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Writing Goals (and maybe Objectives)

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The KISS* Method
*Keep It Simple, Sweetie!

Finally, it’s time to start writing goals for your child’s upcoming educational year.  The most important part of the ARD, right?  Well, it’s certainly a very important part.  Let’s make this is painless as possible, which means you’ll need to:

*Keep It Simple, Sweetie!


At this point in the ARD meeting, you have reviewed your child’s PLAAFP and everyone is clear about what your child can do and where he needs help.  You and your fellow ARD committee members are ready to decide what reasonable goals should be set for your child to achieve in the next school year.  Because IDEA 2004 and No Child Left Behind have made it clear that your child (regardless of disability!) is expected to be involved in and progressing in the general education curriculum (TEKS), it’s important to focus on goals that address academic achievement, as well as functional goals.

With the 2004 reauthorization of IDEA, ARD committees are required to include broad goals in a student’s IEP, but they are no longer required to include short-term objectives.   What’s the difference?  Simply put, a goal is a target your child’s learning will aim for in a school year.  Objectives are shorter-term “benchmark” or “milestones” that can be used to measure a child’s progress toward that bigger target, the goal.  While an IEP doesn’t have to include objectives, the parent may request that short-term objectives be included within the broader goal to help keep track of how the child is progressing toward that bigger target.

 NOTE:  If a student will take an alternate statewide assessment based on alternate achievement standards (STAAR Alternate 2), then their IEP must have annual goals that include short-term objectives or benchmarks.

Avoid Common Pitfalls – Some Key Pointers

  • IEP goals should be written as a team – and you are a part of that team.  If your ARD committee presents IEP goals that were developed without your input, ask for time to review those and compare those to your own ideas.  Consider requesting an ARD Planning Conference or Pre-ARD meeting to participate in the development of goals.  (For more information on Pre-ARD meetings, see Special Ed. Process - Step By Step.)  See yourself as a member of a team, and conduct yourself that way.    Make every attempt to connect with the other members of your team and find common ground.
  • The “I” in IEP stands for “Individualized”.  Make sure your child’s is just that.  IEP goals should not be automatically produced for an entire group of students.  It shouldn’t be a computer generated piece of paper that doesn’t properly take your child’s individuality into account.   Many schools use computer programs as a time-saving convenience, and there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as it can be tailored to the needs of your individual child.  Your participation in IEP development can help ensure that it is.
  • Your child’s IEP goals must include goals of academic achievement.  It’s easy to allow IEP goals to focus only on functional skills (skills required for independent living) rather than academic ones, especially for children whose disabilities seem to preclude them from the academic achievements of their peers.  That’s a mistake.  IDEA 2004 and No Child Left Behind require all children to participate in some form of annual statewide testing on academic achievement, regardless of disability.  Make sure the IEP goals you write address academic achievement.  Remember the TEKS?
  • The school and IEP goals are not a substitute for good parenting.  The things you would teach your child at home - if there were no disability - are the same things you should teach your child - at home - in spite of the disability.  When you handle the functional skills you can at home, you free the school up to address those critically important academic skills.   If you aren’t sure how to do that, ask for help.  In-home training is available through the ARD for students with autism.  Your child’s teachers, therapists and other specialists may be able to provide ideas, information, and referrals for more help.
  • IEP goals should be age-appropriate.  Tying shoes is a goal for nearly every child in the first grade.  In the eighth grade, however, it’s not so cool.  Find Velcro or slip-on shoes, but be cautious about writing shoe tying into the IEP as a goal if it’s not age appropriate.  The same goes for other types of functional skills such as toileting, dressing, buttoning a button, zipping a zipper, etc..
  • The IEP drives the student’s placement.  In other words, the goals written into the IEP will determine where your child goes to meet those goals.  Goals that are strictly functional in nature, or that are several grade levels below the child’s age appropriate grade may lead to a more separate, segregated kind of educational placement, such as a self-contained or life-skills type of setting.  To many parents, that might seem like a good thing, but we encourage you to consider the long-range impact of specialized and segregated settings.  IEPs that include age appropriate academic goals are more likely to lead to placements in the regular education classroom.  Read more about placement and check out this easy planning matrix.
  • The IEP is not a laundry list of wants and needs.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of writing goals for everything you want to see happen for your child.  However, there is only so much time in a day.  Don’t dilute the teacher’s efforts by writing too many goals than cannot be effectively met in a school day and year.  Prioritize your child’s needs and focus on the big things that will make a difference in your child’s life.
  • Avoid vague goals that go nowhere.  Write SMART goals!  Wrightslaw does a great job of breaking down the process of writing IEP goals.  Goals must be Specific, Measurable, use Action words, beRelevant & Realistic and Time-limited. 

The Litmus Test for IEP Goals & Objectives:
Ask yourself these questions about each goal or objective.  If you can answer “yes”, then write it in the IEP.  If no, strike it or rewrite it!
            1.  Does it make a meaningful difference in my child’s and/or family’s life?
            2.  Does it allow my child to participate more fully where she is?
            3.  Does it allow my child to participate in new environments?

What Parents Need to Know

You don’t have to be a certified special educator to write good IEP goals.  Figure out what your child needs to work on and write a set of goals that address those needs. 
Try this:  Imagine that it is one year later and you are reflecting on the year.  You say to yourself, “Wow, it’s been a really great year for _________(your child’s name).  He accomplished _______, she was able to do ________, he enjoyed ________.”   
Picture in your mind what happened to make it such a great year.  Be specific!  Dream big!  Now make a list of what happened in your imaginary great year.  Your list is a starting place for your IEP goals.    Share your ideas with your school professionals and collaborate to write IEPs that lead to a meaningful school year.

