One of the most important topics you’ll discuss in your child’s IEP meeting is their goals for the school year. Whether academic, behavioral, functional, social, or communication-based, IEP goals prioritize the specific skills that your child needs to learn to progress through the general education curriculum, and they should be developed with your child’s long-term goals in mind. These goals — and your child’s progress toward meeting them — are used as measurement tools to indicate the effectiveness of their IEP. What every parent and IEP team should be thinking about when building a child’s IEP is whether the child’s placement and the provided supplementary aids and services will support them in meeting their IEP goals.

Here’s what you need to know to write appropriately challenging goals for your child.

What Does the Law Say About IEP Goals?


IDEA states that all IEPs must contain the following:

  • A statement of measurable annual goals for your child, including academic and functional goals that are designed to:
    • Meet your child’s needs resulting from their disability so they can be involved in the general curriculum and make progress in their studies, and
    • Meet each of your child’s other educational needs resulting from their disability.
      • If your child takes alternate assessments aligned to alternate academic achievement standards, then their IEP should include a description of benchmarks or short-term objectives.
  • A description of:
    • How your child’s progress toward meeting their annual goals will be measured, and
    • When you will be provided with periodic reports on the progress your child is making toward meeting their annual goals. For example, this can be done through the use of quarterly reports in addition to your child’s report cards.

After your child’s 15th birthday, IDEA requires that all IEPs include appropriate measurable postsecondary goals based on age-appropriate transition assessments. These assessments will be related to training, education, employment, and independent living skills where appropriate.

How Are IEP Goals Determined?


Parent Input and Needs Identification

  • Typically, any performance area (e.g., math, reading, social skills) with identified needs in the Present Levels of Performance (PLOP) section of your child’s IEP should be addressed with an IEP goal.
    • For example, if the IEP team has identified math skills your child needs to work on (these are also called ”needs”), then there should be at least one goal for math written into their IEP.
  • Your input as a parent is incredibly valuable when it comes to determining which skills to prioritize. Here are some of the questions that you are most equipped to answer in the IEP meeting:
    • Are there academic, functional, social, or communication goals that would be valuable in both the home and school setting?
    • Which skills will support your child's independence and long-term success?
    • Which skills provide the essential building blocks your child needs to be successful in a subject area?
  • If you aren’t asked to provide input during the meeting, you can reach out to your IEP team to let them know that you’d like to contribute to developing your child’s IEP goals. You are an integral part of the IEP team, after all.

Common Core State Standards

  • The Common Core State Standards affiliated with your child’s grade level should be used to determine which skills your child should work on.
  • Using the Common Core State Standards ensures that your child has the greatest access to the general education curriculum, and designs the goals to support your child in mastering state standards while also giving them the highest likelihood of earning a high school diploma.
    • This will also ensure the IEP goals are aligned with the general education curriculum, meaning there will be fewer opportunities for your child to be removed from the general education classroom to focus on completing those goals.
  • If your child has more significant support needs, you should still use the Common Core State Standards to guide IEP goal development.
  • Core Content Connectors can also be used to pinpoint the essential elements of the grade-level standard to better align with individual standards based on your child’s needs and abilities.
    • No IEP will have goals that cover all grade-level standards (there are simply too many), so you have to think carefully about which standards are essential and which skills will be the most beneficial for your child’s future.
    • For reference, a student will typically have one to three IEP goals for each performance area with an indicated need, and IEPs usually have anywhere from one to twenty goals total, depending on the student’s needs and the number of services the student receives.
      • Asking your child’s teacher to identify five Common Core State Standards per school subject that should be focused on can help narrow it down. (Collaboration with the teacher(s) to determine the most meaningful and important goals for your child is ideal.)
      • When IEP goals reflect general education standards, your IEP will set appropriate expectations for your child and provide teachers with a trajectory forward.
      • And remember, the quantity of IEP goals is not indicative of a successful IEP!

Conversations with Your Child’s Teacher

Here’s what one of these conversations we mentioned above might look like.

