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Any parent, teacher, counselor, educator, or school aid that deals with special needs children on a regular basis knows what the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) is and the impact it has on children with learning and developmental delays and disabilities. But what goes into the process of developing a tailored IEP for each individual student?
Writing IEP goals correctly is vital to a special education student’s success in school and later in life. The goals set out in their IEP are often encompassed in a very large document that includes areas a student needs specialized help and guidance through.
It can include topics such as reading, math, communications, following directions, social interaction, behavioral goals, and much more. The IEP goals work as a roadmap for ensuring the unique educational needs of each special education student are met.
Children with a range of issues, such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), communication delays, physical disabilities, and other exceptional circumstances that cause them to have difficulty in school, may need extra support. The IEP is something allowed and required by law for students who qualify.
As Healthline experts explain, “The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act are two federal regulations to help special-needs students get the support they need. Under IDEA, schools are required to develop an individualized education plan (IEP) for eligible students with disabilities.”
So, here is where SMART goals IEP considerations come into play. But what impact do they have on a special needs child’s educational experience? Let’s find out!
What Are SMART Goals?
All IEP plans should follow the standard SMART goal format guidelines. This acronym stands for specific, measurable, achievable, results-oriented, and time-bound.
A SMART IEP goal needs to be specifically targeted for that individual student… something that can easily be measured and recorded, a goal that is realistically attainable, something that focuses on real demonstrated results, and finally, a goal that is given a specific time frame for completion. They are used in combination with class instructions, learning aids, mind maps and other learning and memory guides to help special needs children learn and do better in school.
Here are some examples of how each of the SMART components might look on an IEP:
Specific: The goal needs to be very specific and focused. A good specific goal would be “John will master counting to 20 on his own with or without preferred tactile aids.” A goal that is not specific enough would be “Adam will get better at reading.”
Measurable: Goals need to be something that can be tested and measured for progress. A measurable goal would be “Max will increase proficiency by at least 20% in reading.” An immeasurable goal would be “Sue will improve her counting skills.”
Attainable: A goal that is too lofty will only discourage the child. A good attainable goal is “Billy will inform teachers when he needs a bathroom break.” An unattainable goal is “Mary will memorize all current sight words by the next review period.”
Results-oriented: The IEP goal should note the expected result clearly. A good result goal could be “Kayden will improve pronunciation during reading time by 20%.” A poor result goal might be, “Margie will increase the frequency of eye contact.”
Time-bound: All goals should give a clear expected timeline attached. A good time-bound goal would look like “Liz will have only one outburst a day by the end of the month.” A faulty goal might read, “Joe will explore new areas of interest.”
There is obviously a lot that must go into the development of an IEP goal list. Many factors have to be considered, and every aspect of the child’s individual learning abilities, special needs, disabilities, study plans, and unique learning path has to be taken into account.
What to Consider When Planning SMART Goals IEP Guidelines
To write SMART goals, it takes an entire team of excerpts working together with the child’s best interests in mind. The IEP team needs to understand not only the current level of the student, but also what goals they need to focus on and how the child’s individual learning plan compares to others in their grade.
It’s important that goals set in the SMART IEP roadmap align with the abilities and deficiencies of the student. No two students are the same, and even within the IEP program, two children of the exact same age may have vastly different goals.
Billy and Suzan may both be six years old, but Billy could have a hearing disorder and a speech impediment that impacts his learning. Suzan could be dealing with ADHD or a behavioral disorder that affects her learning. They may share a classroom and even have the same teacher, but their individual educational plans will be different, have different goals, and will be structured differently.
The IEP goals allow this to happen regardless of whether the child is dealing with a learning disability, physical condition, mental disorder, behavioral issues, or a combination of these. Appropriate SMART goals IEP are the foundation for successful educational experiences for kids of all ages and abilities.
Questions to Ask During IEP Goal Planning and Review
Due to the personal and individual nature of an IEP plan, they require careful consideration and planning. Here are some questions that teachers, staff members, counselors, and parents should consider during SMART goals IEP meetings and planning reviews:
The most important thing to remember about any IEP guide, regardless of the student, grade level, or specifics included, is that it is all subject to change. This is a good thing!
The SMART goals IEP should be seen as a living document as such and will need to be reviewed and changed regularly to ensure it is appropriate for the student at any given point in their educational journey.