 OK, Let’s Write Some Goals!  A Step-by-Step Approach

  • Identify the skills you believe should be a priority for the upcoming school year.  Use the imagining exercise above to make that list.
  • Determine your child’s PLAAFP and write a present level statement for each skill listed. 

Using what you’d like to see your child achieve and what you know he/she can do right now, write a goal for each skill listed.  With thanks to Wrightslaw, make sure the goals you write are:

    • Specific:  Exactly what will your child be expected to do by the end of the year?
    • Measurable:  Can you measure your child’s progress?  Can it be counted or observed? Do you know what the target is?
    • Action words:  Describe what your child will do.  For example, “my child will spell…”, “my child will read…”, “my child will add 2-digit numbers…”, “my child will match…”, etc..  Avoid passive language like “my child will be able to…”
    • Realistic & Relevant:  Can this goal be accomplished in a year (realistic)?  Will it make a difference in your child and your family’s life (relevant)?
    • Time-limited:  You want to avoid goals that end up being repeated year after year because they are too broad or too difficult to achieve in a school year.  You also want to avoid “setting the bar” too low for your child and wasting valuable time in a school year.  If a goal is accomplished, reconvene the ARD committee and write a new, higher goal!

Check your skills!  What’s wrong with these goals?

  • Billie will pass all of his classes.
  • With modifications and assistance, John will continue to progress with basic skill activities in general ed. classes and improve performance with problem solving activities in math, science, and social studies.
  • Christopher will increase reading and writing skills by one year.
  • Debbie will decrease her anger and her violation of school rules.

What’s wrong with these goals?  Applying the SMART standards, each of these goals is missing something.

 Now that you’ve got Goals, let’s think about Objectives…
A goal is a long-term target, something your child will shoot for over the course of a school year.  Long-term goals are easier to achieve when you have smaller, short-term objectives that let you know you are making progress toward your goal. 
Look at the TEKS (this link will take you to TEA’s TEKS site) for your child’s grade level Use the age appropriate grade level, not the level at which he/she is functioning.   Look at the intent of each standard (another good place to look is the Curriculum framework).  What is the student supposed to know/be able to do within that academic year?  You can use the TEKS standards as a starting place for writing objectives. 
Another resource are the Essence Statements.  Each knowledge and skills statement has been summarized into an “essence statement” that serves as a link to the grade-level TEKS.  Again, these statements and the TEKS alone are not measurable, but they are good starting places for writing IEP goals.
You can write 1-2 objectives for each goal.  Your objectives should provide the smaller steps that your child will take to get to that annual goal.  Objectives should meet the same criteria as goals – they should be Specific, Measurable, use Action words, be Relevant and Realistic, and be Time-specific.
Look at these 2 charts to see examples of written measurable goals (chart 1), followed by written measurable short-term objectives (chart 2).

Chart 1:  Measurable Goals: 
(With thanks to ESC 20’s Access to General Ed Curriculum – TEKS Based IEP Development Q&A)

(time limit)




In 36 instructional weeks

Using decoding skills and oral practice within a 3rd grade passage

Joseph, a 3rd grade student, will read

70 words per minute with fewer than 10 errors

By May 15, 2009

Given a 4th grade story prompt and 30 minutes to write

Linda, a 4th grade student, will write

A three paragraph essay using transition words in sentences and between paragraphs with 5 or less errors

By the end of the 2008-2009 school year

Given mixed fraction problems using all operations

Jose, a 7th grade student, will solve

85% of all assigned problems correctly

Chart 2:  Measurable short-term objectives that lead to the goals in Chart 1:

(with thanks to ESC 20’s Access to General Ed Curriculum - TEKS Based IEP Development Q&A)





By the end of the first 6 weeks

Using decodable texts

Joseph, a 3rd grade student, will read and pronounce 50 frequently used words

With 10 or fewer errors

In three instructional weeks

With guided practice

Linda, a 4th grade student, will correctly use transition words to connect simple and compound sentences

With 75% accuracy

By October 1

Using prompts that decrease the assistance provided (most-to-least prompting) and through repetitive practice

Jose, a 6th grade student, will identify 20 fractions that represent more than a whole number on a worksheet in 3 minutes or less

With 100% accuracy

You’ve got your goals and objectives, and they are SMART!  Now the ARD committee will need to decide:

Next Steps:

Go Back to:

Note:  A special thank you to Charlene Comstock-Galagan for sharing much of her knowledge with us to develop this article. 


TEA's Guide to the ARD process

Access to The General Curriculum (ESC 20) has developed a number of materials:

    • Standards-Based IEP Development Q&A
    • AGC training modules (we think the TEKS-based Instruction module & Accommodations module under the elementary link are good). 

The Legal Framework for the Child-Centered Special Education Process

U.S. Dept. of Education's Guide to the IEP

National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) – All About the IEP

National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabiltiies (NICHCY) – Building the Legacy:  A Training Curriculum on IDEA 2004 – Theme D: Modules 12-14

WrightsLaw Game Plan:  Writing SMART IEPs

IEP Goals – The Basicsfrom GreatSchools.net URL:   

Revolutionary Common Sense Articles used with permission of Kathie Snow, Disability Is Natural:



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