Wright’s Law Game Plan: Smart IEP’s ~ Pete Wright and Pam Wright

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.

Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd EditionWrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition

Legal Requirements of IEP
20 U.S.C. 1414(d)

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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 (Fetaweb.com 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.