COVID-19   Law    Advocacy    Topics A-Z     Training    Wrights' Blog   Wrightslaw Store    Yellow Pages for Kids 

Home > Articles > Game Plan: Writing Good IEP Goals & Objectives

The Special Ed Advocate newsletter
It's Unique ... and Free!

Enter your email address below:

Training Programs

June 5-8 - San Antonio, TX

Aug. 22 - TRT-CLE

Sept. 24 - MD via ZOOM

Full Schedule


Topics from A-Z
Free Newsletter
Seminars & Training
Yellow Pages for Kids
Press Room

Books & Training

Wrightslaw Storesecure store lock
  Advocate's Store
  Student Bookstore
  Exam Copies
Training Center
Mail & Fax Orders

Advocacy Library

Cool Tools
Doing Your Homework
Ask the Advocate
Newsletter Archives
Short Course Series
Success Stories

Law Library

Fed Court Complaints
IDEA 2004
McKinney-Vento Homeless
Section 504


American Indian
Assistive Technology
Autism Spectrum
Behavior & Discipline
College/Continuing Ed
Due Process
Early Intervention
  (Part C)

Episodic, such as
   Allergies, Asthma,
   Diabetes, Epilepsy, etc

Future Planning
High-Stakes Tests
Homeless Children
IDEA 2004
Identification & Child Find
Juvenile Justice
Law School & Clinics
Letters & Paper Trails
LRE / Inclusion
Military / DOD
Parental Protections
PE and Adapted PE
Privacy & Records
Procedural Safeguards
Progress Monitoring
Related Services
Research Based

Response to Intervention

Restraints / Seclusion
   and Abuse

School Report Cards
Section 504
Teachers & Principals
Twice Exceptional (2e)
VA Special Education

Resources & Directories

Advocate's Bookstore
Advocacy Resources
  Disability Groups
  State DOEs
  State PTIs
Free Flyers
Free Pubs
Free Newsletters
Legal & Advocacy
   Legal Terms
   Assessment Terms
Best School Websites


Wrightslaw Game Plan: SMART IEPs
by Pete Wright and Pam Wright

Print this page

Diane writes: "Help! I need good IEP goals and objectives!"
I know my son's IEP is inadequate. The school's IEP goal for him is "Commitment to academic success." If "Commitment to academic success" is not an appropriate goal, what should I propose in its place? 

I need to find good IEPs to help me construct a model. How are measurable goals defined? Can you give me an example of a well-written IEP?

Mary writes: "Help! I need good IEP goals and objectives!"
I am a first year special education teacher. I need to see some good IEP goals. I haven't had enough experience with this and need to feel more secure in this area. Can you point me in the right direction?
The "IEP Problem"

Diane is a parent, Mary is a special education teacher. Both are asking for help in writing IEP goals and objectives. Diane and Mary represent thousands of people who write to us every year with questions about how to write IEPs.  

What makes writing IEPs so difficult?

What makes the IEP process so confusing? 

When you ask for a list of "good IEP goals," you are putting the cart before the horse!

Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance

IDEA 2004 requires the IEP team to describe the child's "present levels of academic achievement and functional performance." The present levels of performance should describe the child’s unique needs that result from the disability. 

When you begin this process by analyzing the child’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance, the IEP process will make sense. If you begin by trying to find "good goals and objectives," you will probably fail because the goals won’t relate to your child's unique needs.

Pete says the IEP that Florence County prepared for Shannon Carter is one of the better written IEPs he has seen. Why? Florence County's IEP included two clear, measurable goals: 

* Shannon will progress from the 5.4 to the 5.8 grade level in reading as measured by the Woodcock Johnson Reading Mastery Test *

* Shannon will progress from the 6.4 to the 6.8 grade level in math as measured by the KeyMath Test *

What was the problem with this IEP? The goals were set too low. Shannon was about to enter 10th grade. If she met these goals, she would fall even further behind. 

The IEP must also include a plan to meet ALL the child’s unique needs. The IEP should tell you exactly what the school will do to address the child’s needs. Finally, the IEP should give you a way to know if the IEP (educational plan) is working. 

Your IEP Game Plan

Here is your game plan. First, download and read the following articles and resources.

1. Read Chapters 10 and 11 (Tests and Measurements 101 and 102) in Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, 2nd edition or download Understanding Tests & Measurements for the Parent, Advocate and Attorney.

Tip: If you download this article, make sure you get the graphics. It may be better to print the article from the screen to ensure that you have the graphics.

2. Read Chapter 12 about SMART IEPs in Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, 2nd edition by Pam & Pete Wright.
You may also download a free copy of the SMART IEPs chapter from Wrightslaw for your personal use.

3. Download, print and read the IEP Tutorials and Checklists from the Fetaweb site ( is the companion website for Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy) Order From Emotions to Advocacy

How to Write Measurable Annual Goals

How to Make Annual Goals Measurable: Examples and Tips

Present Levels of Performance Checklist

Annual Goals Checklist

Short Term Objectives and Benchmarks Checklist

IEP Review Checklist

4. Download and read
SMART IEP Goals: A Tactics & Strategy Session with Pete Wright

Expect to read this material more than once. Expect to read the chapters about Tests and Measurements three times. Use a highlighter. Make margin notes.
Be patient.

Identify the Child's Unique Needs

Assume your child has deficits in reading (reading problems are the most common deficit among children with disabilities, regardless of the child's disability). To remedy your child's reading problems, the school provided special education services for the past three years.

Do you know where your child's reading skills are now? Do you know what areas of reading continue to be a problem for the child?

Has the child made progress? How much progress? Is the child catching up to the peer group? Has your child fallen even further behind? 

