One of the main components of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is the goal writing phase of the IEP. During the meeting, the team is to evaluate the data that they have on the student and write goals that are measurable. These should be based on the student’s strengths, their current ability level, what programming needs they have, and what supports will need to be in place.
The creation of SMART goals have become standard in our educational systems. The acronym SMART refers to goals that are Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Results-oriented, and Time-bound. A SMART IEP goal will be realistic for the student in what they are expected to achieve and how they are to accomplish that goal. Further, it gives the team the target for which they should all be aiming.
Author Sue Watson breaks down the SMART goals more specifically:
Specific: The goal should be specific in naming the skill or subject area and the targeted result. For example, a goal that is not specific might read, "Adam will be a better reader." Such a goal fails to provide any details.
Measurable: You should be able to measure the goal using standardized tests, curriculum-based measurements or screening, work samples, or even teacher-charted data. A goal that is not measurable might read, "Joe will get better at solving math problems."
Attainable: A lofty goal that is not attainable can discourage both teacher and student. A goal that is not attainable might read, "Frank will ride public transportation all over town without any mistakes any time he wants." If Frank has never ridden public transportation, this goal is likely out of reach.
Results-oriented: The goal should clearly spell out the expected result. A poorly worded goal might read, "Margie will increase her eye contact with others." There's no way to measure that and no indication of what the result might be.
Time-bound: The goal should state specifically by what date the student is expected to accomplish it. A goal lacking a time expectation might read, "Joe will explore career opportunities."
By establishing SMART goals, teams are putting the student in a position to see success in meeting their goals. The goals should be thought out clearly by the team and work toward them at a steady pace.
Some thoughts to keep in mind as IEP teams develop goals:
- Districts who use the same goals for several students are removing the “individualized” piece of the education plan. Goals such as, “Billy will pass all of his classes” for every student in the building can be met with skepticism by hearing officers.
- Reusing goals from the previous years should be used rarely. If we are truly addressing realistic goals for the student, we should be able to move the needle when it comes to meeting their goals. In Endrew v. Douglas County School District, the team reused the same goals with very little difference for years. The parents sent their child to a private school district and charged the district thousands of dollars for the program. The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, sided with the parents stating that a special education program must be "reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress in light of the child's circumstances." Years of the same goals and very little progress does not meet this standard.