Parents and some (typically newer) teachers who are told to develop IEP goals for their child or student find out quickly how difficult it can be. According to special education attorney Peter Wright, parents and teachers frequently ask him how to write IEP goals and objectives. What is so difficult about placing goals in an IEP?
The IEP—Individualized Education Plan—is governed by the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), a federal law that governs special education. Too often, people start thinking immediately of goals that might sound great but are not specifically tailored to the child. So “read and comprehend well” from a parent, or “read at xyz level” from a teacher, look like laudable goals, but are they appropriate? How do you know what is appropriate when developing goals?
First Step. Before anyone starts developing goals for a child, the IDEA requires that the IEP team know the child’s “present levels of academic achievement and functional performance.” (See IDEA Sect. 1414(d)(1)(A)(i)(I).) Often referred to as “present levels,” these indicators will dictate where the IEP team goes from this present situation. How can anyone formulate goals for someone when the present situation is unknown? A goal of “losing a maximum of 20 pounds” might seem beneficial, unless you are clinically morbidly obese where a maximum of 20 pounds might have little effect on health. Or consider a six-foot tall man who presently weighs 100 pounds and would have detrimental effects from being so underweight at 80 pounds. Now that goal is not so clear, and definitely not appropriate.
Second step. Once you know where the child is academically and functionally, you can then develop goals that get the child to where he or she needs to be. Language in the IEP needs to be clear, goals need to be measurable. For example, “Can add” is a vague phrase that conveys little, whereas “Writes answers to double-digit addition problems” is specific. Then, the analysis becomes how this present level performance measures against where the child should be academically.
Goals needs to be clear and measurable. To be measurable means that you can count or observe it. Often parents think it is only teachers who can measure goals, but this task is not limited to teachers. If there is dissent or confusion about whether goals were reached, consider evaluation by an objective party.
In summary, when developing an IEP start at the present levels of the child and develop measurable goals. The IEP process can be daunting, but starting from a point of present levels of academic achievement and functional performance will guide you to what is needed for that particular child.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to review your child’s IEP or discuss setting goals.