What is included in the IEP document?
Page 7: Challenging, Ambitious, Measurable Annual Goals
Develop challenging, ambitious, and measurable annual IEP goals, based on the identified educational needs of the student.
The second required component of an IEP is the measurable annual goals section. The academic and/or functional goals described in this section are intended to meet a student’s disability related needs that enable her to be involved in and make progress in (a) the general education curriculum (e.g., achieve grade-level mathematics skills) and (b) other education-related areas that arise from the student’s disability (e.g., improve articulation, increase socially appropriate behaviors). Measurable annual goals describe what the student is reasonably expected to accomplish in a 12-month period, when provided with appropriate special education services. Each measurable annual goal should:
- Address academic and/or functional needs identified in a PLAAFP statement
- Be guided by grade-level content standards and therefore tied to participation in the general education curriculum
- Include benchmarks or short-term objectives (for students taking alternate assessments aligned to alternate achievement standards)
- Help IEP team members determine whether a student is making educational progress and whether the special education program is providing meaningful educational benefit
- Lead to a corresponding special education service
Developing Measurable Annual Goals
To begin the process of writing measurable annual goals, the IEP team should:
- Start with the academic and functional needs identified in the PLAAFP statements
- Identify any relevant state academic standards for the student’s grade
- Discuss what the student should be able to achieve during the next 12 months
Once this is done, the team is ready to design annual goals that will help close the gap between the student’s current skill levels and the expected academic and/or functional performance levels. Each goal has four elements: a target behavior, the conditions under which the target behavior will be exhibited and measured, the criterion for acceptable performance, and the timeframe within which the student will meet the criterion. To develop each element, the team members can ask guiding questions that will help them narrow down the information that should be documented in each goal. The table below outlines sample guiding questions for each element and offers tips for writing measurable annual goals.
The academic or functional skill to be changed
|What skill does the student need to demonstrate?
Do: Use active terminology to describe the target behavior.
Don’t: Use vague or passive terms that can be open to interpretation.
The context or environment in which the target behavior is to be exhibited and measured; may reference the measurement tool
|In what context does the student need to demonstrate that skill?
Do: Use clear, specific language to describe the condition under which the target behavior will be performed.
Don’t: Use overly broad language or omit the condition entirely.
Criterion for Acceptable Performance
The level of performance at which the IEP team members can determine that a student has achieved the goal
|How will we know the student has achieved the goal?
Do: Establish specific, measurable, and realistic—but challenging—performance criteria.
Don’t: Establish performance criteria that reflect subjective opinions.
The period within which the student can be expected to meet the performance criteria
|By when can the student be expected to achieve the goal?
Do: Establish a specific and realistic timeframe.
Don’t: Omit the timeframe or establish an unrealistic timeframe (e.g., too long, too short).
To help develop well-written, measurable goals, IEP teams may consider using the acronym SMART. These characteristics, when applied to the four goal elements above, can support IEP team members in the goal-development process. Learn more about SMART in the box below.
Clearly stated descriptions of each goal element: the conditions, the academic or functional skill, the criterion for success, and the timeframe within which the criterion should be met
Quantifiable by a defined standard that can be observed in some way, particularly so that any amount of change can subsequently be identified and/or evaluated
Involving actions that are clearly observable (e.g., “Write a five-sentence paragraph.”) rather than implied (e.g., “Improve your writing.”)
Practical but ambitious and challenging and based on relevant information (e.g., evaluation results, previous rates-of-growth, the student’s unique circumstances, IEP team members’ professional judgment)
Involves a specified timeframe within which the skill is anticipated to be mastered
Note: There are multiple versions of SMART in which the letters stand for different terms (e.g., ambitious for ‘A’ or relevant for ‘R’). The primary factor to consider when using any of them is to determine whether they will help develop better IEP goals.
The IEP team should keep in mind that these goals should be written in brief, specific, and clear language that can be easily understood by all members of the IEP team. Keeping the SMART acronym in mind, the goal below was written for K, the student from the previous page, based on his PLAAFP statement.
|Given a third-grade level reading passage,
|K will read aloud
|at a rate of 115 words correct per minute (wpm)
|by the end of the school year.
