April 18, 2017

5 Steps to Improve your IEP Goal Writing

No matter how hard I try, it always seems like my IEP goals could be better. Every year, as I look back on my previous year's goals, there are always a few where I think, "This doesn't even make sense!" or "I should have included..." or the dreaded "How in the heck did I expect to measure THAT goal?!"

It's fine. I'm learning! Rules and regulations on what goals must include will keep changing and therefore, I will keep changing the ways I write my goals. However, I've came up with a short list of "make sures" that I now refer to before writing a goal.

#1 Always Include the ABCDEFs of Good Goal Writing

 This one sounds obvious, but it's easy to forget a step. Plus, the higher-ups keep adding new letters to the goal writing alphabet (it used to only be ABDC, then ABCDE, and now I'm being told to add an F!) So, let's review.

  • A- Audience: Who is your goal written about? Who are you targeting with this goal? 
    • Example: My audience would be the student's name.
  • B- Behavior: What behavior are you hoping to change or improve with this goal?
    • Example: Increase in MLU, production of vocalic /r/, decrease in stuttering instances.
  • C- Condition: Under what circumstances and by what date?
    • Example: By the IEP end date, in a small group/individual setting.
  • D- Degree: How much change are you expecting to see? 
    • Example: 80% accuracy, 4/5 trials.
  • E- Evidence: How can you prove there is growth?
    • Example: Checklists, criterion referenced tests, behavior observations, frequency count.
  • F- Frequency of progress monitoring: How often will you check for progress?
    • Example: At least 1x monthly, 1x quarterly, weekly, etc.
This is the basic template I have ingrained in my brain. I modify for each student, but this template ensures that I have each area covered.

(C)By the IEP end date, in a small group or individual setting, (A)STUDENT (B) will independently produce vocalic /r/ at the word level (D) with 80% accuracy during 4 data collections (F) (measured at least 1x monthly (E) by the SLP using a criterion referenced test).

#2 Know How You Are Going to Measure the Goal

When I first started my job, I inherited goals such as the following:

Johnny will complete age-appropriate receptive and expressive language tasks with 80% accuracy during 3/4 trials across 4/5 sessions.

Oh my word. I had no idea what skills I should be targeting in therapy, how exactly I was supposed to measure them, and HOW in the WORLD was I going to keep track of 80% during 3/4 trials over 4/5 sessions? The numbers alone gave me a headache.

I learned to simplify! I write my goals to be SPECIFIC, so there was no question what skills were being targeted. Use 3/4 trials OR 4/5 sessions, but not both! I took out as many numbers as possible and made it crystal clear that Johnny needed to be able to correctly name 80% of the targeted synonyms during each progress monitoring check, and to maintain that 80% for 3 progress monitoring checks for that goal to be considered "mastered".

I also started making progress monitoring tools as I wrote the goals. Primarily, I use SLP Toolkit for progress monitoring. If I write a goal that isn't included on their pre-made templates, I make my own using Word or Powerpoint. This way, I KNOW my goals can be measured and I have just the tools to do it.

 #3 Keep Your Goals Specific

Remember that goal I mentioned early, where "Johnny will complete age-appropriate receptive and expressive language tasks..."? Okay, let me just say, there are HUNDREDS of components that could be included within that goal.

Narrow down the skills you want to target and write goals specifically for those skills. Do not combine multiple skills into one goal, unless you know how you will check for progress. For example: Allie will correctly name regular and irregular verbs and nouns with 80% accuracy".  This goal will be really hard to graph because it's actually targeted 4 different skills-- and the results may look skewed when combined together! My advice is to break it up into the smaller, more specific goals that will be accurately reflected when graphed.

#4 Aim For Progress, But Be Realistic

You only have a year to target these goals. If you have a student who produces "l-blends" with 0% accuracy, it may not be the best idea to write 1 goal saying that "Susan will produce "l-blends" in conversation with 80% accuracy". If you decide to keep that as a goal, add other benchmarks so that even if the overall goal isn't achieved, you can show that progress was made because Susan met the benchmarks of "l-blends" at the word and phrase level.

Always aim high for your students, but again, if you think your student may NOT reach the goal, but you still want to try-- add in benchmarks to show progress along the way!



#5 Have a Peer Read Your Goals

 At my school, if one of our SPED staff has a question about the way a goal sounds, we send it out to other SPED staff members for a "proof". There's no telling how many times one of us has caught a simple mistake on another person's goals. Something as simple as forgetting to tell how the goal will be measured, making sure it's not too complicated to read (aka, too many numbers or skills in one goal), and making sure that it can be progress monitored/graphed. Sometimes you need another set of eyes, because just think-- if that student moves schools, and your goals aren't clear, you may be getting a phone call from the new school asking you "What EXACTLY is this goal getting at?!". Save the embarrassment, and let a peer proof them for you!!

What are your best tips for writing good IEP goals? Let me know in the comments!


  1. Great Blog! I too have inherited some real muddy goals in my day. At our district, we have begun building our own rubrics to measure and graph progress. The parents and administration love these, as they easily show where a student is now, where we want them to be in a year, and where we ultimately want them to be. Rubrics also allow us to break up a muddy, multi tasking goal into it's individual parts. And rubrics can be individualized very easily. So, to sum up, we write a goal, then we measure the progress on an individualized rubric. Win Win!

  2. I have only recently discovered how useful rubrics are! You are absolutely correct about how rubrics clarify multipart goals. I've been creating quite a few during the last few months, especially for trickier language and social goals.