IEP goals are the most important component of your child’s IEP and this is why.

Because Goals drive the frequency and duration of the related services, and the Goals and Services drive the Placement for your child. This is essentially what’s called “The IEP Development Process.”

So now it should make sense why the team argues with parents about writing “too many” IEP goals. If you have six Speech and Language goals, an IEP that offers 15 minutes twice a month of speech and language services would obviously be an inadequate frequency of services to meet the needs of that child.

This is also why it’s so important for you to understand that every area of deficit identified in an assessment requires a goal be written. So, the team’s argument about “writing too many IEP goals would overwhelm a child” is unlawful and is used to gaslight parents into feeling guilty about asking for too many goals.

Let’s begin with, “Who writes IEP goals?”

Although IDEA does not define this, it is typical protocol for each team member who oversees that discipline to author those particular IEP goals. For example, the Occupational Therapist writes the OT goals. The PT writes the PT goals. The classroom teacher writes the academic goals, and so on. And those goals are based on the areas of deficit scores in the most recent assessment and updated through informal assessments. But as with everything else in the IEP, IEP goals are a team decision.

As a member of the team, a parent can suggest IEP goals. You can submit your suggestions as part of your parent agenda and/or parent concerns statement. A great idea would be to contact each specific team member and discuss the draft goals prior to the IEP meeting.

What are Present Levels (aka Baselines)

Present Levels of Performance (PLOP) is where your child is functioning NOW. If your child just had assessments conducted, the team would use data and standardized test scores from evaluations to determine the baselines or starting point. If assessments are not recent, the goal author would conduct informal assessments, tests, or quizzes to determine the current PLOP.

What is an Annual Goal?

Goals should be Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time Limited.

This is called the SMART Goal Formula.

The Annual Goal is where you want your child to be in one year. Looking at the PLOP as a starting point or baseline, where should the student be in one year? Keep in mind, it should be a challenging goal in which you would expect the student to make at least one year progress.

According to your child’s areas of deficit, an Annual Goal should be written in an effort to bring your child up to grade level and address the area of weakness.

IEP Goal Formula

Here is a common formula for writing an Individualized Education Program (IEP) goal:

[Student’s name] will [specific, measurable action verb] [desired behavior or skill] [criteria for success] [timeframe].

For example:

  • John will read 100 words per minute with 95% accuracy by the end of the school year.
  • Sarah will increase her written expression skills by writing a 5-paragraph essay with a clear introduction, three supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion with no more than 3 spelling errors per paragraph by the end of the semester.
  • Ben will improve his social skills by initiating one conversation with a peer per day during lunchtime for 3 consecutive weeks.

What are IEP Objectives aka Benchmarks?

Goal Objectives are the steps or “benchmarks” the student is expected to meet while working toward meeting the annual goal.

Annual Goals are broken down into manageable chunks or Benchmarks to indicate the interim steps a child will take to reach an annual goal. They also serve as a measurement gauge to monitor a child’s progress and determine if the child is making sufficient progress towards attaining an annual goal.

The Benchmarks are expected to be met at the same timeframe as when report cards are due. The district is mandated to provide a “Progress on Goals Report” to parents during the time when report cards are issued. The Progress on Goals Report will indicate whether your child has met the benchmark for that time period.

If your child is not on track in meeting their goal benchmark or objective, there is a problem. I recommend you call an IEP meeting to have the team evaluate why your child is not meeting their goal objectives and determine why your child is not making adequate progress toward their annual goals.

Request the data and evidence to substantiate when the goal was worked on, and where your child is currently functioning in terms of that goal. This will be the discussion at the IEP meeting. The team should problem solve and come up with a plan to address a lack of progress. The team should determine if your child needs alternative strategies or teaching modalities to support your child in making appropriate progress and begin to see them meeting benchmarks.

Benchmarks are a tool that parents can use to hold the IEP team accountable to ensure your child makes progress. Benchmark Progress must be proven by data. It is not good enough to have a teacher or service provider give you their opinion that your child has met the benchmark. Progress must be substantiated with FACTS, which is data collection on benchmark progress toward the annual goals.

Now, some districts have eliminated benchmarks altogether. However, it’s very important for parents to understand that if your child takes an alternative standardized assessment, then benchmarks are a required component of the IEP.

Here is the exact wording about goals and objectives from IDEA.

