being the destination that you want your special education student to get to by the end of a year. The services that you put into place support the goals that have been set a student with a disability.

Creating a quality goal with scaffolded objectives can take a lot of time and effort. So I want to show you one way in which you can break down this process into a series of manageable steps.  

Start with IEP Law

Before we dive into how exactly to go about writing goals and objectives, first let’s look at how IEP goals are defined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act:

(II) a statement of measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals, designed to–

(aa) 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

(bb) meet each of the child’s other educational needs that result from the child’s disability

Examine Content Standards

When creating academic goals for students with disabilities, it is important to ground the goals in the grade level content standards. This provides students with access to grade level curriculum as stated above.  

For many districts who are working with the Common Core State Standards, it is important to base grade level goals on how students are functioning within relation to these grade level content standards. 

Now let’s go through the process of writing SMART IEP goals:

Step 1. Identify the Standards that Meet the Student’s Needs

The first step in this process involves identifying the standard(s) that should be addressed.  You can start by identifying the grade level standards for the student. Standards have already broken out by grade level and have been organized by domain within this document.

By reviewing the student’s Present Levels, you can determine which standards the student may have the most difficulty with. Additional data sources should be used to select standards for student goals.

Teachers should then prioritize the standards based on those that would have the greatest impact on the student’s progress towards grade level.   For math, one consideration could be around the mathematics content at the student’s current grade level.

Major content in mathematics is considered the major work for the grade level. These are the areas in which general and special education teachers will need to spend most of their time throughout the year.  

Special educators can choose to focus on these areas when creating IEP goals. These are areas that will come up a lot during day-to-day instruction. To learn more about major content in math visit Achieve the Core for information. 

Step 2. Set Performance Target

The next step would be to set the performance target. You can utilized the Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance in order to determine the baseline performance, historical rate of growth/progress, accommodations, and necessary supports needed to make the grade level content accessible for the student.

By deconstructing the standard and determining which components will promote student success, an individualized performance target can then be set.  

For example, in math, you may want to see a student demonstrate success through completion of a teacher generated worksheet with 80% accuracy over the course of 4 to 5 trials.

Step 3. Develop a SMART IEP Goal.

Special education teachers should ensure that they are keeping in mind what the acronym SMART stands for when developing goals:

S – Specific: The goal is focused by content (i.e. the standards) and the learner’s individual needs.

M – Measurable: Performance target is clearly stated and an appropriate measure is selected to assess the goal.

A – Attainable: Based on the student profile, it is determined that they have the ability to meet the performance target.

R – Relevant: Relevant to the individual student’s needs.

T – Time-bound: The goal is achievable within the time frame of the IEP.

Step 4. Develop SMART Objectives aligned to the selected IEP Goal.

There are three ways in which you can develop scaffolded objectives:

  1. Sequential benchmarks that demonstrate increasing fluency, independence, or accuracy
  2. Components of the goal
  3. Prerequisite skills

I prefer to develop objectives utilizing specific skills or components of the grade level, standards-based goal.  I find that by breaking down the content into workable chunks, I can develop lessons over a period of time that builds up to a grade level standard.  

When reviewing general education curriculum, one can see that teachers are rarely tasked with tackling an entire standard within one lesson. To expect a special education student to tackle an entire standard in one goal or objective is also pretty unrealistic.   

At times, it may be necessary to create scaffolded objectives to provide students with prerequisite skills from the current or previous grade levels.  The data may indicate that many of your students need the standards deconstructed in this way. This helps the student meet the grade level goal that was developed.

When following the steps listed above, I created the following IEP goal for a third grade student:

By____ when given a teacher generated problem set, manipulatives, and a prompt, Student will interpret whole number quotients of whole numbers by drawing a picture and describing a context that indicates the partitioning of a total number objects into equal shares as measured by 80% accuracy on at least 4 out of 5 trials.

When really unpacking the standard and digging into the content, I decided that I would create four scaffolded objectives that would support the student in meeting their grade level goal:

By____ when given a teacher generated problem set, manipulatives, and a prompt, Student will interpret whole number quotients of whole numbers by drawing a picture and describing a context that indicates the partitioning of a total number objects into equal shares as measured by 80% accuracy on at least 4 out of 5 trials.

By____, when given a teacher generated problem set and a prompt, Student will interpret whole-number quotients as the number of objects in each group when partitioned into equal groups by drawing a picture and providing an explanation with 80% accuracy on at least 4 out of 5 trials.

By_____, when given a teacher generated problem set, manipulatives, and a prompt, Student will represent a situation with a division expression with 80% accuracy on at least 4 out of 5 trials.

By ____, when given a teacher generated problem set, manipulatives, and a prompt, Student will represent a division expression with a situation by drawing a picture and providing an explanation with 80% accuracy on at least 4 out of 5 trials.

When I really think about the deconstructed standard and review student weaknesses,  I may find that instead of breaking this standard out by the grade level content covered, I may need to include another goal that supports prerequisite skills that I will address prior to going into this standard. 

When considering the example above, we ask, “is the student ready for division even with the supports included in the goals and objectives? Would it make more sense to attack addition, subtraction, and multiplication first?”  

This is where the individualization comes into play and where you really have to be strategic in how you write the annual goal.   Every IEP goal should be specific to the individual, but it helps to have a process to follow to make creating these goals a bit easier.

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