IEP Goal Writing

Categories: Resources

I had yet ANOTHER IEP today. Sigh. I have gotten a few emails lately about IEP goal writing and while I feel like I could write a long, rambling novel about this topic – I will try to keep this short and sweet. I know we all know about IEP goals being measurable. But what does measurable really mean? And how can we make measurable meaningful? Some goals are written spotlessly, perfectly measurable but you know what? You will do not use that measurable criteria because it’s either too complicated or doesn’t fit.

So how can we make measurable meaningful? You need to think about how you will be taking data on this goal. Will you be doing discrete trial, fluency, or trials throughout the day? Base the ‘measurable’ mastery criteria on how you will be taking data. Start there. As far as what the mastery criteria entails – what does mastery look like? 80% mastery criteria drive me NUTS. Doing something correctly 80% of the time is not mastery. If you crash your car 2 times out of every 10 car trips – have you mastered driving? Think about what mastery will look like.

When writing goals there are several components you NEED:

  • what materials are going to be provided to accomplish this goal
  • what setting will this goal be accomplished in (doing something in the special ed room can be very different than accomplishing this task in the community or general education classroom)
  • measurable criteria
    • # correct out of certain # of trials or opportunities
    • percentage correct
    • frequency (number correct in a specified time period – ie. 25 per minute)
    • prompts – use adult prompts as a measurable criteria
      • for all criteria: how many days must this criteria be reached to be considered mastered? Consecutive of nonconsecutive days/sessions?

Some notes:

  • I do not like or use percent correct as a measure. Percent does not give me enough information and can be far too subjective to accurately compare data. 80% correct on 4  trials is very different than 80% on 100 trials. Also how long are these trials taking? Completing 4 math problems in 10 minutes is very different than 4 math problems in 30 seconds. Would you consider those two students having the same level of mastery? Even though both had 100% accuracy. Ugh nope.
  • I really like using frequency! You can easily compare data from each session or school day. It can be easily assessed and incorporates the most amount of information. 25 Dolch words per minute is 25 Dolch words per minute no matter what.
  • I also like using prompts as a mastery criteria for my students who are lower functioning. For benchmarks, I will use a certain number of adult prompts. For example, first benchmark is task accomplish with 3 or less physical, gestural, or verbal adult prompts, next benchmark with 2 or less, and final goal is task accomplished with only 1 adult prompt of any kind.
  • Final note: you want a complete stranger to pick up this goal and know exactly what it looks like and what you mean!

Here are some sample goals I have used recently – these are for various students! There are no setting indicated in these goals because setting is in a different portion of the goal page for me. But setting should be indicated as well!
Language arts:
  • Provided a text at the appropriate reading level as indicated by student’s Fountas and Pinnell Reading assessment, student will read the book with less than 2 verbal or gestural adult prompts and orally answer 4 out of 5 comprehension questions correctly (asked orally) on 5 consecutive sessions or days.
  • Provided a journal prompt in the form of a familiar picture or familiar written or orally given topic, student will write 10 or more on topic sentences with correct spelling and sentence structure with 5 or less errors total on 5 consecutive sessions or days.
  • When given a flashcard or visual representation, student will correctly say the name of both upper and lower case letters, numbers 1 – 20, and 10 different colors at a frequency of 30 per minute on 5 consecutive sessions.
  • When given a flashcard picture, actual item, or other visual representation, student will correctly say the name of 100 new words at a frequency of 30 per minute on 5 consecutive sessions.
  • Student will match the written word to a picture representation correctly on 10 out of 10 trials on 5 consecutive days for 50 different words in total.
  • Student will solve up to 3 digit addition and subtraction problems with and without regrouping when both are intermixed within the same field worth at a frequency of 5 per minute on 5 consecutive days.
  • Student will correctly complete double digit multiplication with and without regrouping when both types are intermixed on the same page on 19 out of 20 problems on 5 consecutive days.
  • Student will correctly complete single digit addition problems with numbers 1 – 5 either orally or written at a frequency of 15 per minute on five consecutive days.
  • Given up to 6 different coins or pictures of coins, student will say the correct total in less than 3 seconds on 9 out of 10 trials.
  • Given up an analog clock and a time representation to the minute, student will say the correct time  at a frequency of 20 per minute on 3 consecutive days.
  • When provided an array of known items and the verbal prompt, “Give me” followed by a number up to 10, student will give the correct number of items in less than 5 seconds on 4 out of 5 consecutive trials on 10 consecutive days.
  • Student will verbally name and state the value of a penny, nickel, dime, and quarter when presented with the coin or picture representation of the coin and delivered intermixed in less than 3 seconds on 9 out of 10 trials on 5 consecutive days OR at a frequency of 25 per minute.


