Smart IEP Goals: How to Write them like a Boss!

how to write IEP goals

How to write SMART IEP goals for preschool students? Start here

How to write IEP goals and objectives can be one of the most challenging parts of a special education teacher’s job. And then there is the data collection piece. So hard to figure out if the goal isn’t written measurable or understandable!

I’m telling ya, the first step to an easy progress report from your data collection sheets is to have a solidly written IEP goal to start with!

Here are a few not-so-new ideas; maybe just some good reminders that we all need!

What are SMART IEP goals in ABA and Special Education?

One of the things I have enjoyed doing over the years is helping staff create really solid IEP goals, goals that can be picked up by anyone, understood, and used to teach the student. Sometimes easier said than done! How to write an effective IEP goal is a bit of a delicate dance. Here are some lessons I’ve learned, using the S.M.A.R.T model. Remember that your district’s requirements about the structure of the goal may vary, and, as always, INDIVIDUALIZE your goals to your student. If you have or use a goal bank of some kind, please please please make sure you use it for ideas only, and that you truly design each goal for the unique student under your care.

Do you struggle with the time-consuming task of how to write SMART IEP goals for your preschool and Special Education students using Common Core Standards? Or finding the correct wording to create specific, meaningful goals to meet the needs of your early intervention, preschool, or resource students? This resource is perfect for busy teachers looking to save time and simplify the task of writing IEP goals.

This resource includes a 311-Goal Bank for Preschool, the 168 goal KINDERGARTEN Common Core Standards IEP Goal Bank, and the 184-goal FIRST GRADE Common Core Standards IEP Goal Bank.

What is a SMART IEP goal?

Let’s go through the commonly-used acronym and see what it means and some examples.

S = Specific THE WHAT

Don’t be Mr/Ms Loosey Goosey. Make sure that your IEP goal is clear, concise, and can be read by anyone and understood what the student is expected to do. What is the set up, the environment? What are the materials? How will they be presented? What is the expected response?

Make sure the goal passes the “Dead Man’s Test.” If a Dead Man can do it, then it’s not behavior. Write what you want the student to DO. Instead of “doesn’t call out,” use “raises hand to answer a question.” Instead of “is quiet during circle time,” use “orients body towards speaker and follows group directions,” instead of “doesn’t scream during timed tests,” use “asks for more time.” You get the idea.

In the “Not that” example to the right, it doesn’t define what items will be in the array, and it doesn’t tell me what the actual adjective targets will be. With this goal, I could teach the student only colors, and they could make mastery just knowing colors as an adjective.

specific iep goals
measurable iep goals

M = Measurable THE FROM AND TO

Making the IEP goal measurable is more than just adding “80%” to the end of the goal. It’s thinking about that specific goal and that specific student and decide HOW will be the best way to measure if we are seeing objective progress. I have seen goals like, “will increase receptive language by 80%” (seriously, I saw that) and “will make good choices for 80%” (also for real). Lots of 80%. But think about that percentage, even. If I give a student one opportunity to perform a skill, and they complete it, that’s 100%, and if they don’t, it’s 0%.

Also, ask yourself, “If I gave this goal to someone new and asked them to take data on the skill as defined, could they easily do it? Would it make sense?”

In the second example on the left, I have no idea how to measure 80%. 80% of the time the student plays? 80% of the opportunities the student has? 80% of the toys they choose?

A = Attainable THE HOW

Here, we want to see IEP goals that make sense for that student to achieve in the time allotted. Is it a goal that is going to take a year to achieve (most IEP goal dates)? Is it too easy? Too hard? You don’t want to just choose a goal that you know “most” kids that age should be able to do. Really think that THIS student, and, knowing their skill set and potential, what is an appropriate aim for them in a year’s time?

In this example to the right, think if the student does not yet know any letters and is showing slow progress to learn them receptively. While knowing ALL the letters by the end of the year might be appropriate for that age group, maybe it’s not in the cards for this student at this time. Maybe you choose to focus on the letters in his/her name because those will be the most meaningful.

attainable iep goals
relevant iep goals

R = Reasonable or Relevant or Realistic THE WHY

I’ve seen “R” mean any one of these terms, but they all ready intend to mean the same thing. Is the IEP goal socially-validated and appropriate for this learner, in this situation, with the environment they are in. I wouldn’t write a shape sorter goal for a high school student, even if their skill set was at that level. I would think about what appropriate but similar skills could we teach. Put a key in a door? Unlocking a school combination lock? Sorting silverware?

In this example to the left, I’m thinking of a toddler or preschooler. You may want and allow an older student to use an unfamiliar restroom alone, but I certainly wouldn’t send my preschooler into an unfamiliar restroom alone. If I go in with them, I’d like to see they can perform all the skills independently, but I definitely want to be there with them.

T = Time-based THE WHEN

Most of the time, when writing an IEP goal, you’ll have the annual date on there. That certainly fills the time requirement. But there are other things to consider. How will you break down the annual goal into smaller objectives so that you are sure you are making progress? Even if we don’t have to include written objectives in the IEP, we should still be watching those smaller “targets” so that we do, in fact, hit our aim at the end of the year’s time.

In addition, I’ve written IEPs where I did break up the year due to new circumstances. For example, a student going from preschool to Kindergarten. The setting in preschool may allow for a certain environment that won’t be the same once they go to Kindergarten. We have to really think about the whole child and what goals will be best suited to their unique circumstances at the time.

It is also important to consider if a certain IEP goal needs to have a time-frame based on the student’s need. Perhaps the student enjoys playing in the water while washing hands, so the IEP goal you create is not only for completing the hand washing routine but ALSO to do so in a certain time frame (see example). 

time-based iep goals

So just some thoughts on how to write SMART IEP goals for preschool students (and all students!) as we think about our students and their needs and how to make our lives easier when it comes to progress report time! Ammi right? Anything to make THAT easier!

Check out some of these other IEP and data collection resources in my store here or in my TpT store here:

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Hi! I'm Audra!

I am a special education teacher, behavior analyst, and parent to an autistic adult. I love sharing the insights and resources I have gleaned over the past 25 years. Thanks for being here!

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