Thursday, October 27, 2011

What is an appropriate IEP goal?

Once a child is deemed eligible for special education services, an Individualized Education Plan must be written.  This plan contains much information, and it can be very overwhelming for a person unfamiliar with educational terminology to understand.  The IEP is the heart of the Individuals with Disabilities Educational Act (IDEA).  Measurable goals are the heart of the IEP.  Goals in the IEP are simply the annual measurement of a child's progress.  The short term "dip stick" measurements are usually called benchmarks or objectives  and are observed throughout the school year.  At the end of the annual term of the IEP (commonly known as the review date), comprehensive progress on goals must be done to determine if more work is needed on a specific goal or if a new goal needs to be developed.

All goals and objectives/benchmarks  must be measurable, according to the IDEA law.  Without  measurability, progress cannot be monitored.  A goal can only be measured by performing an action.  If you measure a cup of sugar for a recipe, you take out a cup and measure out the amount of the ingredient you need for the recipe.  If you measure the tire pressure in your car's tires, you put a gauge on the valve stem.    In addition, a measurable goal or objective/benchmark would allow multiple people to review the student's performance and arrive at the same conclusion about that student's progress.  Furthermore, when measuring a student's progress, the evaluator must be able to determine how much progress has been made since the baseline information was obtained.  Finally, a strong goal can be measured without additional information.

When a goal is written, it usually follows a specific format.  A "given" is usually stated first.  The learner's performance is stated next, and the desire level of performance is stated last.  It is important that the "given" is a part of the goal as it acts as a springboard for the progress.  The "given" is somewhat like a starting point for a child.  For example, "given second grade materials, Matt will read orally at 60 wpm with no more than 2 errors."  A "given" is not always necessary; it may be implied in the goal.  For example, "the student will swim 200 yards in X time without stopping, using two strokes of her choice."  The "given" in this example is the water in which the action will take place.

The problematic element of measurable goals is the concept of observable or countable behavior.  If the person evaluating progress on a child's goals cannot observe behaviors then improvement in the goal cannot be measured.  Observable words might include:  pointing, drawing, constructing, reading orally, dressing, researching, speaking, and making.  Non-observable words include:  appreciating, understanding, respecting, knowing, and improving.  It is pretty clear there is no way to truly measure to what extent a person appreciates something, but it is clear a person can observe the act of reading orally.

Parents and educators are cautioned when the belief is that in order for a goal to be measurable and appropriate it must contain a result stated in terms of a percentage ("Tyler will increase the number of times he hands in his homework).  When determining how to state a measurement outcome, thought should be given to EXACTLY how you would measure it.  A good example of a goal would be: Given 5 simple, two-step oral directions, such as, "fold your paper and hand it in, Tyler will correctly complete 4 of the 5 two-step directions."

Goals and objectives/benchmarks are not rocket science.  Writing appropriate goals takes time and practice.  The best way to write an appropriate goal is to use one's experience, good sense, professional judgment, and team input.  Most of all, consider the needs of the child at the time the goal is being written.

Source:  Bateman, Barbara and Herr, Cynthia. Writing Measurable IEP Goals.  2006. Verona, WI.

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