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Colored pencils arranged in a circle to form a target

Annual IEP goals determine which services will be implemented to support the student’s progress during the school year.

If those goals can’t be easily measured, how will the team know if the student met them?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires every IEP to include “a statement of measurable annual goals including both academic and functional goals.” Also, “the IEP must include a description of how the child’s progress toward meeting the annual goals will be measured.”

While most IEP teams agree with the importance of measurable goals, the task of actually writing them can be challenging. How do we know what to measure? When, where, and how will data be collected? And what happens to the information once we have it?

In today’s blog post we take a look at seven common pain points teams run into when attempting to develop measurable IEP goals.

Pain Point 1: Clearly Defining Areas of Need

Teams typically start with accurately identifying the student’s areas of need in the disability impact statement section of the present level. This is the section of the IEP that explains how the disability affects the student’s progress in the educational environment. Students must have goals and may also have accommodations and/or modifications to address each area of need. These areas of need can be prioritized for the IEP cycle by the team.

When these areas of need are clearly defined, it allows the team to systematically create goals addressing each one.

Pain Point 2: Omitting Baseline Data

Teams can’t get to the finish line unless they know where the starting line is.

The goal-writing process begins with baselines. Remember, IDEA requires the team to show how the progress towards the goal will be measured. Therefore, there needs to be documentation of the student’s initial performance on the goal prior to the interventions.

What if the student will be learning a specialized strategy for multiplication for the very first time this year? When a brand new skill is being introduced, teams may set the baseline at zero, but it is best practice to document it. A baseline that is documented in a goal is easily communicated to the IEP team and meets legal mandates more effectively.

Pain Point 3: Over-Reliance on Percentages

For many IEP team members, “measurement” means “percentages.” While this may be suitable under some circumstances, other options may be more appropriate for different skills. Other forms of measurement may include:

  • Frequency: How often will the student perform a given skill within a specific time frame?
  • Duration: How long will the student sustain a desired activity, such as reading independently?
  • Rating scales including Likert-type scales: These can be useful for qualitative measures, such as speech intelligibility as rated by teacher observation.
  • Rubrics: Some assignments can be broken down into separate parts, so that individual skills can be measured.
  • Portfolios: Samples of the student’s work can demonstrate progress over time. A checklist of items required to be in the portfolio can be the measurement option.

Teams should always avoid using test scores, grades or grade equivalents as the measurement option in a goal. Each IEP goal is designed to develop a skill that addresses a specific area of academic or functional need. This calls for individualized progress monitoring of the goal, which is different than how that student scores on a test.

Pain Point 4: Too Many Skill Sets per Goal

One common mistake is loading two or more skills onto a single goal, such as “The student will increase reading speed and accuracy.”

In this scenario, the team is addressing two separate goals which would require keeping two separate sets of data. The first skill would address the number of words the student will read within a given time frame, while the second would specify the number of errors a student will make while reading a passage of a given length.

IEP goals must include specific skills a student will master in order to make progress. This progress should allow the student to access the targeted curriculum that is appropriate for their individual situation. Teams should avoid a simplistic restatement of the general education curriculum.

Pain Point 5: Data Collection Intervals Omitted

For every goal written, the team must specify when data collection will take place. For example, “3 times per month with purposeful sampling” means that 3 selected dates each month will be designated for data collection on the goal. So, a teacher or therapist may select three Tuesdays in January during reading block at 10:00 am to collect the data.

Determine appropriate data collection intervals to verify whether the student is on track to meet annual IEP goals. For example, if you only collect data once in a semester, that is probably not frequent enough to make a decision on progress.

Also, it’s important to document if a new skill can be demonstrated on a consistent basis and in which contexts. Teams may want to consider the following interval in those cases: “4 consecutive days of data collection within a semester” to make sure a student is maintaining a skill.

The data collection interval is not the same as the reporting cycle. At a minimum, parents must receive an update on their child’s progress at report card time, but data needs to be collected on a more frequent basis.

Pain Point 6: Data Evaluation Neglected

Merely collecting data isn’t enough. Teams should review and analyze the data.

Teams should include a data evaluation schedule for examining progress on students’ IEP goals. Will the team analyze the data daily, weekly or monthly? It’s probably wise to review the information at least a month before report cards are due.

Regular data evaluation habits allow the IEP team to know if a particular intervention is producing the desired outcome. If the student is not making adequate progress toward year-end goals, then the team can reconvene and make necessary adjustments.

Do you need to revise the annual goals? Do you need to adjust the services the student receives?

It’s always better to make adjustments during the school year instead of waiting until the end of the year when it’s too late.

Pain Point 7: “Still Progressing” Means “Unmet”

As the Supreme Court’s decision in the Endrew (2017) case made clear, repeating the same IEP goal year after year is not in alignment with free appropriate public education (FAPE). The student must be given the opportunity to meet challenging IEP goals by the end of the IEP cycle.

That means teams must report either “met” or “unmet” for every goal in the IEP. Even if the child is making progress on a goal, it is best practice for teams to report “unmet” instead of “still progressing.”

If teams are using good data collection habits throughout the year, this will assist them with determining goal progress towards the finish line. They can examine specific actions that will ensure the goal is met by the end of the annual IEP cycle.

Are you looking for tools for developing measurable IEP goals? A Smarter Steps Membership gives you access to our informative webinar series including Module 3, “How to Create Measurable Goals,” along with other helpful products and services.

If you would like more information on developing SMARTER IEP goals contact us to learn more.

Kelly Ott, MEd, MHS, CCC-SLP  and Lara Wakefield, PhD, CCC-SLP
S.M.A.R.T.E.R. Steps resources and support services on TPT and at smartersteps.com

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