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IEP goal to write? You ACED it!

Remember the excited feeling you would get when, as a kid, you would run home from school with a perfect paper or an amazing test score in your hand? 

    “Mom, Grandma, Dad!” you might yell, “I’m home!” 
    “How was school, honey? How was your test?”
    “I really ACED it!”

We associate “acing” things with getting A’s, being successful, and doing well.  To say that you “aced” something connotes a job well done.  With that positive connotation in mind, let’s turn to one of the most dreaded and feared tasks a special educator must accomplish: writing and maintaining their special needs students’ IEPs.  Using an “I ACED it!” mindset, you can easily and efficiently write great IEP goals for your students that will be meaningful and useful beyond their time in your classroom. 

So how does this magic formula work?  To have ACED an IEP, four key steps need to happen.  When you complete each of these, the hard work of writing a goal is done, and all that remains is to put it down on paper.  Before we describe the process, though, let’s take a quick look at the product.  To best benefit the student for whom you are writing it, an IEP goal should be four things. 

  1. It should be specific.  IEP goals should be individualized to a student’s particular strengths and weaknesses and should generally isolate a key piece of learning that, if a student meets the goal, will truly advance the student’s academic achievement, core knowledge, or foundational skills. 
  2. It should be explicit.  An IEP goal should very clearly lay out what is expected of a student and how they can demonstrate their achievement of the goal.  Many states or cities require IEP goals to be more broad or general, so be sure to check with your IEP coordinator, or Special Education administrator to find out the specific language to use or how general to be when writing a goal or an objective subset within that goal.  Regardless, an IEP goal should be clear and concise to anyone with a need to pick up the document, including other service provides or collaborating teachers, parents, administrators, or next year’s teachers.
  3. It should be ambitiousAn IEP goal should ‘stretch’ a student, and should require a significant amount of learning and skills practice to take place before mastery occurs.
  4. It should be measurable.  A good IEP goal lays out specific criteria for how and when a student must reach the goal, which should be measurable using explicit and demonstrable strategies.  Often, an IEP will provide a particular space for you to indicate how progress toward the goal will be measured… either through observation, rubrics, timed assessments, performance assessment, portfolios, or any other tool in the teacher arsenal.  What’s important is that the measurement of the goal be explicit and not left to vagaries or guesswork. 

When I first began teaching special education, the above criteria seemed really scary and overwhelming.  I could not imagine how it would be possible to determine the most important skills for my students with special needs to work on, and I did not know what constituted a good IEP goal.  Once I got over the initial hurdles, though, writing IEP goals has become routine, and upon reflection, I follow a process I call the ACED it! steps to writing these goals.

A = ASSESS YOUR STUDENTS.

Before you even begin to write an IEP for a student, it is important to assess them academically and socially.  There are a variety of standardized achievement and intelligence tests that school psychologists use when writing initial IEPs for a child or when conducting a triennial review, but as a classroom teacher, I assess academic work using a more typical constellation of student work portfolios, standardized test results, rubrics, and individually-administered assessments (such as fluency profiles, phonics inventories, or math skills task assessments).  To assess a student socially, I typically use observations, skills assessments or checklists, and behavior rating scales or anecdotal reports. 

That doesn’t sound too difficult, does it?  Well, once you have finished this step, you have also finished a section of the IEP: the Present Levels of Performance section.  This section, which comes before the goals, should paint a picture of the student academically and socially to set the stage for where the student is now before the goals map out where he or she is going.  Now, let’s move on to Step 2.

C = CONSULT COLLABORATING STAFF AND
GRADE-LEVEL STANDARDS.

Ask other teachers who see your students (for literacy intervention, preparation periods, etc.) what they see as areas of strength and weakness for your student and what their priorities for the student would be.  This can help give you a more complete picture of the student and his or her needs.  In some districts, related service providers such as occupational therapists, speech therapists, or SETTS teachers will complete their own IEP goals for the students.  Depending on how your school operates, you may want to sit down with these providers and give and get input together as you write goals for the child.  I have found that this extra level of collaboration really enhances the quality of the goals and prevents them from being redundant.

Additionally, consult grade-level standards so you know what is expected of general education students at your grade level.  While students who can achieve all of these standards at grade level are rare in special education settings, it is generally my goal to choose a particularly important standard to focus on for my special needs students depending on their deficit areas.  I feel like an IEP should help to move my students closer to grade level even in some small part, regardless of whether all standards are attainable or not.  Keep in mind that not all students are assessed using grade-level standards; if your student qualifies for Alternate Assessment under state law, you should instead refer to the alternate assessment standards to guide your expectations for student performance (this applies to the most severely disabled students such as those with lower-functioning autism, severe emotional impairments, mental retardation, some categories of traumatic brain injury, etc.) 

