Part 2 of 3: Examining Ineffective IEP Goals

In this edition, I want to explore the essential foundation for the development of a SMART IEP.  This begins with a well written Student Strengths and Key Evaluation Results Summary.  The Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education provides the following prompts for this section.

  • What are the student’s educational strengths, interest areas, significant personal attributes and personal accomplishments?
  • What is the student’s type of disability(ies), general education performance including MCAS/district test results, achievement towards goals and lack of expected progress, if any? (1)

The student summary should always begin with the student’s strengths and areas of interest.  This is followed by the student’s disability(ies) and needs to be directly linked to the way in which these weaknesses manifest in the academic setting for the individual.  A description of the disability in general terms is not SMART because each child will have unique needs resulting from the disability.  The summary includes testing results, teacher/parent observations, classroom performance, work samples, and clinical interpretations.  SMART goals and objectives are then developed as a plan of treatment based on the identified deficits.  A goal should be developed to treat each area of weakness.  In my last post, I explained that SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Action-Based, Realistic and Relevant, and Time-Limited.

Let’s take a look at example goals that are NOT SMART for the purpose of discerning what is SMART:

  • Justin will improve his reading skills by the end of the IEP.
  • Sally will demonstrate improved writing skills.
  • Jake will improve his mathematical ability.
  • Susan will increase study skills for academic success.

These goals miss the mark right away because they are vague and, therefore, cannot be specific.  For the sake of example, we will analyze the first goal: Justin will improve his reading skills by the end of the IEP.  Specific means the goal targets one area of academic achievement and performance.  In the goal about Justin, these questions need answering:

  • What area of reading?  Phonemic Awareness, Phonological Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, or Comprehension?
  • How will this behavior be measured or observed?
  • Where is the Action?
  • How can improvement be measured?  If it’s a decoding goal, will Justin be reading more difficult text with more fluency?  Will his words per minute increase?  If so, what is the starting point and where is he expected to end?

In terms of Realistic and Relevant, this goal needs to directly match Justin’s unique needs resulting from his disability.  This goal is Time-Limited in that it states by the end of the IEP period, but this is of little use because the meat of the goal is missing.  So in effect, the IEP team has set a time limit to reach an unknown destination.

Consider IEP goals in light of the medical model.  If a patient has a torn meniscus, the treatment must be based on a SMART approach.  A mere Justin’s ability to use his knee will improve does not suffice.  This may be a favorable outcome, however; the treatment plan must directly state howwhen, and under what conditions this outcome will take place.  I think we can agree that treatment for a torn meniscus would never be written so loosely.  So, why then is it acceptable to treat the education of children loosely?  It is not!  According to the United States Department of Education National Institute of Literacy, 32 million adults in the U.S. cannot read.(2)  This is, in my opinion, clearly a matter of health.

The next edition will use a student case study to demonstrate SMART goals and how they should be used in an IEP.

(1)  Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education

(2)  Statistic Brain, Illiteracy Statistics. Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Institute of Literacy, Research Date: 4.28.2013.


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