Individualized Education Program (IEP) Goals and New Year's Resolutions: What do they have in common?

By Executive Director of Special Education, Dr. Tamara Jackson  



Is it too late to say Happy New Year?

A New Year's resolution is a tradition in which a person resolves to change an undesired trait or behavior, or they hope to improve a skill or ability.

I would like to draw your attention to the IEP goal writing progress and the similarities involved in developing IEP Goals and New Year’s Resolutions. First, let’s stipulate that the term resolution can be synonymous with the term goal.

Take a popular New Year’s resolution -  to improve physical well-being: eat healthy food, lose weight, and exercise more.  The first step in developing the goal would be to determine the baseline.  What is your current level of performance and what progress do you hope to make in a specified amount of time?

The baseline could be that Johnny Sr., currently exercises three times a week for 30 minutes. Each IEP goal also begins with a baseline. The baseline should describe the child’s current performance on the skills identified in the goal. The baseline should be a quantifiable description of classroom performance in the specified area. (i.e., reads 20 sight words, writes a simple paragraph of 2-4 sentences, etc.).  For example, Johnny Jr.,  can read 10 words from the 2nd grade Dolch Sight Words list. Johnny’s  parents and teacher(s) agree that the goal for the coming year will be that Johnny will be able to read all 46 words from the 2nd grade Dolch Sight words list with 85% accuracy by this same time next year which is the IEP anniversary date.

Now, to help keep Johnny Sr. and Johnny Jr. on track, we keep formative data on their progress.  Johnny Sr. may record his exercise on his Fitbit and Johnny Jr.’s teacher will keep a running record on Johnny Jr. 's ability to read the words on the list.  Johnny Jr.’s progress will be documented in the short term objectives, (also known as benchmarks). Teachers update benchmarks as often as report cards are sent  home. While Johnny Jr. may not have a fancy Fitbit, his teacher may make a chart of his progress, which can be very motivating for Johnny Jr.

The goals are the most important part of the IEP because the goals drive a student’s placement and services. The Special Education teacher will write IEP Goals in each area of need and the goals must be directly related to California core content standards. Remember, goals are not only written for academic skills.  When needed, goals can also be written to improve on-task behavior, self-advocacy, or even social skills, just to name a few.

The Special Education teacher will bring draft goals to the IEP meeting  to discuss with the parents and other members of the IEP team. It is then up to the educators to determine what interventions will be used to teach the skills.  Some parents want schools to teach their child using a specific curriculum, methodology or therapy and this is not something included in the IEP. The decisions about how skills are taught are determined by the State of California, the district, and the teacher, according to research based strategies and curriculum adoptions. Our teachers in La Canada are open to listening to parent suggestions and trying additional techniques but it cannot be mandated in the IEP.

In conclusion, annual goals are like a roadmap.  Where is your student heading this year?

Where are you headed? All goals, whether they be for increasing the amount of exercise or increasing  sight word recognition should be SMART goals.

S       Specific

M       Measurable

A        Agreed Upon

R         Realistic

T          Time-Based

It can be very exciting and motivating for students when parents share their own goals and their progress. Special Education students have Individualized Education Programs and parents can develop “Individual Enhancement Programs”.