The Individualized Education Program (IEP) is the cornerstone of special education. A good IEP relies on individualized goals to meet a student’s needs. It helps the student make progress toward the Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) guaranteed by special education law.
As a parent, it is up to you to help your child’s IEP Team create effective goals that are both specific to the student and measureable by objective standards. But that’s not as daunting as it sounds.
The three essential parts of an IEP goal to pay attention to are:
- The current performance level
- A goal that is specific and measurable
- Services that support the goal
Successfully addressing each one of these parts begins with a question for you and your Team to ask.
What’s Your Starting Point?
Every goal begins with an assessment of the student’s current ability in the specific skill area covered by that goal, otherwise known as the student’s current performance level. This establishes the starting point for the goal. Knowing how far a student is below grade level, for example, helps answer the questions about what kind of specialized instruction is needed and how intensively it should be given. A student who is three years below grade level in math will need more intensive math instruction than one who is only a year below grade level.
Testing is the most effective way to determine the current performance level.
- For reading, the Woodcock-Johnson Test or Wechsler Individual Achievement Test (WIAT) is considered a good indicator of current performance.
- For non-academic areas, a psychological evaluation can indicate social-emotional or behavioral performance.
- For occupational or physical therapy, a test of fine or gross motor skills can indicate current performance.
- More general assessment methods, such as the completion of a reading skills class or participation in a sports activity, can be helpful to supplement testing.
In our experience, there seems to be a relationship between the quality of an assessment and the quality of a goal. We have noticed that the less objective the assessment of the current performance level, the more vague and ineffective the goal tends to be. In IEPs where the current performance level is simply an anecdotal description of behavior, for example, the resulting goal is often vague, making achievement less than clear.
Where Are You Going?
The goal is the IEP’s road map for achievement. You need specific, time-limited goals that can take your child from his or her current performance level to a realistic higher level during the time period covered by the goal, which is usually a school year.
In their book, Writing Measurable IEP Goals and Objectives, Barbara Batemen and Cynthia Herr describe the four characteristics of a measurable goal:
- It contains a method for measuring whether or not the goal has been achieved.
- The criteria for measuring progress are clearly defined in the goal and do not require any information other than what is contained in the description of the goal.
- The measurement can be validated by multiple observers using the criteria described in the goal.
- It is possible to determine how much progress a student has made toward attaining the goal at any time, such as in a quarterly report.
We have seen too many IEP goals that provide little of this information. Many are impossibly vague and do not contain standards by which anyone could determine if the goal was ever achieved. In addition, they too often place the responsibility for achieving the goal completely on the student without any teacher or specialist assistance.
How Are You Going to Get There?
The service delivery grid is an essential part of every goal. This is the part of the IEP that specifies the services needed to help the student achieve the goal, where and how often the service is provided, and who is working with the student to accomplish the goal. Unless the grid specifies adequate time and a properly qualified person to provide the service, it is unrealistic to expect a student to make satisfactory progress toward even the most well-written goal.
When developing a service delivery grid, the Team needs to pay special attention to the following:
- The type of service.
- The dates the service begins and ends.
- Where and how often the service is provided.
- The kind of professional responsible for providing the service. Vague references to “special education staff” are not helpful, and not even permitted in some states.
In addition to making sure that the service delivery is clearly spelled out in the grid, we recommend that you have this information written into the description of the goal itself. The service delivery grid often appears pages after the goal and can be overlooked by both you and your child’s service providers. The duplication also helps remind everyone on the Team that the most important part of an IEP goal is achieving it.
Putting It All Together
The three parts of an IEP goal all need to support each other. When you know your starting point, where you are going, and how you are going to get there, then your child’s journey toward an appropriate education can be a rewarding one.
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