What do standard scores, percentile ranks, subtest scores, and age and grade equivalents mean?

To successfully negotiate for services that provide true educational benefit, you must learn how to interpret educational and psychological test scores. Understanding Tests & Measurements for the Parent, Advocate and Attorney is required reading for ALL of our parents. 

Learn about SMART IEPs

The term SMART IEPs describes IEPs that are specific, measurable, use action
words, are realistic and relevant, and time-limited.

S Specific
M Measurable
A Use Action Words
R Realistic and relevant
T Time-limited

Let's look at these terms.


SMART IEPs have specific goals and objectives. Specific goals target areas of academic achievement and functional performance. They include clear descriptions of the knowledge and skills that will be taught and how the child’s progress will be measured.


SMART IEPs have measurable goals and objectives. Measurable means you can count or observe it.

Measurable goals allow parents and teachers to know how much progress the child has made since the performance was last measured. With measurable goals, you will know when the child reaches the goal.

Action Words

IEP goals include three components that must be stated in measurable terms:

(a) direction of behavior (increase, decrease, maintain, etc.)
(b) area of need (i.e., reading, writing, social skills, transition, communication, etc.)
(c) level of attainment (i.e., to age level, without assistance, etc.)

SMART IEPs use action words like: “The child will be able to . . .”

Realistic and Relevant

SMART IEPs have realistic, relevant goals and objectives that address the child’s unique needs that result from the disability.

SMART IEP goals are not based on district curricula, state or district tests, or other external standards.


SMART IEP goals and objectives are time-limited. What does the child need to know and be able to do after one year of special education? What is the starting point for each of the child’s needs (present levels of academic achievement and functional performance)?

Time-limited goals and objectives enable you to monitor progress at regular intervals.

Learn about Measurable IEP Goals

IDEA 2004 requires your child’s IEP to include:

"a statement of the child’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance, including how the child’s disability affects the child’s involvement and progress in the general education curriculum . . . [and]

"a statement of measurable annual goals, including academic and functional
, designed to meet the child’s needs that result from the child’s disability to
enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general education
curriculum; and ... meet each of the child’s other educational needs that result from the child’s disability. (See
Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition, page 99)

Assume your child has a language learning disability (like dyslexia). The child’s skills in reading, writing, spelling and math should be measured on objective tests before the child enters special education and at frequent intervals thereafter. 

The IEP goals tell you what the child should accomplish in one year, if the special education services are appropriate. Measurable goals provide a way for you and the other members of the IEP team to determine if the services are sufficient, and if the child is making acceptable progress.  


Use these tutorials and checklists from Nissan Bar-Lev, Donita O'Donnell, and the staff of Cooperative Educational Service Agency #7 (CESA-7) to fine-tune your skills in writing measurable IEP goals and objectives.

In How to Write Measurable Annual Goals, Dr. Nissan Bar Lev writes, "Remember that 'measurable' means you can count it or observe it."

How to Make Annual Goals Measurable: Examples and Tips, Dr. Bar-Lev uses typical IEP goals to show you goals that are not clear and measurable, then shows you how to revise the goals so they are clear and measurable.


Present Levels of Performance Checklist
. Key question; purpose; definition; key characteristics; writing strategy.

Annual Goals Checklist - Key question; purpose; definition; key characteristics; writing strategy.

Short Term Objectives and Benchmarks Checklist - Key question; purpose; key characteristics; writing strategy.

IEP Review Checklist - If you are preparing for an IEP meeting, review this checklist.

Tip: We suggest that you make several copies of the tutorial and checklists to share with the IEP team.

Many schools have continued to use objectives in IEPs because objectives provide useful information to teachers and parents. Although IDEA 2004 does not require IEPs to include objectives and/or benchmarks, it does not forbid IEP teams from including them either.

Our thanks to Nissan Bar-Lev, Donita O'Donnell, and the staff of Cooperative Educational Service Agency #7 (CESA-7) for permission to use these checklists.

Cooperative Educational Service Agency No. 7 (CESA-7) won first place in the Wrightslaw Best School Website Contest.
The CESA-7 site is a rich source of information for parents and teachers. We encourage you to visit this website - you'll be glad you did!

SMART IEPs: A Tactics and Strategy Session

How can you get SMART goals in your child's IEP? What can you do if the school wants to use "teacher observations," not objective testing in the IEP?
In an interview of Pete and Pam Wright, you will learn about:

* requirements for present levels of academic achievement & functional performance
* how to use a private educational consultant
* requirements for measurable academic and functional goals
* accommodations and modifications
* impact of low expectations
* how to avoid methodology disputes
* tutoring & how to find qualified tutors
* response to intervention (RTI)
* extended school year (ESY)
* the parent's (active) role

Read SMART IEPs: A Tactics and Strategy Session by Pete and Pam Wright.

Learn more about IEPs.

To Top

Last Revised: 01/14/08

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon The Special Ed Advocate: It's Free!

25% OFF
Print Book & PDF Combos!

Order Wrightslaw Product
s Today!

Check Out
The Advocate's Store!

Wrightslaw on FacebookWrightslaw on TwitterWrightslaw YouTube Channel 

Wrightslaw Books
Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 3rd Edition, by Pam and Pete Wright
About the Book

Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, 2nd Edition
About the Book

Wrightslaw: All About IEPs
About the Book

Wrightslaw: All About Tests and Assessments
About the Book

Wrightslaw: Special Education Legal Developments and Cases 2019
About the Book

Surviving Due Process: Stephen Jeffers v. School Board
About the DVD Video

The Advocate's Store

Understanding Your Child's
Test Scores (1.5 hrs)

Wrightslaw Special: $14.95