  • Perhaps a teacher tells you that the following standard will be a standard addressed throughout the year:
    • Number & Operations in Base Ten: 3.NBT.A.2: Fluently add and subtract within 1000 using strategies and algorithms based on place value, properties of operations, and/or the relationship between addition and subtraction.
  • You believe that your child would benefit greatly from learning to do this, but you recognize that the current standard is far beyond your child’s abilities at this moment in time. You then look to the Core Content Connector, which states:
    • 3.NO.2c1 Solve multi-step addition and subtraction problems up to 100.
  • You also note the Essential Understanding (a.k.a., the most essential or fundamental skill that can be acquired in relation to this standard) in the Core Content Connector, which states:
    • Combine (+) or decompose (-) with concrete objects; use counting to get the answers.
  • From there, you consider your child’s capabilities and determine that your child has recently mastered addition or combining concrete objects, but you would really like them to learn how to decompose or subtract a particular number of objects to get an answer. You feel this would be helpful at home for various reasons, and you feel it is a skill your child will need throughout their life, so you decide you’d like to write an IEP goal to address this skill.

How Do You Write An IEP Goal?


IEP goals should be written using a SMART design.

Here’s what a SMART template looks like, with explanations of what each section needs:












will your child learn to do?

Use succinct details so that anyone reading the goal will interpret it in the same manner. If a stranger read it, would they know what it meant?



will the goal be measured?

Use specific criteria to indicate how mastery of the goal will be determined. Think evidence, duration, frequency, accuracy, reliability.

is your child coming from? Where are they headed?

What will they be able to realistically learn in one academic year?

Ensure that the goal builds on what your child can do and is appropriately ambitious.

is this goal important? Why is this goal a priority?

How will meeting this goal benefit the student? Which Common Core State Standard does the goal align with?

Ensure that the goals selected are aligned with the student’s long-term goals.

does the student need to meet the goal? How frequently will progress be monitored?

All goals need to indicate the date by which they should be met. They should also indicate how frequently progress on the goal will be monitored.

Here’s what the SMART template looks like when it’s used to dissect the math IEP goal we just discussed.












When presented with up to 20 objects and asked to take away or subtract a number 1–20, [STUDENT] will remove the quantity requested and will count the remaining objects to determine the number of objects left.



with 80% accuracy
(e.g., 4 out of 5 opportunities)

in 4 out of 5 trials

across 2 consecutive weeks.

Data: student work samples and teacher charted data.

[STUDENT] can add or combine numbers to 20.

[STUDENT] mastered combining numbers to 20 in 10 months.

[STUDENT] will likely be able to master decomposing numbers from 20 in one year.

This skill will be required at every grade level.

This skill is important to know as an adult to determine money needed, budgeting, supply, cooking, and other life skills.

This skill is important at home because it teaches how much is left regarding food, time, etc.

The student is expected to master the goal in one year.

Progress will be provided to [STUDENT’S] parents quarterly.

Data will be collected weekly.


Using the information gathered from the SMART template, here’s how the IEP goal would be written:

When presented with up to 20 objects and asked to take away or subtract a number 1–20, [STUDENT] will remove the quantity requested and will count the remaining objects to determine the number of objects left with 80% accuracy (e.g., 4 out of 5 opportunities) in 4 out of 5 trials across 2 consecutive weeks as measured by teacher charted data and student work samples.

How Can IEP Goals Be Interpreted?

  • You can interpret an IEP goal by dissecting it to ensure that it has all of the necessary components, and that all of the components make sense.
  • If you don’t understand what the IEP goal is trying to convey, it likely needs to be revised to make it clear and comprehensible to all adults on the IEP team — and all of the future adults that may support your child down the road.

What Are Some Common Myths About IEP Goals?


Myth: IEP goals must come from the school district’s IEP goal bank.

If a district or school has access to an IEP goal bank, this is not the norm, nor is it a comprehensive list of IEP goals available to students receiving special education services. IEP goals should be developed based on the individual student’s needs, which may align with goals offered in the goal bank, and may not. Therefore, there is no requirement that an IEP goal must come from an IEP goal bank. While some goals found in goal banks are clear, measurable, and aligned with grade-level standards, IEP teams can develop unique goals to match the unique needs of the student.

Myth: If my child doesn’t meet an IEP goal, the goal should be on the IEP the following year.

