The IDEA requires the written IEP document to include measurable annual goals to address the child's unique needs. Goals are based upon the child's present levels of performance, and should drive the child's services. Therefore, goals are often consider the "core" of the student's IEP.
Specifcially, the IDEA requires:
"a statement of measurable annual goal, including academic and functional goals, designed to (aa) meet the child's needs that result from the child's disability to enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum; and (bb) meet each of the child's other educational needs that result from the child's disability."
20 U.S.C. section 1414(d)(1)(A)(i)(II).
What are Annual Goals?
OSEP and the Appendix to the IDEA 1999 regulations both have defined annual goals as "statements that describe what a child with a disability can reasonably be expected to accomplish within a 12-month period, in the child's special education program." Letter to Butler, 213 IDELR 118 (1988); Notice of Interpretation, Question 4, Appendix A to 34 C.F.R. part 300 (1999 regulations).
What needs should be addressed?
Proper and complete identification of a child's unique needs is key to writing good goals for the IEP. Evaluation data, input from persons working with the child, and information about what the child should be able to do at this grade level, all may be relevant when developing proposed annual goals. If the team has considered all relevant information and drafted clearly stated and sufficiently comprehensive PLOP, then identifying areas that need to be addressed in annual goals will be much easier. By definition, goals should address a child's unique needs related to the following:
(1) IEP must include both academic and functional goals
As discussed in the previous posts, IEP teams are now explicitly required to address both academic and functional areas when developing a program for the child. "Educational benefit" has long been defined as including both academic and non-academic areas. Since ultimately the IEP must be reasonably calculated to provide educational benefit to the student, it logically follows that all components of educational benefit should be considered when determining what goals are necessary, even if those areas are not strictly related to academic progress.
Academic goals relate to what the child will be expected to learn and accomplish in the coming year in the areas of reading and language arts, math, social studies and history, and science.
Functional goals related to what progress the child will be expected to make in the coming year in areas, skills and activities that are non-academic and related to the child's day to day functional skills, like behavior, communication, independent living skills, social skills, etc.
(2) "Enable the child to make progress in the general education curriculum"
The IDEA specifically states that goals must be included for each child with a disability to meet the child's needs arising from the disability in order to enable that child to make progress in general education curriculum. There is nothing in the statute that indicates that this provision only requires to students who are in a general education classroom, or to students with a certain level of general intelligence and ability, or that it does not apply if the student has a "severe" disabilty.
The decision of what progress towards general education curriculum would be appropriate is of course an individualized decision based upon factors related to that individual child. Certainly, not every child will be able to meet grade level standards. However, every child can be given the opportunity to make progress in general education curriculum appropriate to their individual strengths and needs. Because this debate is a frequent issue in IEP meetings, it has been addressed more thoroughly in a previous blog post.
(3) "Meet other educational needs that arise from the disability"
The term "educational" is broader than merely academics. Educational benefit can include both academic and non-academic areas. It is important to remember this framework when considering the need for goals to "meet each of the child's other educational needs."
Other educational needs may include speech, language or communication deficits, social skills difficulties, behavioral needs, recreation and leisure, independent living, motor skills, etc. Focus on the "big picture" of what an educational program should be accomplishing, and utilize assessment data, PLOP, and input from team members to determine what areas need to be addressed.
Remember that the IDEA says "each of the child's other educational needs," not "the most important needs." The IEP team needs to make sure that the goals are attainable and appropriate, and it therefore may not be appropriate to have a huge amount of goals. However, when the District says "we only write goals to address the most important areas," or "we have to prioritize and pick only some areas of need to address," this isn't exactly conducive with the IDEA's language. Instead, the IEP needs to include a goal for each area of educational need a child has that arises from that child's disability.
What does it mean for goals to be "measurable?"
To be measurable, a goal must be written clearly with sufficient information to allow an objective person to understand what skill is being addressed and exactly what should be accomplished in order for the child to reach the goal. IEP teams should be wary of goals that are vague or that contain broad generalized statements about "improving" in an area or "increasing" a skill, without specifying what that means. A goal that says that the child will "improve" in his/her skills in a specific area provides little more information than what area of need is being addressed. Ask yourself how the child will improve, how it will be demonstrated, and what specific skill is being addressed.
If the IEP team has developed clear statements of the child's PLOP, writing measurable goals will be much easier. The PLOP can be used to establish clear baselines as a "starting place" for the proposed goals. If the baseline is clear, it is easier to determine how to write an annual goal that will ensure progress and will be measurable. For example, if the PLOP indicates that the child's current fluency rate is at 50 words per minute, the IEP team has enough information to draft a goal that would be at a higher rate, and has specific enough data to make that goal measurable (i.e. the child will read at a rate of 100 words per minute).
Avoid goals that are subjective, because these will not be clearly measurable by whomever is implementing the IEP. A good point of reference is to think "if I had to take this IEP to a new school district who had not been involved in this meeting, would they know how to implement this goal and measure it?"
Measurable Goal: Child will engage in a conversation with a peer for 5 minutes, demonstrating at least two conversational turns and remaining on topic.
Vague / Not Measurable: Child will improve conversational skills with peers.
Measurable Goal: Child will demonstrate ability to read 50 new grade level sight words with 90% accuracy in 3 out of 4 trials.
Vague / Not Measurable: Child will increase reading of sight words.
What is the relationship between goals and services, instruction & the provision of FAPE?
IEP goals should drive specialized instruction and related services. The goals establish what the child is expected to learn and accomplish within the special education program. Once the goals have set forth a roadmap for the child, the IEP team must consider what specialized instruction and related services will be required to get there.
An IEP that is found to have insufficient or inappropriate goals will in many cases be found to deny a student FAPE. This is because when the IEP goals are not based on the child's needs, the program itself likely will not be able to meet the child's needs and provide educational benefit. Goals, therefore, have vital importance to the development of an overall appropriate program for an individual child!