  • When given the verbal command, “Point to ..” student will point to the correct body part on himself for 8 unknown body parts (when delivered in succession and intermixed) on 9 out 10 trials in less than 5 seconds on 5 consecutive days OR frequency of 20 per minute.

Social Studies:

  • Within the community, student will engage in 3 appropriate verbal responses or relevant community tasks with only one adult physical, gestural, or verbal prompt for all 3 tasks on 3 consecutive community trip opportunities.


  • In a group situation with familiar peers, student will maintain appropriate space with no more than 1 adult prompt in a ten minute time period on 5 consecutive days.
  • Student will participate in a structured group activity with an adult and one or two peers and engage in 3 or more social interactions with less than 2 adult prompts in total on 5 consecutive days.
  • In the classroom, community, and school environments, student will independently verbally ask and answer relevant questions without any type of adult prompts at least 10 times per school day on 5 consecutive days.
  • Provided a situation when student feels frustrated, uncomfortable, or annoyed, student will express his emotions using words on 3 consecutive opportunities with no adult prompts.
  • When greeted or asked a question by a peer or teacher, student will appropriately comment or ask a relevant question back on 5 consecutive opportunities with no adult prompts.
  • Student will correctly verbally answer 5 personal information questions (What’s your name? What city do you live in? How old are you? What school do you go to? and Who is your teacher?) within 5 seconds with less than 2 prompts on all 5 questions on 5 consecutive sessions when questions are delivered in sucecssion and intermixed.
  • When greeted or asked a question by a peer or teacher, student will respond appropriately without repeating the same response on 9 out of 10 consecutive opportunities on 5 consecutive days.

Independent Functioning:

  • Student will work independently on a previously mastered task for 20 minutes with only 1 adult prompt and engage in only task related behaviors on 5 consecutive days. 
  • Student will respond appropriately to 10 previously unknown one step commands when delivered in succession in English at a rate of 25 per minute.
  • When there is a change in the schedule, demand placed, or non-preferred work task presented, student will utilize visuals such as a star chart or first/then and maintain appropriate behaviors such as a quiet voice, work completion, and compliance on 5 consecutive opportunities on 5 consecutive days.
  • Student will demonstrate knowledge of the calendar by verbally identifying the day, month, and season when asked with no more than 2 visual prompts for all 3 questions when intermixed on 5 consecutive days.



Check out my parent IEP questionnaire free download from two weeks ago!


  1. Your posts are always so relevant to my needs. Thank you for all your blogging! I haven’t managed to keep up with mine (The Puzzling World of Autism) but I’m not giving up:) We should organize a Special Ed Midwest teacher meet up for the summer. (I’m in Michigan.)

  2. Thank you so much…I don’t know how you knew I needed this post today, but I did! I am finishing an IEP for tomorrow, and have been asked to add another goal…which I think will be derived from one of the independent functioning goals you posted.
    I can’t thank you enough!

  3. Omigosh that would be so fun Amy! I would totally be up for that! Thanks for your feedback – made my day 🙂

  4. I must have read your mind Michelle! Hope your IEP went well 🙂

  5. Sasha,

    This has been very helpful when coming up with goals for my students. I would love if you would post your thoughts on non-verbal IEP goals as well as non-readers. I am still getting the hang of teaching this part of my caseload!!