The next two goals were written for a different student whose IEP included PLAAFP statements with identified needs in the areas of mathematics calculation (double-digit multiplication) and initiating appropriate peer interactions.
|When given a sheet of 20 double-digit multiplication problems,
|J will calculate the problems
|with at least 85% accuracy on 3 consecutive weekly progress monitoring probes
|by the end of the first 9-week period.
|During the 20-minute morning recess,
|J will initiate a positive peer-to-peer interaction
|at least once per recess, 3 out of 5 days, for 4 consecutive weeks, as deemed appropriate using a 3-point rubric
|by the end of October.
Note: The order in which the goal elements are written depends on the information laid out in the overall goal. For example, the timeframe may be placed prior to the condition in some instances and after the performance criterion in others.
In the interview below, Mitch Yell provides some insight into the need for measurable annual goals. Although IEP teams have always been required to develop and include annual goals in students’ IEPs, Congress changed this requirement to measurable annual goals in the 1997 reauthorization of IDEA. The distinction is important because it is difficult, if not impossible, to show student growth if goals are not measurable (time 1:05).
Mitchell Yell, PhD
Fred and Francis Lester Palmetto Chair in Teacher Education
Professor, Special Education
University of South Carolina
Keep in Mind
In addition to measurable annual goals, IEPs must also include a statement of how a student’s progress toward meeting these goals will be measured and reported. For example, progress may be reported quarterly, concurrent with the issuance of report cards, to inform a student’s parents of her progress toward meeting the annual goals. This will be discussed in more detail on Page 9.
Endrew Implications for Developing Ambitious and Challenging Annual Goals
Although IDEA requires IEP goals to be measurable, courts have ruled that they must also be ambitious and challenging. Goals that contain all four elements—target behavior, condition, performance criterion, and timeframe—may be considered “complete” in a technical sense, but those that are also ambitious and challenging are more likely to meet the Endrew substantive standard. IEP teams should have high expectations for the student and create goals that are ambitious and challenging enough for her to make meaningful progress. Additionally, goals should be realistic, based on the team’s knowledge of the student’s unique circumstances.
Legislation and Litigation
A U.S. District Court found that the IEP goals in reading and math for Shannon Carter were so unambitious that they…
ensured her program’s inadequacy from inception.
[The] educational program [for a child with a disability] must be appropriately ambitious in light of [a child’s] circumstances, just as advancement from grade to grade is appropriately ambitious for most children in the regular classroom. The goals may differ, but every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.”
In Carter v. Florence County School District Four (see box above), 9th-grade student Shannon Carter’s reading scores were four to five years below grade level. Her IEP team developed annual reading goals that called for growth of only four months, which the court found to be “wholly inadequate. … Because much more progress was necessary in order to provide Shannon an appropriate education” (Carter v. Florence County School District Four, 1991, p. 454). Goals that are not ambitious and challenging may be readily achieved but do not result in meaningful progress for the student. Such goals may render the IEP inappropriate. Shannon’s goals were so unambitious that the district court judge found that she was denied an appropriate education.
The Endrew decision recognizes that teams should have high expectations for the progress of a student and should craft challenging and ambitious IEP goals. However, goals should not be so ambitious that there is little chance that a student will actually achieve them. For example, because Shannon was reading four to five years below grade level, it would not have been realistic to expect her to be reading at grade level by the end of the year. Therefore, the team must draw on current data and their collective expertise to create a goal that strikes a balance between being ambitious and challenging and being realistic.
For Your Information
A student’s goals must be targeted toward meeting her individual needs or circumstances. With this in mind, IEP team members should understand that:
- Using stock or prewritten goals that are not individualized does not meet the requirements of IDEA.
- For students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who take alternate assessments, IEP goals should be aligned with the state’s grade-level content standards. However, it is essential that IEP teams also consider the individual needs of the student when developing the annual goals.
Remember that the annual goals are meant to guide instruction for the next 12 months. In this interview, Tamara McLean discusses some considerations regarding annual goal development and updates (time: 0:57).
Exceptional Education Teacher
This toolbox describes additional resources related to the information presented on this page. These resources are provided for informational purposes only for those who wish to learn more about the topic(s). It is not necessary for those working through this module to read or refer to all of these additional resources to understand the content.
High Expectations and Appropriate Supports: The Importance of IEPs