How to Write Great IEP Goals

Categories: Data

Great teaching, useful data, and student progress start with the IEP goals. But when we sit down to write an IEP we often forget that. The special ed world is drowning in paperwork and when you open up what feels like IEP 300 of the year you just want to get it done. I get it. I really do. But I encourage you to take a second before you power through and create generic and “good enough” goals. If you spend a little bit of time up front on creating IEP goals that are individualized, specific, and well thought out – you will be saving yourself so much time later. When you have a great IEP goal, the teaching plan and data collection procedure are already done. All you’ve gotta do then is jump right in. 


Our first step is reason enough way you can’t spring your way through writing an IEP. You want to get specific with the goal. Exactly what is the student doing? In what setting will the behavior happen! What help will (if any) the student get? What materials are needed. These things matter. The more specific you get the quicker you will be able to jump into teaching because you already planned everything out. Definitely check out my podcast episode with Brigid McCormick where we discuss pinpointing behaviors. This is exactly what you need to be specific with your goals. 


You’ve gotten really specific about your goal – now how are you going to measure it? How are you determine progress? Progress isn’t something we feel or estimate; it’s something that we see clearly through data. You need to decide what mastery of this goal will look like for this child. For some children mastery of a goal right now, may mean still needing some prompts. For other students, mastery means 100% correct or 10 out of 10 steps completed independently. Do be afraid of keeping some prompts still in the mastery criteria. Some students may still need that help. The reverse: don’t be afraid to have a 100% correct mastery criteria. Some skills need that to be considered mastered and our student can do that! Beware of the 80% mastery criteria. We feel safe throwing that 80% on the end of our IEP goal but is 80% correct really a mastered skill? If I drove my car with 80% accuracy, how would I be doing right now? 

Action Word

We are going to get even more specific than our “specific” step, your IEP goal NEEDS to include an action word. You need something that you can DO. Because if you can do it, you can count it which means you can take data. If you choose something you can’t track, how will you know if skills are progressing? How do you take data on someone “knowing” something or “learning” something? You can’t. But you can take data on a student identifying the right answer or writing down something they have learned. Action words only!

Realistic and Relevant

You want to set you and your student up for success. Choose a goal that is close to their present levels. I like to also think about things that are functional at this step. Ask yourself – how will this skill give my student more opportunities for independence? Will this skill allow him the chance to learn bigger and more complex skills? Pick something doable that is also useful. 

Time Bound

Think about how the IEP benchmarks will build to your final skill. Consider things like summer and winter break. When will this goal be achieved by? This is a nice opportunity to double check that you are being realistic. Did you pick a goal that’s way too big to be accomplished in one year or something that is so quick you will have most of the year left after the goal is mastered?


  1. Hi Sasha,
    I sometimes struggle with determining what is realistic and in what time frame. After benchmarking a student, do you have any tips for best determining how quickly they may master the skill and what degree of accuracy they will likely be able to attain? I dont want the goals do be too difficult, but I also dont want them to be too easy!

  2. You are right – it is hard! I’d look at their previous learning history to get an idea.


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