Okay, now you’re in even better shape: you have completed the Present Levels of Performance, and you now have all of the information you need to write actual goals and determine a student’s modified promotional criteria… this is where being ‘specific’ and ‘ambitious’ comes in.  So grab your pen and paper, and let’s move on to the next phase of the goal-writing process.

E= ENUNCIATE YOUR EXPECTATIONS.

What should your student be able to do?  This is where you explicitly describe what your student is expected to accomplish to make adequate progress and meet this IEP goal.  Goals are usually phrased as “Susie Student will improve her skills in…. by…,” although the specific language varies from district to district.  Some districts break IEP goals down further by requiring specific objectives or benchmarks which, if sufficiently accomplished, will demonstrate mastery of the goal.  Again, please make sure to check with your supervisor to determine specifics for your situation. 

Now that your expectations are clearly enunciated (I like to think of this as a ‘thesis statement’ as if I were a student writing an expository essay), which definitely takes care of the ‘explicit’ requirement, it is time to smooth the edges.

D=DESCRIBE CRITERIA FOR SUCCESS

How will your student demonstrate mastery of the IEP goal, and how will that success be measured?  This one is self-explanatory, and is the easiest step in the process.  What evidence will show you that the student has mastered this IEP goal?  Just write down what comes to mind.  This step is critical to making sure that the goal is measurable and observable in the student’s work. 

For my district, IEP goals are written with short-term objectives.  Here are some examples (with student names changed, of course!) for decoding/fluency, comprehension, writing, and math.

Decoding:
Bobby Books will improve his oral reading fluency by one grade level.
Objective 1: Bobby will accurately use a variety of word-attack strategies, such as syllabication, blending, and skip/replace 50% of the time as measured by monthly teacher-administered reading running records using the Rigby DRA.
Objective 2: Bobby will correctly pronounce suffixes and prefixes 50% of the time as measured by monthly teacher-administered reading running records using the Rigby DRA.
Objective 3: Bobby will achieve a self-correction rate of 50% or greater ten times as measured by monthly teacher-administered reading running records using the Rigby DRA.


Reading Comprehension:
Andy Academic will improve his literal comprehension of fiction and non-fiction texts and demonstrate proficiency with inferences when reading 60% of the time as measured by a teacher-created assessment.
Objective 1: Andy will demonstrate the ability to use text clues to make inferences in classwork 60% of the time, assessed 3 times.
Objective 2: Andy will demonstrate proficiency with using graphic organizers to record cause and effect and comparing and contrasting with 60% accuracy 10 times.
Objective 3: Andy will demonstrate the ability to use context clues to figure out the meaning of unknown words while reading 20 times with 60% accuracy. 

Writing:
Larry Learning will accurately use basic punctuation and writing mechanics 80% of the time as measured by task assessments.
Objective 1: Larry will appropriately use paragraph indents 80% of the time, including for written dialogue.
Objective 2: Larry will accurately use periods and capital letters to indicate ends and beginnings of sentences 80% of the time. 
Objective 3: Larry will accurately use commas in lists, letters, dates, and to set off clauses 80% of the time.

Math:
Matt Amatic will improve his mathematical computation to meet 60% of grade-level math standards for the number sense and operation strand.
Objective 1: Matt will accurately compute with fractions 50% of the time as measured through 10 in-class assessments.
Objective 2: Matt will accurately compute with, compare, order, and round decimals to three places of accuracy 50% of the time as measured through 10 in-class assessments.
Objective 3: Matt will accurately demonstrate regrouping (borrowing and carrying) proficiency 50% of the time as measured through 10 in-class assessments.
Objective 4: Matt will accurately estimate and use strategic guessing to answer questions 50% of the time as measured through 10 in-class assessments. 

And with those examples, I feel like my co-teacher and I ACED it… we assessed, consulted, enunciated, and described to determine what our students would need to do to meet their goals.  I hope the length of this post was not overwhelming… IEP goal-writing is a detailed process, but not a complicated one.  What strategies do you use when formulating IEPs for your students?  Do you think the “ACED it!” strategy will be helpful for you in the future?  Please share your thoughts by posting comments from any browser!  Also, I know this was a lot of information.  If anything is unclear or confusing, PLEASE post your questions!

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Comments are closed. Please see Classroom Solutions, our new blog for the 2009-2010 school year. And stay tuned for Teaching Matters with Angela Bunyi and Beth Newingham.

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