Once your child’s needs are identified, you and your ARD/IEP team will work to develop appropriate annual goals to meet those needs. An annual goal describes what your child can be expected to do or learn within a 12-month period. You and your team may also identify some short-term objectives to include in this section of the IEP.
Writing the goals can be one of the hardest parts of developing an IEP, because goals can cover so many different areas. Some goals may relate to the general education curriculum. Other goals may focus on learning developmental or functional skills, such as eating independently, sitting with classmates, or reading Braille. A third kind of goal may involve your child’s social or emotional needs. True, these don’t come under a typical academic curriculum. But if your child has social or emotional needs, goals to meet those needs should be included in the IEP. For more information on state laws governing IEP goals, see the IEP Annual Goal Development Question and Answer document (PDF).
The annual goals should be based on your child’s Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP or “present levels”). The PLAAFP statement identifies what your child needs. The goals should be written to address those needs.
A well-written goal should be positive, and describe a skill that can be seen and measured. In Texas, there are four required components of an annual goal: Timeframe (when); Behavior (what); Condition (in what manner); and Criterion (at what level). Answering these questions provides those components:
- Who will achieve the goal?
- What skill or behavior will be achieved? (behavior)
- How or in what manner and at what level will the skill or behavior be achieved? (condition, criterion)
- Where or in what setting and under what conditions will the goal be achieved?
- When or by what time or date will the goal be achieved? (timeframe)
Download Hints for Writing Measurable Goals & Objectives (PDF) for a list of suggested words to use in writing goals.
Here are examples of two annual goals for a child we’ll call Ava. Notice that they are directly linked to her present levels of academic achievement and functional performance:
From Ava’s PLAAFP: Ava continues to develop her skills in the area of Social Emotional Development, specifically with an instructional focus in Social Competence. Ava currently has difficulty interacting with other children and engages in parallel play only. Most 40-month-old children can express preferences and/or affection for some peers and converse with peers. Some children between 30 and 48 months can actively seek out play partners and appropriately invite them to play.
Goal 1: By the end of the fourth nine-week session, Ava will approach a small group of her peers who are engaged in a high-interest activity and ask, “Can I play?” independently (no added prompts), in 8 out of 10 opportunities.
Goal 2: By the end of the fourth nine-week session, when approached by a peer who says, “Hi, can I play?” Ava will respond to her peer verbally (with or without eye contact) with “yes play/no thank you” or sign/move her head for yes or no in response to the question. She’ll do this independently (no prompts), in 8 out of 10 opportunities.
Short-term objectives are not required. But if Ava’s IEP team developed short-term objectives to help monitor her progress toward Goal 1, it might look like this:
Objectives: For this goal, our objectives change the expectations for Ava for the number of times (criterion) she independently asks to play over the course of the school year.
- By the end of the first nine weeks, Ava will approach a small group of students and ask, “Can I play?” independently (no prompts) in 2 out of 10 opportunities.
- By the end of the second nine weeks, 4 out of 10 opportunities.
- By the end of the third nine weeks, 6 out of 10 opportunities.
Effective goals are critical parts of your child’s IEP. Keeping track of your child’s progress is just as important. Guidelines for how you and the school will know if your child is making enough progress to reach her goals must also be included in her IEP. These guidelines explain how your child’s progress will be measured, and when and how often you will get progress reports.
Sometimes goals will include specifics for how well your child must perform in order to achieve the goal. In the examples for Ava, this was specified as how many times she will perform the goal behavior within 10 opportunities. These measures are called evaluation criteria.
Good evaluation criteria are observable and measurable. In Ava’s case, anyone observing her would be able to count (measure) how many times she approaches a group of children and asks to play.
In addition to describing how your child’s progress will be measured, the IEP must also describe when you will get periodic reports on that progress. For some special education programs, progress reports are issued when report cards are sent. But your reports may come on a different schedule, depending on the policies or practices in your school district.
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Parts of this article were adapted from the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY), Parent Guide 12 by Theresa Rebhorn.