When your child doesn’t meet an IEP goal, simply rolling the goal over to the following year’s IEP is not sufficient. Rather, it’s important to think about why your child didn’t meet the goal. Are there other skills your child needs to learn in order to meet the goal that should be addressed first? What supports would benefit your child’s mastery of the goal? Is the way the goal is being assessed appropriate or in alignment with the way your child expresses themselves? Is the goal essential for the student to learn, or are there bypass strategies or other ways to accomplish the same thing?

Myth: My child’s IEP goals define their educational program. They are the only thing my child should work on.

IEP goals are only a portion of a child’s education. They are used to demonstrate a student’s progress and show evidence that the individualized educational program administered is effective in educating the student. Though IEP goals should be addressed and targeted within the learning each week, they are not the only skills students should be working on over the course of the year.

Myth: Goal objectives or benchmarks are optional.

This is only true for some students. If your child is taking the alternate state assessment or on alternate or modified curriculum, it is required that your IEP goals all have benchmark goals or objectives. For example, for every annual goal, there should be at least 2 benchmark goals (sometimes called objectives or incremental objectives) that the student would be expected to meet in incremental periods of time (e.g., the first objective in 4 months and the second in 8 months).

Myth: My child’s goals don’t need to be aligned with the general education or common core curriculum if they are performing far below grade level.

It is ideal for all students to have academic goals that are aligned with the Common Core State Standards or the general education curriculum as pursuant to IDEA’s language around participation and progress in the general education curriculum. For students with more extensive support needs who take the alternate state assessment, it is best practice to use Core Content Connectors or Common Core Connectors to determine appropriate goal objectives. California’s Core Content Connectors can be found here.

Myth: According to testing, my child is designated as an English Learner (EL), or Limited English Proficient. Because that’s a need, there must be a goal included in the IEP that addresses English language development (ELD).

IDEA requires IEPs to have goals in areas of need that are related to the student’s disability. Because being an English learner is not a disability, it is not required that the student have an English language development goal on their IEP. State and federal regulations do require, however, that IEP goals are linguistically appropriate. This means that the IEP goals must be written in a way that reflects the linguistic ability of the student. A student’s linguistic ability is determined through the English language development assessment.

Here is a blank SMART template you can print out and use when developing your child’s IEP goals.

Going Beyond SMART: IEP Goal Planner

Too often, SMART goals — or goals that are “specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound” — don’t incorporate the skills, abilities, and needs of students with disabilities, which is why parents are such vital members of our children’s IEP teams. By taking an active role in the development of our kids’ goals, we can advocate more effectively to help them progress through appropriately challenging assignments.

As part of our IEP Exploration series, Dr. Caitlin Solone (education advocate, teacher educator, and faculty at UCLA) ties everything together, from vision statements to SMART goals, and takes us even deeper into how to master IEP goal writing.

Planner Templates

Dr. Solone provided us with academic and non-academic goal planners that you can find here.

These templates separate each of these aspects of goal writing into different sections so that you can hone in and individualize each part of a goal. This includes:

  • Vision statement (learn more about vision statements here)
  • Goal area (meaning the school subject you’re addressing: reading, math, writing, etc.)
  • Common Core State Standard that aligns with this goal (you can just copy and paste the exact wording)
  • Baseline: this is where you’ll say what your child can currently do related to this target skill, which will help you determine where they'll be able to go a year from now. For example:
    • If this is the CCSS: Determine the main idea of a text and explain how it is supported by key details; summarize the text.
    • Then this might be the baseline: Identifies the topic of a text in 1 out of 5 opportunities, when given an array of 4 options with text and pictures.
  • Strengths and abilities: here is where you’ll share your child’s skills or abilities that can help determine the types of supports they’ll need.
  • Target skill: this is where you’ll explain what you want your child to be able to do in one year.
  • Supports: in this section, you’ll list the tools and accommodations that will allow your child to achieve the target skill in one year.

If your child is working at a lower grade level — for example, your second grader’s reading level is closer to kindergarten — you can (and should) still use CCSS as the basis for writing your goals!

  • Dr. Solone explains that you can use each standard as “little benchmarks” and ways to tailor your child’s goal to address the standard, using an appropriately personalized version of that standard.
  • Essentially, you’re determining what skills are needed to allow your child to eventually reach that goal on their own timeline.

For more on taking your child's IEP goals to the next level, see the takeaway from our exploration here.

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