5 Questions to Ask Before You Write IEP Goals

Ask the Right Questions from the Start

5 Questions to Ask Before You Write IEP Goals

IEP Implementation6/18/2024

IEP (Individualized Education Program) goals are more than just plans; they guide students’ learning journeys and serve as benchmarks for progress.

Special education teachers, school-based therapists, and other stakeholders in the IEP team may sometimes find it difficult to create IEP goals that truly make a meaningful impact.

Yes, you’d expect the IEP goals for any special needs student to be specific, measurable, attainable, results-oriented, and time-bound (SMART).

However, to create IEP goals that drive progress and inspire growth, you need a deep understanding of the student's unique strengths, needs, and potential. You need to ask the right questions.

1. What Are the Student's Current Strengths and Needs?

Start with a fundamental question. What are the student’s current strengths and needs? Understanding where a student stands is the foundation of any effective IEP goal. This involves thoroughly assessing the student's strengths, weaknesses, and specific needs.

  • Strengths: Ask, "In which areas does the student excel?" Identifying these strengths can help leverage them to support areas of need.
  • Needs: Ask, "In which specific areas does the student struggle?" These could be academic, social, emotional, or behavioral challenges. Understanding these needs helps us tailor goals that address these specific areas effectively.

Here’s a concrete example:

Let’s say we have a student who excels in visual learning but struggles with reading comprehension. In this case, we would design goals that incorporate visual aids to enhance reading skills. This way, we’re not just focusing on the student’s weaknesses but also utilizing their strengths to support their development.

2. What Are the Long-Term Educational and Functional Outcomes?

IEP goals should go beyond just short-term objectives; they should contribute to the student's long-term success. This involves considering both educational and functional outcomes.

  • Educational Outcomes: We ask, “What academic skills does the student need to develop to progress in their education?" These might include skills like reading, writing, or math proficiency.
  • Functional Outcomes: We ask, “How do these goals support students' ability to function independently in everyday life?” Consider how the target skills will help the student handle daily activities, social interactions, and future employment.

Here’s an example to illustrate this:

Let’s say the long-term goal is for the student to read independently. To achieve this, short-term goals might focus on building vocabulary and comprehension skills.

These incremental steps not only help in reaching the academic milestone but also support the student’s overall ability to function more independently in their daily life.

3. How Will Progress Be Measured?

Why is it so important to establish how progress will be measured? A goal without a clear measurement plan is challenging to track and evaluate. Therefore, you need to  establish how progress will be measured to ensure that goals are being met.

  • Measurement Methods: Will progress be tracked through quizzes, observations, standardized tests, or other means?
  • Frequency: How often will progress be assessed? Regular monitoring of IEP data ensures that any necessary adjustments can be made promptly.

Here’s a quick example:

Let’s say the goal is to improve math skills. This could be measured through weekly quizzes and monthly standardized tests. These assessments provide ongoing feedback and help track the student's progress over time.

4. Are the IEP Goals Really SMART?

SMART goals are a framework that ensures goals are clear and achievable. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-oriented, and Time-bound.

This structure helps create goals that are well-defined and practical.

Let’s break that down a bit.

  • Specific: Is the goal clear and specific? A specific goal is clear and detailed; it leaves no room for ambiguity. It answers the questions of what needs to be achieved and how it will be done.
  • Measurable: Can the progress be measured? You need criteria to evaluate whether the goal is being met, which helps in assessing success and making adjustments if necessary.
  • Attainable: Is the goal realistic for the student to achieve? Given their current abilities and resources, the IEP goal should challenge the student, but also be within their reach.
  • Results-oriented: Does the goal focus on the desired outcome?  This aspect of IEP goals emphasizes the end-result rather than the process; it means you need to align the IEP goal with the broader SpEd objectives for the student.
  • Time-bound: Is there a clear timeframe for achieving the goal? Time-bound goals have a clear timeframe for achievement. This creates a sense of urgency and helps in planning and monitoring progress effectively.

Let’s take an example to understand it better.

Instead of a broad goal like "improve reading," let’s make it SMART.

For example, "Demp, a 5th grader, will enhance his reading comprehension by achieving 80% accuracy on grade-level passages by the end of the semester." This goal is specific, measurable, attainable, results-oriented, and time-bound, making it much more effective and actionable.

5. How Will the Goals Be Achieved?

Identify the strategies and supports needed to achieve the IEP goals you are writing for a special needs student. You need to specify the resources, interventions, accommodations, and modifications necessary for success.

  • Strategies: What instructional strategies will you use? Strategies refer to the instructional methods and techniques that will be used to help the student achieve their goals. This might include specific teaching approaches, the use of technology, or differentiated instruction tailored to the student's learning style.
  • Supports: What additional supports, such as speech therapy or tutoring, are needed?
  • Accommodations: What accommodations, like extended time on tests or preferential seating, will help the student succeed?

Here’s an example to illustrate this process:

Let’s say a student needs help with writing. In this case, effective strategies might include using graphic organizers to help them structure their thoughts and providing support from a writing specialist. Additionally, accommodations such as allowing extra time for written assignments and using word processing software can help the student succeed. These strategies and supports work together to ensure the student can achieve IEP goals focused on improving writing skills.

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