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“If you’re not sure where you’re going, you’re liable to end up someplace else. If you don’t know where you’re going, the best made maps won’t help you get there.” — Robert Mager, psychologist, writer, educator

If you are like many parents, you feel anxious and insecure at IEP meetings. What do you know? What can you offer? What should you do? Some parents believe that if they are not educators, they have nothing of value to offer in planning their child’s educational program. Other parents realize that their child’s IEP is not appropriate but do not know how to resolve the problem. Diane belongs to this group:

Diane represents countless parents who are confused about IEP goals and objectives. If you are the parent of a child with a disability, you are probably confused too. How do you write IEP goals and objectives? Do you agree with Diane when she says, “Commitment to academic success is not an appropriate goal?”

Learning 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 examine each of these concepts.


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. Look at these two goals. Which one is specific?

Dylan will increase study skills for academic success.
Dylan will demonstrate the following study skills: skimming written material and use reference materials in social studies class.


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. Which of these two goals is measurable and observable?

Owen will improve his reading skills.
Given second grade material, Owen will read a passage of text orally at 110-130 wpm with random errors.

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.)

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. Which of these goals is specific, measurable and realistic? Kelsey will demonstrate improved writing skills. Kelsey will improve her writing and spelling skills so she can write a clear, cohesive, and readable paragraph consisting of at least 3 sentences, including compound and complex sentences that are clearly related.


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. Assume your child is in the fifth grade. Alex’s reading skills are at the early third grade level. Here is a specific, measurable, time-limited goal that tells you what Alex can do now and what he will be able to do after one year of special education:

Present level of performance: Given third grade material, Alex reads 50-70wpm with 4-6 errors.

Annual goal: Given fifth grade material, Alex will read 120 wpm with onlyrandom errors.

To ensure that Alex meets his goal, we will measure his progress at nine-weekintervals (4 times during the school year).

After 9 weeks, given third grade material, Alex will read 110 to 120 wpm with1-3 errors.

After 18 weeks, given fourth grade material, Alex will read 70-100 wpm with1-3 errors.

After 27 weeks, given fifth grade material, Alex will read 70-100 wpm with 1-3errors.

At the end of the year, Alex will read 120 wpm with only random errors.

Used with permission from Wrightslaw (opens in a new window). Wright, P. and Wright, P. (2006). Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, 2nd Edition. Hartfield, VA: Harbor House Law Press, Inc. Excerpted from Chapter 12, retrieved from
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