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Setting goals for a special needs student

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At the beginning of a new year, society reminds us to set goals for ourselves for the coming year. Special education is no different. Every IEP has goals and objectives that tell the reader what the student's present level is and what goals he/she will be working during the IEP cycle.

Goals are an imperative part of any student's IEP. Goals are meant to show the student's progress and should be attainable by the end of the IEP year or before. A goal should be written for each area that a student receives special services. If the student has a language impairment or speech disorder, the goals for those areas are written by the Speech and Language Pathologist. If the student receives physical and/or occupational therapy, goals are written by those therapists. Learning and behavior goals are written by the special education teacher.

Goals are meant to be easy to understand and concise. Different districts and teachers/therapists may write the goals and monitor progress differently, but all goals should be attainable within the IEP year and progress should be sent home regularly. (Most districts send home progress reports with each report card (quarterly), but it is decided at the IEP meeting how often progress is reported.)

Goals should be measurable. They should have a number/numbers to describe how often or how well the student needs to be completing the task to achieve the goal. For instance each goal should have either a percentage or a ratio that says specifically how well the student should be executing the goal for the goal to be considered achieved. Most often, the goal will not be asking for 100% accuracy. (We all make occasional mistakes and making a goal 100% does not allow for the student to make mistakes.)

It may be that some goals are similar year after year, but the percentage or ratio increases each year. For example, a student's reading goal may be to read 100 sight words with 75% accuracy. The next year, the student may have the same goal, but the percentage is increased to 80% of the time. It same seem redundant and silly, but if the goal should be attainable within that year. If the student is only reading the sight words with 60% accuracy at the beginning of the year, expecting the student to get to 80 or 90% is an unfair goal. It the student surpasses the goal; that's wonderful! As an IEP team and teachers/therapists, we want to set the student up for success so keeping the goals within reasonable expectations is best.

The following are examples of IEP goals:

"Given the Dolche sight word list, (Student) will read all words with 90% accuracy."

"(Student) will make the proper "th" sound while looking at picture cards 9 out of 10 times."

"When given a picture of a clock, (student) will be able to read the hour and 15, 30, and 45 minutes past the hour with 95% accuracy."

"When given grade level material to read, (student) will answer comprehension questions with 90% accuracy."

"Given multi-step directions, (student) will follow the directions in the correct order 8 out of 10 times."

"(Student) will write all assignments in his/her planner 100% of the time." (This is one of the few times that 100% accuracy may be deemed appropriate.)

"(Student) will respond appropriately when spoken to by an adult 9 out of 10 times." (An example would be that when the teacher says, "Good morning", the student would respond with, "Hello" or "Good morning".)

Progress reports are very important. They tell both the parents/caregivers and teachers if the student is making progress toward his/her goals. Sometimes progress on a goal/goals is not made or is not applicable. If a student is struggling with a goal or perhaps has been absent a lot, it may be that no progress has been made on a particular goal. If no progress is made on a regular basis, it may be necessary to call an IEP meeting to discuss the goals and possible increasing of services or service minutes. Sometimes the progress is not applicable. If a student has many goals, it may be that the teacher/s only work on a few each quarter. Therefore progress may only be made on some of the goals and progress on other goals may be not applicable because the teacher/s were not working on those goals during that time period. It should be expected that those goals that are currently not applicable will be worked on at some point during the IEP cycle.

Goals are thought to be one of the most important parts of an IEP. It tells the reader exactly what the student is working on and what the expectations are by the end of the IEP cycle. (Keep in my that an IEP cycle may not be from the beginning of one school year to the beginning of the next school year. An IEP cycle is exactly one year. So if the meeting is held on Oct.13, 2013; then the IEP and goals are in place until Oct. 13, 2014 unless an IEP meeting is held before that date.)

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