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How to Write Good IEP Goals

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How do you write good IEP goals? It’s an important question. The goals are the basis of what everyone on the team will be working on with a student with special needs for the next year. No matter your student’s diagnosis, autism, learning disability, intellectual disability, ADHD, or something else, they must have solid and clear IEP goals. Read on to learn my tips and tricks for writing a good IEP goal.

I hate poorly written IEP goals. They make my job so much harder! 

When I get a new student the first thing I do is look over their IEP to see what their present level of functioning is and what we need to be working on.

If the IEP is written poorly or has bad goals, then I have no idea where to start and it can impact the quality of services I provide going forward.

So as part of my effort to eliminate poorly written goals, I’m going to cover my tips and tricks for writing a good meaningful IEP goal in this post! 

Whether you’re new to teaching or just looking to improve the quality of your IEPs I have got a great freebie for you!

Join my email list to get access to my free resource library, which includes a How to Write an IEP Goal Checklist! 

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If you are a special education teacher or a one-on-one service provider make sure to join my email list! In addition to staying up to date on my posts, you also get access to my free resource library, which is full of a lot of great printable freebies!

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This is a very broad question. Really I know a bad goal when I see it. However a few qualities I look for include

  • Too broad or vague
  • Covering too many areas
  • Not including clear criteria 
  • Inappropriate for the child’s ability
    • Too easy
    • Too hard
  • Impossible to collect data on
  • Hard for new team members to understand

That last one is probably the most important! 

If I’m new to the team, then I wasn’t at the meeting when this document was created, but it should be written in a manner I can understand, and that gives me a picture of what I’m working on.

When you’re writing an IEP goal, try to pretend you’re new to the case and have not met the student in question. Do you understand this goal and would you know how to work on it?

The criteria portion of the goal is what lays out how providers and team members will know when it is met. 

It usually reads something like “Goal will be considered met when _____________ is displayed eight out of ten times over _____________ period of days.”

It can also mention getting a score of 80% or so on, but this is super important. 

The students should always be demonstrating the skill or knowledge base 80% of the time. That is the industry standard for a skill considered being mastered.

Expecting 100% is not reasonable. (I don’t even take my trash out when I’m supposed to 100% of the time as an adult, even though it was drilled into my brain as a child).

And anything lower than 80% isn’t being used enough to be consistently beneficial. 

If I see an IEP with any other number in the criteria, which I have, that instantly tells me the person who wrote this IEP didn’t know what they were doing.

So for mastery, we’re going for 80%! Drill it into your brain. Never forget it.

The first thing you need to do to write a good IEP goal, and really the most important thing you should do in teaching in general is to know your students!

I feel like one of my professors. That was what they used to say over and over again and the feedback I’d get constantly on my observations when I was student teaching.


It’s true though, and I do get why they said it so often. 

If you don’t know your students you wind up writing goals that are not appropriate for their skill level, and that can be detrimental to their education and even lead to lawsuits.

I remember I once started a case where the IEP only had two or three goals that weren’t appropriate to the child. This was a kid capable of learning to write, who read fluently but just had some language expression problems. 

His IEP had five goals. The only academic one was that he would learn to write the first letter of his name! 

Considering he was able to learn how to write all the letters of the alphabet upper case and lower case within the next year, needless to say, that IEP goal was not appropriate. It was far too easy.

You want your goals to be something you can achieve with your students in the next year.

Make sure to join my email list and get access to my free resource library! It includes a wonderful checklist on How to Write Good IEP Goals! 

Click here to get your freebie!

You also don’t want to put down goals just for the sake of putting down goals. They should be things that would have a meaningful impact on your child’s ability to function in school or life.

I often find these goals to be the ones based on emotions and how we respond to others. 

If I have a child, let’s call him Carl, that refuses to try new activities, I can instantly see that is a problem. If Carl never tries anything new, Carl can’t grow and learn. He’ll just be doing things you already mastered.

For me to really unlock Carl’s potential, I need him to accept new activities. 

Once he’s able to do that, I’ll be able to introduce them to all the new skills and academic concepts to him much more positively. Then my sessions will have a greater impact on the rest of his goals. 

I would write an IEP goal like this “Carl will improve his flexibility and try new things, such as academic tasks, games, food, and so on. He will agree to try new things for five minutes without resistant behavior 8/10 times.” 

First I looked at Carl’s life. I take notes and observe all I can. Then I ask what is achievable and would make the most meaningful impact on his education? Then turn that into a goal.

If Carl were real, I would feel good focusing on that goal for the rest of the year.

If you want to learn more about improving students’ flexibility, check out this blog post!

Good IEP goals also have to have clear checkpoints or baby steps. This helps you break down the goal, and prevents you and other providers from being overwhelmed. 

Let’s go back to the Carl example. 

I wouldn’t expect Carl’s resistance to vanish overnight. Instead, I would start with something simpler for his checkpoint. Something super small and achievable to set him up for success.

My first checkpoint would probably be, “Carl will agree to try and actively engage in new things with moderate resistant behavior for three minutes every session 8/10 times.”

It’s clear, and related to the goal, and gives someone else on the team a clear idea of how long he should be trying this new thing. 3 minutes. 

He also has to actively engage. Meaning he can’t just sit there doing nothing for three minutes and have it count. The goal states when the checkpoint will be considered met. When he’s able to do it for 8 out of 10 sessions. 

Also note, the expectation is not that the resistant behavior is completely gone at this point. It’s a process. 

When I’m writing Carl’s IEP the goal would look like this. 

Carl will improve his flexibility and try new things, such as academic tasks, games, food, and so on. He will agree to try new things for five minutes without resistant behavior 8/10 times.

  1. Carl will agree to try and actively engage in new things with moderate resistant behavior for three minutes every session 8/10 times.
  2. Carl will agree to try and actively engage in new things with mild resistant behavior for three minutes every session 8/10 times.
  3. Carl will agree to try and actively engage in new things with no resistant behavior for three minutes every session 8/10 times.

As Carl gets better at it I can also up the time on the checkpoint from three minutes to four.

This one isn’t super complicated. Write down how you plan to collect data on your students’ progress. 

In the case of Carl that data can be observational notes or something as simple as making a tally for moderate resistant, mild resistance, or no resistance. 

I tend to take data like that constantly, and write the data will be taken however many times I see a student a week. 

With Carl, for example, let’s say I see him three times a week, the data collection sections states. “Data will be collected through teacher notations on behavior, taken 3x a week.”

But you can customize it to your goal. 

Either way, what you’re working on and how to measure progress has to be clear. That anyone who needs to take over for you can do so easily.

And remember to join my email list to get a checklist on How to Write Good IEP Goals!

Click here to join!

When you don’t spend a lot of time writing, IEP goals can be challenging and intimidating. However, don’t let that stop you from trying and doing your best.

Remember teaching is about being reflective and you don’t have to get everything perfectly right all the time. If you’re reading this, you’re clearly doing everything you can to make sure you learn and do your best! 

Be kind to yourself as you learn, and if you’re worried about your goals, you can always ask another teacher you trust to look over what you’ve written and give you suggestions! 

Don’t forget to join my email list to get your free checklist on how to write good IEP goals!

Click here to join! 

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