Individualized Education Program (IEP) Goals: The Basics

Learn about goals and objectives (or benchmarks), which are the core of your child's IEP.

By GreatSchools Staff

Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings give you and the school a chance to work together to design an IEP for your child with learning disabilities who's been determined eligible for special education. The goals for academic achievement and functional performance set for your child are the core of the IEP. As a parent, you play an important role in developing these goals.

What Are Goals?

Goals represent what you and the other IEP team members think your child will be able to accomplish in his area(s) of disability-academic, developmental, and functional-in a year's time. Annual goals must be written in measurable terms. Here is an example:

Sample IEP Long-Term Goal in Reading*

Given randomly selected passages at the third-grade level, J. R. will read aloud 115 words correct per minute, by the end of the year (or in 35 weeks), as measured by a valid curriculum-based measurement.

*From the National Center on Student Progress Monitoring at www.studentprogress.org.

To the degree practicable, both the specially designed instruction used to achieve the goals, and the evaluation tools used to measure your child's achievement, should be research based.

How Are Goals Developed?

The IEP team (which includes parents) develops academic and functional goals based on your child's present level of performance. Reports from you and the teachers, as well as evaluations and performance on state assessments, provide the basis for deciding areas to focus on for your child. In addition, your state's academic content standards for your child's grade level can serve as a reference point for setting goals for your child (see sidebar). If you prepare some ideas before the meeting, you'll feel more comfortable participating in the process.

Goals must relate directly to the areas of need identified in the present level of performance. They should be prioritized in order of greatest need and be stated in objective, measurable terms.

Your child needs to understand what his goals (and objectives or benchmarks, if any) are. As he gets older, he should be involved in developing them, as well. The more he is aware of what he's working on, the better his buy-in, and the greater his chances of achieving the goals.

How Many Goals Are Enough?

Often IEPs include too many goals. This can be confusing to you and the teachers and put unrealistic expectations on your child. To keep the number manageable, consider setting one goal for each "big" area of concern, for example, basic reading skills, reading comprehension, math calculation, or study skills.

Who Carries Out the Goals?

The type of goals the team writes determines who will carry them out — the special education teacher, general education teacher, or support person (for example, speech/language pathologist) responsible. Often, a team works together; for example, the special and general education teachers and the speech/language pathologist may work to help your child improve skills in reading comprehension.

When Can You Expect Progress Reports on the Goals?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that your child's IEP include a description of how the child's progress toward the annual goals will be measured, and when periodic reports of progress toward annual goals will be provided. Although short-term objectives are no longer required under IDEA 2004 for most students, parents may continue to request that annual goals contain additional information about the interim points of achievement that clearly indicate that the goal will be reached by year's end. Nothing in IDEA 2004 prohibits the development of short-term objectives. Periodic reports on your child's progress toward his IEP goals should be issued at least as often as those issued to parents of students without a disability, for example, at the same time report cards are issued. The two examples below show what a progress report on improvement of a child's math computation skills within a single grading period might look like:

  • At the end of the first grading period, given 10 problems requiring two-digit plus two-digit addition without renaming (regrouping/carrying)(e.g., 14 + 11=), Sammy wrote the sums with 80% accuracy, as measured by a valid, curriculum-based assessment.
  • At the end of the second grading period, given 10 problems requiring two-digit plus two-digit addition with renaming (e.g., 14 + 18 =), Sammy wrote the sums with 80% accuracy, as measured by a valid, curriculum-based assessment.

Remember that you can also schedule an informal conference with the special education teacher to see how your child is doing. As the parent of a child with an IEP, you should communicate regularly with teachers and other school professionals, to ensure that your child is making measurable progress toward his IEP goals (and objectives and benchmarks, if applicable), so that you won't be in for "surprises" a few months down the road.

What if There's No Progress?

Sometimes parents and schools have different ideas about whether progress is being made toward a child's IEP goals or how quickly it's happening. Ideally, for academic deficits in reading and math, your child's IEP goals would be aligned with your state's academic content standards, but expectations must also be realistic. If your child is three grade levels behind his classmates in reading, he probably won't be able to catch up to them in a year, but he should make progress in closing the gap. If, after talking with the teacher about your child's lack of progress toward IEP goals you are still concerned, ask for an IEP review meeting. You can do this by writing a letter to the principal of your child's school or to the school district's special education administrator, and sending copies to the staff who work with your child.

Updated January 2010