    Thanks for all of your help!

  6. Sure Danielle – I will try and do a post about that next week – good idea! 🙂

  7. This is my second year as a ECSE Preschool teacher for four and five year olds. Your insight on IEP paper work is a great help. I also have several
    non-verbal students and would love to know your thoughts on IEP goals for these kiddos.
    Thank you for blogging.

  8. I have been asked that a few times so I am definitely putting that on my post to do list! THanks for reading and be on the look out 🙂

  9. How do you keep data on prompt frequency? I’ve never found a good way to keep track of going from 3 prompts to 2, etc.

    I’d also love to see some non-verbal goals…going to scroll back and see if I can find a post.


  10. I need to do a long post on nonvebral goals. I usually track prompts by using a tally system to note prompts used during the work task. Let you know when I do the nonverbal goal post! 🙂

  11. Hi there I am a parent who is new to this IEP stuff. I know you said these are goals, what would be some examples of objectives that might go with some of these goals?

  12. Great question – most of my objectives are usually similar versions of the goal but either with less stimuli (ie. 3 colors when the total goal is 12 colors; or reading words with blends br, bl, sp, and st) or with a lower mastery criteria (ie. 5 out of 8). Does that make sense? Thanks for your questions!

  13. Hi, I am the parent of a three year old recently diagnosed with Autism. He has been going to OT once a week for 1 year since he was spotted with a speech delay. I have an IEP meeting in 5 days and want to be able to help build the IEP but was never really asked for my input and to be honest at the Eligibility meeting I did not have the foggiest what an IEP was. I also want to follow my neurologists recommendation and get my son plenty of ABA therapy but the cluster school we’re in has none. The only class available is one with varied disabilities from 3-5 yrs old and a 17:1 student/ teacher ratio. I am afraid my son will regress as he is very anxious around crowds – more than 3 or 4 people. I can’t delay the meeting if I want my son to be in a classroom this fall. Please give me advice on 1) goals & objectives – I found a lot for older kids but not too much for a 3 year old with the academic age of a 17 mos old, 2) support to bring with me to IEP meeting – my son’s therapist?, teacher (ABA specialist) from the private school I want my son to attend, 3) do I bring outside evaluation?
    I have got to get onboard fast and be a good advocate for my son – any suggestions?

  14. First off, you never have to sign an IEP if you don’t agree with it. So at the meeting if you don’t feel comfortable with any part – you do not need to sign off that you agree. I would bring any support (therapist, etc) with you to help guide you through the process. Have you used the ABLLS (Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills) with your son? This assessment would provide some great objectives and goals. Ask if the school district uses it. And absolutely bring your own outside evaluation. Good luck! Your son is lucky to have you as his advocate!

  15. Have you added the post on nonverbal goals? Where can I find that post? I need help! 🙂

  16. I don’t think I ever did that post! Will add it to my to do list for next week! 🙂

  17. Did you ever add the post on nonverbal goals? Where can I find it? Thanks!!!!

  18. What are your thoughts on goals for scripting behaviors? would love any insight, thanks!

  19. You are awesome. I am an Emotional Support Teacher and I find your materials an asset to my program. I am now receiving AS students and your packets and materials have been a God sent. Thank you for sharing

  20. Thank you so much for reading and for this sweet comment! 🙂

  21. I wish I had seen this 14 years ago but better late than never. My son has had a 1:1 aide since he entered school. He is now 18 and I would like him to transition to a school district run vocational/living skills program. The IEP team (administration and staff) are saying this might not be the program that best suits him unless he can participate without a 1:1 aide. They are using the leverage that I want him to go to the vocation/living skills class as a way to remove the 1:1 support he has always had. They do have support within the program and they feel they could give him the support he needs without the 1:1 support. I would like to fade the 1:1 as he masters independence. Can I insist on support until they can provide documentation of independence in that program. Can they refuse to let him attend a program that would further his independence and give him vocational training?

  22. Great questions. I’m not sure! Every school district is different and to be honest I’m not sure how state regulations effect that. You can ask for data to back up your case. That might be a good place to start.

