Inside: Parents often disagree with their IEP teams when it comes to choosing IEP goals. Who gets to decide what goal goes on an IEP? And what do you do if you disagree with the team?

I know I’ve told the story several times. The story of my first IEP meeting with my school district. Kevin was 4, and we were meeting about possible kindergarten transition. The overall meeting was one of the worst I’ve ever experienced.

So much wrong with it from start to finish.

A boy in a red shirt choosing iep goals while working in a raised garden bed.

That IEP Coordinator tapped a sleeping bear because while I took a course on How to Become a Special Education Advocate, I hadn’t decided to make it a profession.

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Her actions that day changed that. One of the things she said to me was, “I appreciate all your input, Mrs. Lightner. However, we will not be making any changes to this IEP. today”

That was just one of many things that happened during that meeting.

But another one was that the proposed goals were nothing short of ridiculous.

I had an almost kindergartener who could not talk. He could not run at the time. He still can’t, actually.

He was growing bigger, and it was becoming harder for me to lift him everywhere I needed to lift him, like the bathtub, car seat, and so on.

He had most of his diagnoses then and had already scored a 1% on the Vineland.

The Vineland is a functional skills assessment. Basically, a 1% means that he can only do about 1% of the functional skills that his same-aged peers could do.

Unnecessary IEP Goals

Anyway, here we were, discussing his evaluations and proposed IEP goals.

And one of his PT goals was that he would be able to do a standing jump 3 times. I’m guessing that most of you could do that, right? Stand up. Now jump 3 times.

Seems simple enough. However, he could not do that. (And for the record, he still can’t.)

But it made no sense to me. He couldn’t climb in or out of his booster chair at the dinner table. