A student must learn to decode before they can move on to reading comprehension and reading fluency. Say it again. And again.

There’s a reason I am opening this list of decoding IEP goals with that statement.

I am genuinely surprised at how many IEP teams want to put the proverbial cart before the horse. Or, add both fluency and decoding goals on the same IEP.

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A boy is decoding a book to achieve his IEP goals.

If they cannot decode, they cannot even begin to comprehend or commit the words to working memory for fluency. Their brain is still back there, working on decoding.

And please know that this is not a knock on teachers or schools. Teachers are doing as they are instructed to do. Many times I can tell that they agree with me in meetings when I am pressing for IEP goals for decoding to be added. But they have been overruled by an admin.

What Is Decoding in Reading?

Decoding is the process of translating written words into spoken language, and it is a crucial skill for reading.

Decoding in reading refers to the process of translating written text into understandable language. It involves recognizing and interpreting individual letters, letter combinations, and words in order to comprehend the meaning of the text.

Decoding skills are essential for fluent reading, as they allow readers to accurately pronounce words and understand their meanings within the context of the sentence or passage.

Decoding typically involves several sub-skills, including:

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  1. Phonemic awareness: The ability to recognize and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words.
  2. Phonics: Understanding the relationship between letters (graphemes) and their corresponding sounds (phonemes). This includes recognizing letter patterns, letter-sound correspondences, and decoding unfamiliar words by applying phonetic rules.
  3. Sight word recognition: Memorizing common words by sight, without needing to decode them letter by letter.
  4. Contextual clues: Using surrounding words and sentences to help decode unfamiliar words or phrases.

Effective decoding skills are crucial for developing reading fluency and comprehension. As readers become more proficient at decoding, they can read more quickly and with greater understanding. However, decoding is just one aspect of reading comprehension, which also includes vocabulary knowledge, comprehension strategies, and background knowledge.

Decoding is the process of breaking down words into their individual sounds and recognizing the patterns associated with those sounds. It involves understanding the relationship between letters and the sounds they represent, as well as recognizing common spelling patterns and rules.

For proficient readers, decoding happens effortlessly and automatically, allowing them to focus on comprehension. However, for struggling readers, decoding can be a significant challenge that impedes their overall reading ability.

Without a foundation of decoding skills a child cannot move on to the other reading skills to become a fluent reader.

A line of books on Decoding IEP Goals laying on the ground.
Decoding is one of the first steps on the path to being a fluent reader.

Reading Skills Surrounding Decoding

Here are some examples of reading skills related to decoding.

Phonemic Awareness: The student will demonstrate improved phonemic awareness by correctly identifying and manipulating individual sounds (phonemes) within words.

Letter Recognition: The student will increase proficiency in recognizing and naming letters, including both uppercase and lowercase, to improve overall decoding skills.

Sight Word Recognition: The student will improve sight word recognition by learning and accurately identifying a set number of high-frequency words.

Decoding Fluency: The student will improve decoding fluency by correctly pronouncing a set number of words per minute, as measured by regular assessments.

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Word Attack Skills: The student will develop strategies for attacking unfamiliar words, such as using context clues, word roots, and prefixes, to improve decoding in context.

Phonics Skills: The student will demonstrate proficiency in applying pronunciation rules by decoding words with specific vowel patterns, consonant blends, and digraphs.

Multi-Syllabic Word Decoding: The student will improve the ability to decode multi-syllabic words by breaking them down into smaller units and applying appropriate decoding strategies.

Use of Assistive Technology: The student will effectively use assistive technology tools, such as text-to-speech software or apps, to support decoding skills and enhance reading comprehension.

The above list are just some considerations IEP teams should discuss when coming up with IEP goals for decoding for a student. 

Who evaluates a student’s decoding skills?

Evaluation for decoding reading skills typically falls under the domain of teachers and reading specialists, and speech-language pathologists. These professionals use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gauge a child’s decoding abilities, including standardized tests, informal observations, and diagnostic assessments.

Remember that a school is required to evaluate in all areas of suspected disability. And, I’ll say it again–a student cannot move on to other reading skills (like comprehension) until they have mastered decoding.

a child working on their Decoding IEP Goals with a reading teacher

How Do You Write An IEP Goal for Decoding?

Writing an effective Individualized Education Program (IEP) goal for decoding involves being specific, measurable, and tailored to the individual needs of the student. 

You can put any skill into the IEP goal formula to make it measurable.

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Decoding IEP Goal Formula Worksheet.

Or, follow these steps to write a well-crafted IEP goal for decoding:

Identify the Specific Decoding Skill: Clearly define the decoding skill you want the student to improve. This could include phonemic awareness, letter recognition, sight word recognition, decoding fluency, phonics skills, or other related areas.

Use Action Verbs: Begin the goal with an action verb that indicates what the student will do. For decoding goals, verbs like “identify,” “recognize,” “apply,” or “demonstrate” are often appropriate.

Specify the Conditions: Describe the conditions under which the skill will be performed. This could include the type of text, the level of difficulty, or any specific materials or tools the student will use.

Set Measurable Criteria: Clearly state how progress will be measured. This could involve a specific number or percentage, the accuracy of responses, or other quantifiable measures. Make sure it’s realistic and attainable.

Include a Time Frame: Indicate the timeframe within which the goal is expected to be achieved. This could be a specific number of weeks or months. Timeframes help set a clear deadline for assessing progress.

Consider Baseline Data: Take into account the student’s current level of performance in the area you are addressing. This baseline data helps in setting realistic and appropriate goals that reflect the student’s starting point.

Be Specific to the Student’s Needs: Tailor the goal to the individual needs and abilities of the student. Consider any unique challenges or strengths the student may have in decoding.

Link to Curriculum Standards: If applicable, align the goal with relevant curriculum standards or benchmarks. This helps to ensure that the student is working towards grade-level expectations.

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Keep in mind that if a child has not mastered basic reading skill IEP goals, they are not ready to move on to more complex reading skills like fluency and comprehension.

Example IEP Goals for Decoding

I want to add here, that while there are IEP goals related to sight words on these lists, a whole word approach is not recommended for dyslexic students.

“By the end of the IEP period, when presented with a grade-level passage, the student will correctly decode and read aloud 90% of words containing common consonant blends (e.g., bl, gr, st) with 80% accuracy, as measured by teacher-recorded observations and bi-weekly assessments.”

Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals for decoding in reading should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Here are ten examples of such goals:

  1. By the end of the academic year, when presented with grade-level passages, the student will accurately decode 90% of words containing common vowel patterns (e.g., long vowels, vowel teams).
  2. Over the next six months, the student will demonstrate improved decoding skills by correctly reading multisyllabic words with 80% accuracy in isolation and within context.
  3. By the end of the semester, when given unfamiliar multisyllabic words, the student will apply phonics strategies to decode 75% of these words independently.
  4. Within the next nine weeks, the student will increase sight word recognition by accurately identifying and reading 50 new sight words from the Dolch sight words or Fry word lists.
  5. Over the next trimester, the student will improve decoding accuracy by correctly identifying and pronouncing consonant blends and digraphs in words with 85% accuracy.
  6. By the end of the quarter, when provided with passages at the student’s instructional reading level, they will accurately decode words with common prefixes and suffixes 80% of the time.
  7. Over the next six months, the student will improve decoding fluency by reading passages aloud at a rate of at least 80 correct words per minute, as measured by timed readings.
  8. Within the next grading period, the student will demonstrate improved decoding skills by accurately reading words with irregular vowel patterns (e.g., “said,” “could”) with 90% accuracy.
  9. By the end of the semester, when given grade-level texts, the student will use contextual clues and word analysis skills to decode unfamiliar words independently, achieving at least 75% accuracy.
  10. Over the course of the academic year, the student will develop decoding strategies such as chunking and syllabication, using these techniques to accurately decode complex words in both isolated word lists and connected text.

