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.

IEP Process Must-dos for Parents

The IEP process can be daunting for families, especially for those parents who are new to the concept of special education. When you combine the lengthy documents, clinical terminology, and educational/legal jargon, the individualized education plan can seem like a beast to be conquered. However, it is imperative for parents to always remember this: you are your child’s greatest advocate. With your participation and advocacy throughout the IEP process, parents can ensure that their child’s needs are prioritized.


Speak up


For the initial evaluation and any future reevaluations, it is crucial that parents vocalize any and all concerns regarding areas of need. The IEP team is obligated to test and evaluate the suspected disability or disabilities; however, you know your child best. If you suspect other learning disabilities not originally identified as a concern, speak up about them. Be specific about what you have seen. What does the specific struggle look like for your child? What have you observed over the course of several months? How would you objectively define this need? It is your job to make sure that all avenues are explored when it comes to your child’s learning needs.


Do your homework


Unless waived by the parent, schools are required to send the IEP 5 days prior to the meeting so that parents can review. Please do your due diligence. Comb through the documentation thoroughly; highlight areas where you have questions or need clarification. Ask specifically what certain accommodations will look like in the classroom. If possible, seek assistance from your own private consultants, including an advocate, psychiatrist, pediatrician, etc. You want to maximize your time during the meeting by coming prepared, as opposed to reviewing documentation at the table.


Simplify it


Creating and sharing an easy-to-read reference sheet with teachers at the start of the school year can be very beneficial when it comes to supporting your child’s needs. Of course, teachers have access to students’ IEPs; however, they are rarely given direct/full copies of the documentation. They also are not typically given ample time to review the IEP thoroughly, unless that teacher is also the child’s case manager. To ensure that your child’s needs are met and areas of concern are known, consider making a “vision statement” to share with your child’s teachers. Include a recent photo on the sheet to familiarize the teachers with your child. It may be beneficial to include the specific learning disability; however, it is not required. The important information to include on the vision statement should be as follows:

  • Your child’s motivators
  • Personal interests/hobbies
  • Successful learning strategies
  • Most beneficial accommodations from the IEP
  • “Look-fors” or areas of concern that may require extra attention or support

Talk to your child

Discussing learning needs directly with your child is a great way to build self-advocacy skills. Ask about where they sit in each class; the time they are given during class to work on assignments; the relationship that they have with the teacher; the additional adults/supports in the classroom; the resources that are provided to help them through a difficult task. All of these questions allow parents to see more closely inside their child’s learning.  




Sign when you are ready

Too often, the IEP meeting flies by with questions still lingering. Since changes to the IEP are typical during meetings, it is important that parents take time to review those changes to look for inaccuracies, unclear language, or missing details. Do not feel pressured to sign the documentation until you have had the chance to thoroughly review it and get clarification where needed. Parents can request that all other parties sign the document and send the “draft version” home for further review before signing.