What You Should Know About IEP Goals
Setting goals is tricky for most of us. (How are those new year’s resolutions going?) Our goals tend to be either too easy, too hard, too general or too specific. However, well-written goals can propel us to new heights of achievement. Similarly, well-written goals in a child’s Individual Education Plan can pave the way, step by step, for the child to master the right skills for her/his achievement level. Conversely, poor goals create an abyss where it is hard for parents, teachers, and other educators to understand why a student is struggling, despite years in the special education system. “We’ve been having the meetings and following the IEP. What’s wrong?”
Not only do poor goals create problems for students, they can create issues for the school districts.
The Maine Department of Education recently found the district in York to be out of compliance with federal special education laws. According to an article in seacostonline, one of the issues is that York’s IEP goals look “very similar from year to year and don’t always appear to be designed to show progress.”
There are two major reasons that goals stay the same from year to year: lack of student progress, and poor wording of the goals.
Let’s look at the first reason. Goals might stay the same because the student is not achieving them. There is a system to address this issue, and it is active throughout the year.
When the annual IEP meeting is held, the Team should determine that the student has achieved the goals of the previous IEP. New goals are then written. An IEP goal that remains the same as the previous year technically means that the child has not achieved that goal.
But you shouldn’t get to the annual meeting and suddenly realize that the goal hasn’t been achieved.
If the child has not been progressing enough to reach the goal, this issue should have been addressed in the child’s periodic progress reports. Then, partway through the year, if the student is still not on track to meet the goal, the teacher should call a progress meeting. At a progress meeting, parent(s), teachers and staff discuss why the student is not achieving the goal. Are the accommodations and modifications being followed by teachers and other educators? Is the student completing homework and schoolwork? Is the student seeking extra help, as is often expected for all students? Is there another health or social issue which may be affecting the student’s performance?
If everything specified in the IEP is happening and if the student is seeking extra help but still not achieving a goal, then the goal is rewritten. Every goal in the IEP needs to be attainable for the child. If the goal proves to be unattainable, it needs to change.
Sometimes, a child achieves part of a goal. In that case, the unattained portion might remain and new higher levels of achievement are added. While not ideal, at least this keeps the momentum moving forward.
The tricky part about writing goals is to make them broad enough to describe learning in the coming year but specific enough to mean something about this child. A goal that is so specific as, “Andre will know 90% of multiplication tables up to 12” may address his difficulties with multiplication but may not address his challenges with the bulk of the math curriculum. And yet, if team merely copies the topics from the math curriculum (which I have seen done), then the IEP becomes a mirror of the general education program – not individualized at all.
The other common reason that goals stay the same is that they are so general that they could apply to any year of a student’s education, regardless of the student’s actual achievement. “Andre will correctly answer 80% of problems in grade-level math assessments.” Hey, it worked last year, it still works for this year. And it even has a percentage in it and it says “grade-level”!
Wrong. What is being assessed? At what grade level does he perform now?
Any district can improve its goal writing. The improvement can happen at multiple points in the IEP writing process: by the Team at the annual meeting; when an educator writes the final version of the IEP; when the administrator approves the IEP prior to sending to parents; when the parent receives the IEP for approval.
The best time is at the annual meeting. Whether you are a teacher, parent or administrator, you can have input about the goals. What is the child ready to learn in the next year that will make a real difference in mastering the subject? The current popular lingo, “SMART goals,” is helpful. Specific; measurable; attainable, realistic, timely.
I like goals that have 2-4 elements. Usually, 2-4 elements will cover a subject broadly enough that if the child is achieving them, s/he is in pretty good shape with the curriculum. The child may not be at grade level, but critical pieces of the curriculum are being learned.
Well-written goals are a key tool to tracking students’ progress. The criticism that York, Maine, has received can apply to many many districts. Whether we are parents or school educators, we can all take a little time to improve those IEP goals and to improve our service to the kids who need us. And maybe as we gain on those goals, we’ll get better at writing our own resolutions for next year.
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