Sec. 300.320 (a)

(a) General. As used in this part, the term individualized education program or IEP means a written statement for each child with a disability that is developed, reviewed, and revised in a meeting in accordance with §§300.320 through 300.324, and that must include—

(1) A statement of the child’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance, including— (i) How the child’s disability affects the child’s involvement and progress in the general education curriculum (i.e., the same curriculum as for nondisabled children); or (ii) For preschool children, as appropriate, how the disability affects the child’s participation in appropriate activities;

(2) (i) 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; (ii) For children with disabilities who take alternate assessments aligned to alternate academic achievement standards, a description of benchmarks or short-term objectives;

(3) A description of — (i) How the child’s progress toward meeting the annual goals described in paragraph (2) of this section will be measured; and (ii) When periodic reports on the progress the child is making toward meeting the annual goals (such as through the use of quarterly or other periodic reports, concurrent with the issuance of report cards) will be provided;

How to Write IEP Goal Objectives

To write objectives for IEP goals, you can follow these steps:

  1. Start with the goal: Review the IEP goal that you want to write objectives for. Make sure that the goal is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
  2. Break down the goal: Identify the specific skills or behaviors that the student needs to demonstrate to achieve the goal. For example, if the goal is to improve reading fluency, the skills or behaviors might include reading at a certain speed, accurately decoding words, or reading with expression.
  3. Identify the criteria for success: Determine how you will measure the student’s progress towards the goal. This might include specific benchmarks or assessments that will be used to evaluate the student’s performance.
  4. Write the objectives: Use the information from steps 2 and 3 to write one or more objectives that will help the student work towards the goal. Each objective should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. You can use the same formula as for the goal, but with a focus on the specific skill or behavior that the objective addresses.

Examples of IEP Objectives

Here is one IEP goal, with objectives listed below it. This is just to give you an example of how objectives and benchmarks help a child toward the goal.

IEP Annual Goal Example: The Student will develop social understanding skills by tolerating change, learning to wait, turn taking, sharing, and cooperative play.

Objectives to support that IEP Annual Goal:

  • _____ will raise their hand and wait to be called on before talking aloud in group settings 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____will work cooperatively with peers in small group settings (i.e., Share materials, allow peers to share different thoughts) 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____ will develop an understanding of the relationship between his/her verbalizations and actions/effect on others 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____ will engage in cooperative social play interactions by allowing others to make changes or alter the play routine 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____ will engage in appropriate turn-taking skills by attending to peer’s turn and waiting for own turn 4/5 opportunities to do so.

The best advice I can offer you is to let the experts write the goals for you! As a parent who is not an educator, you should not be responsible to write your child’s goals. However, when parents are not aware of what a goal should look like or know the requirements placed upon the IEP team to write measurable, specific, and time sensitive goals, you could end up with a very ineffective IEP.

So, what do I mean by “let the experts do the work for you?” I mean obtain an IEE by a reputable experienced IEE provider. A comprehensive IEE report will include every goal and objective that is necessary and appropriate to address your child’s areas of deficit as determined by the standardized test scores in the IEE.

I have had IEE providers write upwards of sixteen goal recommendations included in their report. Remember, a reputable and experienced IEE provider is a person who does not work for the school district, and therefore, has no interest in being biased with school district agendas. A comprehensive, accurate, and honest IEE can be the most powerful thing a parent can do in the development of an appropriate IEP for their child.

99% of the time, a district assessment will not include recommendations for goals. In a district assessment, you’ll most likely see this comment ~ “Goals and services will be determined by the IEP team.” And that means the burden of making sure your child has SMART IEP goals is placed on YOU.

So, if you want to ensure your child has the most relevant, appropriate, SMART Goals included in the IEP, obtain an IEE by the best IEE provider in your area. To learn more about the IEE, go to this article:

Remember, I provide advocacy consultation services that include a comprehensive overview of your child’s entire IEP, which includes goals as well as interpretation of the district assessments and IEE reports. This is the foundation to building the IEP that your child needs to actually begin to make educational progress and start learning at school!

If you haven’t joined our Private Special Education Parent Empowerment Facebook Group yet, you should check it out here.

Here’s what parents are saying about the group:

“Please keep blowing the whistle Valerie! So many children are being deprived of an education because of all the corruption and lies being told to parents. We pay our taxes like everyone else, which can be interpreted as our children have the same rights as any other child.” ~ Maria

Valerie Aprahamian is a special education advocate, IEP strategist, and speaker. She speaks on behalf of parents to protect the rights of neurodiverse children to receive the supports they need in public school.

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