Setting Student-friendly Goals Using the IEP

Calling the average Individualized Education Program (IEP) document bulky would be an understatement. Even for educators, who are quite familiar with special education documentation, the length of the IEP can make it difficult to cull the student goals. Even more taxing is the task of deciphering the IEP goals in a way that can be clearly and concisely explained to parents and students. However, since IEP goals are aligned to state and grade-level standards, they offer families a sound starting point for making their own student-friendly, SMART goals.

What is a SMART goal?

SMART is an acronym, often used in educational environments, to help students through the process of goal setting. Using the acronym, students should make sure that goals are specific, measurable, achievable, results-oriented, and time-bound.

  • A specific goal is one that takes the student’s current functionality into account: Where is he currently in his academic achievements and where does he need to be? In answering these questions, we begin to hone in on the specific skills that the student is lacking with regard to grade-level standards.
  • A measurable goal is data-driven and accounts for planned check-in points. When progress is routinely measured, teachers and parents are able to establish patterns and employ new strategies if necessary. A measurable goal also means that success is definitive—a student either clearly meets the goal or does not, according to the data.
  • An achievable goal means that it is realistic to the student’s abilities and focuses on her most critical needs. It is important to ensure that meeting this goal is realistically within the student’s reach, otherwise, it sets her up for failure.
  • A goal that is results-oriented is just as it sounds—the focus is on the outcome. With a desired outcome driving the process, teachers, parents, and students are able to determine if certain strategies are helping to meet the desired outcome, or if they need to redirect their approach to learning.
  • Time-bound means that there is a definitive starting point and end point to achieve the goal. Often times, during an initial IEP meeting, the team will determine certain grade-level benchmarks and track achievement by quarter or semester throughout the school year.

Examples of IEP goals translated for students

By the end of the first semester, student will read grade-level text orally, accurately, and with appropriate rate and expression at 120 words per minute with 90% accuracy, as measured by biweekly recorded fluent checks. When reading aloud for biweekly practices, I will read words accurately and with fluidity for every 9/10 words. I will also read with inflection and adhere to punctuation, while maintaining a consistent pace.
By the end of quarter 1, student will identify the central idea and three supporting details in a nonfiction text with 90% accuracy in three out of four trials. When reading an article, I will identify the main idea and three pieces of evidence to support it.
By the end of the second semester, student will use context clues, suffix/prefix knowledge, and access to a dictionary when determining the meaning of unfamiliar words, with 90% accuracy in a grade level text. By the end of the school year, I will be able to identify 9 out of every 10 unknown words using context clues and a dictionary if necessary.
With nonverbal cues and fading adult support, student will initiate a task within 3 minutes of receiving it and with 2 or fewer prompts. I will begin a class activity or assignment as soon as I have it in front of me with less than 2 reminders from the teacher.

Vision Statements for Families of Students with IEPs

When skimming through a teacher’s Special Education binder, the collection of IEPs and 504 plans, as informative as they are, have the tendency to reduce a student to a list of symptoms, behaviors, accommodations, and strategies. Furthermore, a student’s entire learning profile and educational plan is often reduced to a snapshota one-sheeter used for quick reference in the classroom. 

Children benefit when supports and strategies are consistent and measurable, and IEPs are certainly informative and essential for keeping educators, families, specialists and pediatricians all on the same page. However, the downside of the IEP or 504 is that it draws attention to the negatives, weaknesses and areas of need. To adequately introduce your child to his or her educators, perhaps it’s time to get creative by supplementing the formal documentation with a more personalized vision statement!

What is a vision statement? 

In the simplest of terms, a vision statement is a declaration of one’s main goal or objective. Ideally, a personal vision statement would provide the framework for one’s intentions by aligning set goals with plans for achieving those goals. Therefore, a child’s vision statement should account for where the child would like to see himself down the roadwhat does his ideal future path look like?

Because the IEP offers mainly technical informationhow to best support the child, what his/her needs are, how his/her diagnosis manifests, etc.the vision statement allows parents the opportunity to share personal information about the child’s hopes for the future. This information provides valuable insight and allows the IEP team to see that student as more than a diagnosis or label. 

What should you include in your child’s “About Me” vision statement?

To construct your child’s vision statement, parents will want to prepare to clearly articulate their child’s aspirations by first talking to their child about his or her hopes for the future. Questions to ask might be:


  • What is something that you consider to be a personal talent?
  • What are 3 of the most important aspects of your life?
  • How would you characterize or describe yourself in 3 words?
  • What is something that you cannot live without?
  • What motivates you?
  • What do you hope to accomplish in your life?


In discussing these questions, parents can help synthesize the responses and streamline their child’s overall ambitions into a clear vision statement for the IEP team. This vision statement will then act as a guide for educators as they encounter and assist that student throughout the course of his or her learning.

Some examples of a student’s vision statement might be:

“To let my natural curiosity guide me and increase my motivation for learning…”

“To use my social strengths to relate to and learn about different cultures, people, and places…”

“To use my tenacity and optimism to persevere through difficult challenges…”

“To allow creativity to enhance my ability to problem-solve…”

“To be proud of my efforts by always trying my absolute hardest and giving my all…”

How is the vision statement beneficial? 

The student vision statement is instrumental in several different ways. First, because the statement expresses personal hopes and goals, it allows educators and the rest of the IEP team to see further inside the student as a whole person, not just as a diagnosis with specific needs. The vision statement also provides insight into how the student sees himself or herself; educators get a sense of the student’s self-perceived strengths and interests. These details help the IEP team reach the student on a more personalized, individual levelthey are not just looking at accommodations, but also at additional motivators to help students “buy in” to the academic challenges ahead. Finally, for parents, it is important that their child will be seen as a uniquely capable and successful student, one with all of the same potential and complexities as any other child. The vision statement places emphasis on the child as a person first, not on the diagnosis or struggles.