Writing Effective Goals

Posted by Angie Balsley on 3/9/2018 7:00:00 AM

Students’ goals are the heart of their individualized education plan. Writing meaningful, individualized, and measurable goals is an art, a science, and a cyclical process. Despite loads of practice and training, writing effective goals can still be challenging even for the most experienced educators. This article shares the basic recipe for writing effective goals, and concludes with additional resources teachers may find useful.

Step one: The first step to writing a goal is to determine a student’s starting point or their present level of performance. This data is gathered from a variety of sources including the psychological report, benchmark and standardized assessments, classroom performance, observation, progress monitoring data from previous goals and interventions, and a variety of other available data such as attendance, discipline referrals, and health records. Combined, this information illuminates the student’s needs or lagging skills.

Step two: The second step in writing a goal is to know where a student is going and what we expect him/her to be able to achieve after working on this goal for the next year. Nearly all students, including those with IEP’s, receive their core instruction in the general education classroom with the general education curriculum. Therefore IEP goals aren’t typically written for what we’d expect of a student in that same grade level without an IEP. Instead, IEP goals should be written to address the needs and lagging skills identified in step one. IEP goals are what’s special about special education. The IEP goal addresses what a student needs to be taught to make progress towards achieving grade-level content standards. This is why the goals are aligned with state standards.

Step three: The third step in writing a goal is to address what is going to be provided to the student to master this goal and how it will be determined when the student has achieved the goal. This is where the art of goal writing comes into practice. Teachers must reach deep into their knowledge banks of effective practice to define the specially designed instruction that will be provided to the student in order to ensure that the student meets the goal.

Step four: The fourth and final step in writing a goal is to precisely define how the goal will be measured. This is the science of goal writing and is a critically important part of writing an effective goal. Teachers must define how data will be collected and how the success of the student will be determined. Essentially, the teacher is writing her own goal-attainment rubric which defines the required task of progress monitoring. The data collected through progress monitoring provides new information for present levels of performance which will be utilized when crafting new goals for the student’s annual case conference. This is why the nature of IEP goal writing is considered a cyclical process.

Simple recipe, right? The recipe is simple, yet the art and science of crafting effective goals remains challenging. To support teachers in this task, the Indiana IEP Resource Center has created a Goal Development Checklist and an accompanying  Goal Development Short Share Video. Additionally, the Earlywood Lending Library has these three books available for educators who want to refine their goal writing skills including  From Gobbledygook to Clearly Written Annual IEP Goals by B. Bateman, 800+ Measurable Goals & Objectives by C. Feyter, and Writing Measurable Goals and Objectives by B. Bateman & C. Herr. Consider borrowing them or purchasing your own copy as a handy desk reference.