IEP Goal Examples for Real World Results
A good IEP will clearly present levels of performance for the student and offer insight into how to best use their strengths and interests to improve the areas they are weakest in. Then the focus will shift to problem areas that need to be addressed and the learning goals that the plan needs to cover.
Academic skills: Any concerns regarding the student’s skill and ability in math, science, logic, reading, response, oration, and writing will be noted here for review. Any deficiencies in these areas compared to grade-level peers will be noted and used to base IEP goals upon.
Communication development: This section deals with the written and verbal communication of the student when they interact with teachers and peers and perform in-class activities. Deficiencies in this area will also be noted and addressed.
Emotional/social skills: This part highlights the student’s emotional level and social abilities, such as playing, talking, sharing, eye contact, mood regulation, and interacting. An issue here could interfere with a student’s ability to learn so it is also included.
Ultimately, the IEP goals need to lay out a game plan of sorts that everyone involved in the child’s education can follow. It will help ensure their needs are met and that they are given the best possible environment for learning.
By law, students must be given every opportunity to learn as much as they can. The goal is to write and set SMART goals that are appropriate for the individual needs of the child.
10 SMART Goal Examples for IEP
The following are some SMART goal examples and how they might look within the IEP of a special education child:
1. Improve Math Skills
“Penelope will complete two-digit addition problems at an accuracy rate of at least 75% when completing in-class work and standardized tests. This goal should be attained by the end of the current school term and routine measurements and checks will be made to ensure appropriate modifications are done if needed.”
S– This is a specific goal of improving proficiency with 2-digit math problems.
M- Measured results come from class work and tests given within the timeframe.
A- A goal is set with less than full mastery and given ample time to be achieved.
R- The results of the goal relate to a core skill and academic standard for math.
T- The time limit for this goal is stated to be by the end of the school term.
2. Increase Independence
“By the next scheduled IEP review meeting next month, Logan will navigate the car line drop off and pick up line independently with 100 percent accuracy and no issues or safety concerns, as measured by a teacher and staff observation, documentation, and intervention.”
S- For this goal, the specific focus is on learning careline safety and independence.
M- Measured goal is that the student will be able to navigate carlines on their own.
A- The achievability here is based on their current exposure to careline processes.
R- Successful result achievement occurs when they are independent in the carline.
T- For this goal, the time limit is set to be by the next review of the IEP plan goals.
3. Maintain Eye Contact
“Maggie will initiate and maintain eye contact during face-to-face conversations, for at least ten seconds, in four out of five daily opportunities. These encounters will be with teachers and classmates, and the progress towards the goal will be measured by data collected by teachers and aids for the next 4 weeks.”
S- This goal is specific in that it focuses on improving eye contact in class settings.
M- Measurement of the progress is based on observation and class data collected.
A- The goal remains attainable and does not require full mastery or perfection.
R- The results being measured and documented will be when 90% mastery occurs.
T- The student is given the next four weeks to work towards this goal of mastery.
4. Demonstrate Personal Awareness and Control
“Tay will demonstrate personal awareness and control when dealing with peer-related conflicts in the classroom. She will continue to practice and perfect taught processes by self-regulating over a 2-month period as documented by teachers and staff members with at least an 30% improvement over current result rates.”
S- A specific goal is for the student to improve personal regulation and self-control.
M- This goal will be measured by documented observation during school activities.
A- This is an attainable goal as the student is being taught skills and steps to follow.
R- As a result-oriented goal, it has a set milestone for the student to achieve.
T- A specific time limit of 2 months sets a fair timeline for this goal to be reached.
5. Demonstrate Self-Regulation
“By the expiration date of this IEP, Mina will use teacher instructions and checklist materials to demonstrate self-regulation during 90% of in-class and playground activities. Progress towards this goal will be recorded and documented over the next three months of teacher and staff observation.”
S- The goal here specifies that the student will improve self-regulation and control.
M- The measurable component ensures progress is compared to past behaviors.
A- As an attainable goal, Mina can accomplish this milestone with teacher support.
R- Results for this goal are outlined and clearly defined for optimal clarity.
T- The time constraints are limited to the next three months for this individual goal.