  23. HI Sasha!
    Have you updated any topics about goals and objectives? Have you ever written a goal around having a student be more independent in writing out his daily school schedule, if so are you willing to share?


  24. Hi Tricia! I definitely need to do some more IEP goal posts. I have definitely written schedule use goals for independent functioning. I would use the number of prompts as the criteria because that would be the easiest to keep track of! I will add some more posts on this soon!

  25. Was this ever posted…I’m interested in looking at these?

  26. Working on an IEP goal series – hopefully will get up soon!

  27. I’m a mom of a nonverbal child and I”m a little flabbergasted that you are ok with prompts being in the goal. No way do I ever accept a goal as mastered if there is a prompt involved. IDEA states children are to be prepared for further employment, future eduction, employment and independent living. Unless the district is going to provide my daughter with an aide to prompt her for the rest of her life I want the bar set high. Independence should be the goal always.

  28. It’s important to note prompting whether prompts will be used or not. Some teachers will not automatically assume that the benchmark is without any prompting (ie. independent) unless noted. So I always want to make sure that is clarified. I completely agree – independence should always be the goal. However based on the needs of students (perhaps a student with a severe/profound cognitive delay), a year may not be enough time to accomplish the task independently. So some IEP goals for the year may continue to include prompts and each year (and each benchmark throughout the year), the mastery criteria will advance to ideally include less prompting. This allows us to continue to work on those essential life skills that may take longer to master. Thank you for sharing your opinion.

  29. I am struggling with writing goals and objectives. You said in your post that you write the goal and then your objectives are the same with fading prompts or increasing something. My question is then when you write an IEP do you end up with lots of goals? Like for math do you have one goal for addition problems with objectives and then another for subtraction and even another for telling time giving you 3 math type goals. Then the same for reading and other subjects? I was taught to have a general math goal with objectives that hit addition, subtraction, and telling time. As I am trying to take data and put into a graph I am struggling. I would prefer the your way if I am correct in how you write IEPs. My other concern is how long are your IEP’s when you print them?


  30. Hey Carrie-Anne – GREAT question. I know exactly what you mean. If you end up writing a goal for each thing you work in math (and every other subject) you end up with a ridiculous amount of goals. I write a general math goal like you mentioned with (depending on the student) a variety of objectives that build to that goal. Then when I take data, graph, and work on that goal we treat the benchmark almost like a mini-IEP goal and separate it out. Does that make sense? Basically I want to not be overwhelmed by having 6 math IEP goals so writing the general one accounts for everything we work on then when I take data and actually work on the concept we break it down to the exact skill with a simple mastery criteria. Let me know if that makes sense!

  31. Thanks!

  32. HI,
    I am needing help in writing an adaptive behavior goal for a middle school student. Any suggestions?

  33. Hmm… give me a little bit of background on the student and we can brainstorm! 🙂

  34. Hi, what is the significance of using the word consecutive in your goals? Consecutive has many varied meanings and it seems to me may or may not be practical during a school day or even in the home, community setting. What does consecutive usually intend when you see the term used in many goals…in your opinion?

  35. How many times in a row that student had the opportunity to demonstrate the goal and data was collect. So if data was collected on 9/10, 9/12, and 9/15 – I’d want to see the mastery level on those 3 consecutive days of data collection. Hope that helps!

  36. How do you typically report on these goals for progress reports, baseline data, present levels of performance, etc.? For example, for the goal “When given a flashcard picture, actual item, or other visual representation, student will correctly say the name of 100 new words at a frequency of 30 per minute on 5 consecutive sessions.” If day 1 they name 30 of 100, day 2 they accurately read 20, day 3 they read 50, day 4 they read 100 and day 5 they read 80, how would you report onthis? Do you average the scores or just say the most recent score? Thank you!

    • I’m not a huge fan of averaging so I would probably share the most recent score to give a more accurate depiction. Or you could say in the last 5 opportunities words per minute ranged from 30-50 to give the span of response scores


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