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IEP Goals Beyond the 3 R’s

Today we received this question from a subscriber:

All the IEP goals I see are linked to the 3 R's and I teach Science. 
How do you suggest getting science and other subjects considered 
when admins are pushing for better 3R test scores in IEP meetings?

This is something that we see a lot! There are some things that we need to remember:

  1. Goals are federally mandated to address specific skills that should strengthen or improve classroom performance. This is why you see mainly reading, writing or math goals.
  2. Goals should never be written directly for improving grades or test scores in content classes. Doing so is a direct violation of FAPE. This is another reason why the goals rarely address science, social studies or other curriculum specific concerns. Remember, all students are expected to attain passing grades or achieve grade level reading/math scores on standardized testing. These type of goals are not individualizing or prioritizing specialized instruction for a student with specific disabilities. Therefore, it is not appropriate to write grades/standardized scores as an IEP goal.
  3. Addressing curriculum specific content is like trying to hit a moving target for educators. The Content is dynamic and constantly changing. For example, if we want a student to learn the vocabulary in science…how do we measure something that changes every unit? The same is true for historical events in social studies. What if they achieve the goal for one unit but not the next. Are we teaching the curriculum content or the skill of learning vocabulary/recall of events? Do you see some of the problems?

Having said that, it is important to remember the big picture here. The point of the IEP is to help students successfully access the general curriculum.

Here are some things teachers can do to support students with disabilities in content classes:

  • First, reflect on what areas or skills the student is struggling with. Or if you prefer to look at it from a glass half full viewpoint: Ask yourself what skills would help the student achieve higher levels of success in your class. Is it mathematical in nature (science formulas), reading comprehension, notetaking, sequencing skills (steps to learning scientific method or timeline for historical events), executive function skills (organization, working memory, study habits, planning projects, etc), language (receptive or expressive including vocabulary). Ask yourself, does the student have trouble with the content, the process, or the time requirements in my class? Is it too much information for him/her in the expected time allotted? If you are having difficulty identifying the direct skills or problem areas, elicit help from another IEP team member such as the sped teacher or speech language pathologist.
  • Identify areas of student strength. We often overlook this step but it can help with planning and implementing intervention strategies in each class. Maybe the student is a visual learner or can sequence activities with lists, visuals, or dry runs of actually practicing the steps to an activity. Maybe they are stronger in multiple intelligence related to one area over another (logical, naturalistic, existential, visual, verbal, kinesthetic, etc).  Gather helpful information. Remember, not every area of concern must be addressed by a goal. Maybe there are simple accommodations, modifications or supports that can help the student achieve success in your classroom.
  • If there is a specific skill that can be addressed in a goal for your class, talk to the team about including your class as the setting for it to be monitored. Each goal should state where data will be kept and who will be monitoring progress. Ideally, students are attaining skills that carryover into each content area. Sometimes, we need to help them with this step. The sped teacher or SLP can come in and conduct class-within-a-class lessons to increase carryover of the skills directly in your class.
  • Vocabulary CAN be addressed as IEP goals but should be done in the context of increasing vocabulary skills. Students can learn strategies to improve overall retention, storage and retrieval of content vocabulary. The idea is that increasing the skill should increase the performance of using the skill in all content areas rather than memorizing specific terms in each class (which incidentally overwhelms students and doesn’t equate to true learning). Students need to receptively and expressively be able to identify, define, relate, compare and contrast terms. They can learn word structures (root words, prefixes, suffixes) and context clues to expand vocabulary skills. These are all skills that goals can be written for and tracked in your class. Portfolios can be used to help students continue to build on vocabulary in content areas.
  • Another way to monitor and track skill based progress is through project based learning activities. Rubrics can be individually designed to track incremental performance from their current skill level to higher or desired  levels. Goals and objectives can address those specific skills to help them attain rubric parameters. When regular education teachers have the opportunity to work collaboratively with special educators, the possibilities are endless! Together you can design education programs and activities that meet students at their current levels while pushing them toward improvement.

I am sure that there are other tips, ideas or suggestions that can be discussed here.  Please share your ideas!



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About the Author:  Kelly Ott has over 24 years of experience as a licensed speech language pathologist, consultant, educator and administrator. Kelly has served children and adults with a diverse range of speech, language, swallowing, learning, and communication needs. She has provided direct speech pathology services, specialized tutoring services, educator professional development training, business communication and presentation training. Kelly is dedicated to providing students, educators, and parents with specialized strategies for achievement.

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