Writing Stellar IEP Goals

Let's face it, in our job as Special Educators we wear many hats.  Some of those are more fun than others.  I love spending time with my students and watching them learn and grow.  As for paperwork and IEP meetings...not as much fun, but it's part of our job and it guides those moments of fun and growth with our students.

If your caseload is anything like mine, I'm sure you've sat in your share of IEP meetings.  IEP goals seem to be the real meat of a lot of our meetings.

When I am writing goals, I like to keep 3 things in mind.

Define the Area of Need
When we write our IEP goals they need to address the areas where our students are lacking.  To do this, I have put together a quick form I use when determining student area of need.  Click on the image below to snag a copy of the form.

I keep this inventory in my student's binder and keep a note of areas where the student will need to take their next steps in learning.  As student's IEPs are approaching I will reference this sheet often to help me determine goals for my students.

Write A Goal; Make it Measurable!
After I have determined my student's areas of needs, I need to write a goal for that area of need.  Anywhere the student has an area of deficit a goal should always be written.  We want our students making progress in all areas.  I have written IEPs with 10-15 goals at times, but these students needed to make progress in every area.

The other important point for writing goals is to make this goal understandable by anyone who picks it up.  I have inherited my share of goals that I did not understand what the student was supposed to do.  For example, I have received a student from another district with a goal that was something like this: "(Student) will participate in peer play involving 2-3 activities with minimal adult prompting..."  Say what?!  Do we mean playing with toys?  Games on the playground?  Classroom games?  What in the world is "minimal adult prompting"?  I get the idea of the goal, but this goal can be interpreted differently by anyone who reads the students IEP.

To solve this problem when I'm writing an IEP I follow this simple rule:

Say what?!  You heard it right, I like to write my IEP goals and imagine that my students will be moving away in the middle of the school year.  I want whoever picks up the IEP to understand exactly what this student is aiming to learn in the coming year.  Let's look back at that first IEP Goal.  There are some pieces of information missing from that goal to make easy to understand by the person who picks it up.  It is missing the information about the setting, activities the student will engage in, and clarification about prompting.  This is how I would rewrite that goal so it makes sense to anyone who reads it:

The way this goal has been rewritten provides a lot more information and clarity to the reader.

Another great tip: Include lists as often as possible.  If a student is learning sight words include a list of the words to be learned.  Even if you are using a curriculum.  What if that student does move away and they do not have the same curriculum?  How will they know which words to teach?

Make it Measurable
Measuring goals in quite possibly the most overlooked part in writing goals.  Sure, students need to meet goals, but without thinking about the way in which data collection will be done, some goals are hard to measure.

When I am writing goals, I always think about how often the student is working on the skill and how often I'm going to take data and I always include that in my IEP Goal.  For example, if we are writing a goal for an arrival routine and I took data EVERY day it's not going to change much.  I feel pretty safe taking data on routines about 1x/week.  In these cases I often use the qualifier "in 3/4 over 1 month".  This allows me to teach the skill daily, but data only would need to be collected once a week.

Often I like to attach the data collection sheets I will be using to the IEP itself (love living in the digital age, seriously don't know how teachers did ALL of this beforehand!).  That way if a student moves or is placed elsewhere, the new team will have access to this.

How do you make sure your IEP goals are stellar?  Have more questions about IEP goals?  Drop me a comment and I'll do my best to answer any questions!


  1. Erin, this is very helpful. I'm in my second year of special ed after a nearly 10 year break. I'm looking to change up how I keep data, specializing the data sheets to the goals instead of a one sheet fits all approach. Can you share any of your data sheets?

    1. Thank for the kind note, Lee! I have had a couple questions about that over social media since sharing this post. I'm working on a follow up post to share some of the data sheets I attach to my IEPs. Keep an eye out!

  2. This is great advice. I like what you pointed out about how often you would take data and include that in the goal. I have inherited some goals that I do not know how to measure and don't come with data. For instance, "given an ability-appropriate independent reading assignment, (student) will read the assignment and answer a minimum of 4/5 comprehension questions correctly" For a teacher just meeting this student, I had no idea what the "ability-appropriate" level would be, 1st, 2nd, 3rd? What's the baseline? What kind of comprehension questions? It can be so frustrating! IEPs need to pass the "stranger test." So, you have written a great post and I enjoy your blog!

    1. Thank you so much for your kind feedback. I will be expanding on this post soon, so keep checking in!


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