Multi Syllabic Decoding

Once a child has decoding skills with one syllable words, it’s time to move on to words with more than one syllable.

Here are five goals specifically focused on improving multi-syllabic decoding skills:

  1. By the end of the semester, when presented with multi-syllabic words in grade-level passages, the student will accurately decode and pronounce words with three or more syllables with 90% accuracy.
  2. Over the next six months, the student will improve their ability to decode multi-syllabic words by using syllabication rules, achieving 80% accuracy when dividing words into syllables.
  3. By the end of the trimester, when given multi-syllabic words containing prefixes, suffixes, and root words, the student will decode and analyze the structure of these words independently with 85% accuracy.
  4. Within the next grading period, the student will increase their fluency in decoding multi-syllabic words by correctly identifying and applying common vowel patterns in these words, achieving 75% accuracy in decoding words within context.
  5. Over the course of the academic year, the student will develop strategies for decoding unfamiliar multi-syllabic words, including using context clues, breaking words into manageable parts, and recognizing word roots and affixes, demonstrating increased confidence and proficiency in decoding complex vocabulary.
Two little girls decoding a book in a field.

Decoding IEP Goals

  1. Goal: Improve phonemic awareness.
    • Objective: The student will correctly identify and manipulate individual sounds within words.
  2. Goal: Recognize sight words.
    • Objective: The student will accurately read and write a predetermined list of high-frequency sight words.
  3. Goal: Develop knowledge of letter-sound correspondence.
    • Objective: The student will correctly match letters to their corresponding sounds in isolation and in words.
  4. Goal: Enhance decoding fluency.
    • Objective: The student will read passages aloud with increasing speed and accuracy.
  5. Goal: Expand vocabulary.
    • Objective: The student will learn and use new words encountered in reading materials.
  6. Goal: Improve word attack skills.
    • Objective: The student will apply phonics and structural analysis strategies to decode unfamiliar words.
  7. Goal: Enhance comprehension.
    • Objective: The student will demonstrate understanding of text through answering questions and retelling.
  8. Goal: Develop morphological awareness.
    • Objective: The student will identify and analyze the meaningful parts of words, such as prefixes, suffixes, and root words.
  9. Goal: Increase reading stamina.
    • Objective: The student will sustain attention and focus while reading for extended periods.
  10. Goal: Enhance decoding strategies.
    • Objective: The student will use context clues, predictions, and other strategies to decipher unfamiliar words.
  11. Goal: Improve spelling skills.
    • Objective: The student will spell words accurately, applying knowledge of phonics and spelling patterns.
  12. Goal: Develop automaticity in decoding.
    • Objective: The student will recognize and read common words quickly and effortlessly.
  13. Goal: Improve phonological processing.
    • Objective: The student will accurately blend, segment, and manipulate sounds within words.
  14. Goal: Increase reading comprehension.
    • Objective: The student will identify main ideas, make inferences, and draw conclusions from texts.
  15. Goal: Develop self-monitoring skills.
    • Objective: The student will recognize and correct decoding errors independently.
  16. Goal: Enhance reading accuracy.
    • Objective: The student will read text with a high degree of accuracy, minimizing errors.
  17. Goal: Improve reading rate.
    • Objective: The student will read at an appropriate pace, adjusting speed based on the difficulty of the text.
  18. Goal: Expand reading repertoire.
    • Objective: The student will explore various genres and types of texts to broaden reading experiences.
  19. Goal: Increase reading independence.
    • Objective: The student will read independently for pleasure and information.
  20. Goal: Transfer decoding skills to authentic reading tasks.
    • Objective: The student will apply decoding strategies learned in isolation to real-world reading situations.

Here are more IEP goals that may help you with this student’s IEP.

Reading and Writing IEP Goals

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