Leading IEP Champions: How to Get SMART Goals on Your Child’s IEP

December 13, 2014

Have you ever attended an IEP meeting and left feeling lost or confused? As a special education teacher and parent of a child with a rare disorder, I can appreciate both sides and I can share your frustration as a parent. IEP meetings and case conferences can sometimes lack clarity and focus and it is up to us to know the process well and to contribute to the meeting in a professional and constructive way.

I recently attended a case conference at my son’s school to discuss goals on his IEP (Individual Education Plan). Our son Dante had just been through a series of psychological testing and it was time to set some specific goals that came directly from the recommendations. Understanding IEP language can be confusing and it’s made up of many parts. It is driven from assessments, observations and medical reports. But if there is one part you can become an expert in, it’s the action plan and the goals you want your child to achieve.

Creating an IEP for a child with a rare disorder can be challenging. Not only do we have to help our school teams understand the complexities of the syndrome/disorder, we need to learn how to effectively set SMART goals to help our child reach their maximum potential.

Our son, Dante needs a very specific plan around building relationships and improving social interactions and it was not good enough to state that he will “engage with his peers.” So we began to engage with the school team about how we can turn that overall goal into something that is specific and measurable.

So what is a SMART goal?

Setting goals on your child’s IEP is a team effort that should include input from all members. Parents and students should not only be involved in the process but they should have the final say. When you are considering goals, make sure you set goals that are SMART:

Specific: Goals are written in clear, unambiguous language.

Measurable: Goals allow student achievement to be assessed and evaluated. Collection of data is important when goals are difficult to measure or when triggers are hard to find.

Achievable and Action-oriented: Goals are written in terms of what the student will do. Goals are meaningful for the student, focused on positive and achievable changes.

Relevant and Realistic: Goals are realistic for the student and based on current level of achievement.

Timely: Goals can be accomplished within a specified period (months, semester or school year).

me and boys in leavesIn order to assess the clarity of a goal or objective, ask yourself and discuss the following questions with your school team:

• Is the language explicit, easily understood and concise?

• Is it directly linked to the student’s current level of performance?

• Is it consistent/relevant with the vision for the student?

• Is it challenging but achievable within the school year?

• Is it measurable or can objectives be created that are measurable?

• Is it consistent with the student’s past achievement and current rate of progress?

Goal writing is a formula that is made up of 5 steps: Behavior, Condition, Criteria, Evaluation and Schedule. It is important to use these steps when creating SMART goals with your school team. As our family thought through these questions and followed this formula we came up with this SMART goal for our son Dante to address some social concerns he was having in a regular grade 5 classroom so that we can work toward improving his social skills:

Dante will initiate a conversation with a peer (behavior) when provided with a choice of conversation- starters in a social skills group setting with one or more peers present (condition), by the end of the term. Dante will speak 5 words or more to a peer within the first 5 minutes of reviewing the conversation starters (criteria). This goal will be measured by observational data (frequency count of words spoken to a peer – evaluation), weekly by a Child Youth Worker (schedule).

Check out this website for more excellent examples of SMART goals related to behavior:

As goals are achieved, it is important to set new ones. IEP’s are working documents that are constantly changing and parents can call a meeting to review, change and add SMART goals whenever they want. Remember IEP goals are based on skills sets rather than grades.

For further explanation of writing SMART goals on IEP’s and excellent examples of SMART goals, take a look at Chapter 12 from Wright’s Law:

Finally, please join me and more than 500 members on my Facebook group (Education and Advocacy: Maximizing Learning Potential) to keep the conversation going and share your experiences and expertise with us:!/groups/459882400757033/

Together, we will become IEP champions so that we can eliminate the educational challenges of rare disorders. Like my page, post your questions and help us reach our first goal of 500 likes:!/IEPChampion


By Tanya Johnson (Rare Parent and Advocate, Special Education Teacher, Co-founder of FPWR Canada)

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