6. Complete Tasks Independently
“During the next month, when given a task to complete by a staff member or given instructions from the teacher, Sarah will begin the task within 1 minute, without any additional explanation or prompting. She will also remain on task for a minimum of 10 minutes independently in at least 8 out of 10 independent tasks, as documented and recorded by staff data.”
S- The specific goal is for the student to be mindful and prompt with classwork.
M- Measurement for this goal will be based on staff observation and records.
A- The attainability of the goal is set due to teacher incursion and guidance.
R- Results are set to be at least 80% success in the majority of opportunities given.
T- Time focus for achieving this goal is clearly defined to be within a month’s time.
7. Improve Pronunciation
“Before the next IEP update review, Llwyn shall correctly name and pronounce all upper- and lower-case letters. She will do this with at least 90% accuracy in 4 out of 5 times during a standard classroom setting or interactive session as highlighted by class tests and teacher-led activities and interactions.”
S- This goal specifies that the student will improve on letter use and recognition.
M- This is a measurable goal to be tracked and recorded by in-class engagement.
A- A goal like this is attainable because it follows natural proficiency improvement.
R- The needed results are spelled out in terms of proficiency and repeatability
T- A clearly defined deadline for the next IEP review is clearly highlighted as well.
8. Increase Proficiency in Counting
“Eve will show increased proficiency with orally counting to 50, with her preferred tactile guides if needed, and no more than 1 error or prompt from the instructor. She will demonstrate 90% proficiency when tested by teachers and aids over the course of the next two months.”
S- The focused goal emphasizes the perfection of oral counting in class settings.
M- Overall mastery is likely due to assistance and building in current knowledge.
A- The ability to attain the goal successfully is aided by instruction and aids.
R- Clear results focus on error reduction and 90% proficiency rates in class.
T- A defined deadline of two months is established for this specific student goal.
9. Identify and Define Photos
“Kayden, when presented with a picture/scene, with moderate prompting of no more than five verbal cues, will identify and define share attributes of the photos or identify specific things asked about each photo four out of five times, as observed in the classroom setting over the next month.”
S- A specific goal to correctly identify aspects of photos is noted in this IEP element.
M- A measurable component of this goal is given that it’s based on 4 out of 5 times.
A- As an attainable goal, the student will receive some help within set parameters.
R- Clear results will be seen in the classroom as observed by classroom interactions.
T- A clear deadline of one month has been set for this IEP goal.
10. Sit Upright and Erect
“With all appropriate support and aids, Reginald will sit at his desk doing classwork, sitting upright and erect, feet flat on floor or support, without leaning for support for at least ten minutes in 90% of observed interactions during normal classroom assignments and desk-work activities for the next two months. “
S- The specific aim of this goal is to improve posture and body control.
M- Measurable parameters will be based on seat work done under teacher supervision.
A- This is an attainable goal, as the student will receive appropriate aids as needed.
R- Each result will be measured during class work as the teaching team observes.
T- A two-month deadline has been clearly set for this goal to be achieved.
Moving on With the SMART Goals IEP
Once the IEP team has agreed on goal-setting metrics, whether that is for the year, term, month, or some other time-specific guideline… the work is not done. It’s essential to monitor the student’s progress and gauge how well he or she is progressing toward meeting those goals.
This is why specifics of monitoring, documenting, and recording the student’s progress is a vital part of the IEP goals themselves. IEP goals are not a one-and-done, set-it-and-forget-it kind of thing. It is, in many ways, a living entity that will grow and morph along with the child.
Starting with SMART goals is the foundation needed for short-term and long-term growth and improvement in any student with special education needs.
Final Thoughts on SMART Goals IEP
All IEP plans should follow the standard SMART goal format guidelines for instruction, testing, and review. This acronym stands for specific, measurable, achievable, results-oriented, and time-bound.
Writing IEP goals correctly is vital to a special education student’s success in school and life… and is vital to maintaining legal requirements for special education and schooling. The goals set out in an Individual Education Plan encompass areas that a student needs specialized help and guidance in, as they progress through the public school system.
Appropriate SMART goals are the foundation for a successful IEP roadmap. To learn more about how SMART goals can help in other facets of your life, check out our article on SMART goals for students of all ages.
Finally, if you want to take your goal-setting efforts to the next level, check out this FREE printable worksheet and a step-by-step process that will help you set effective SMART goals.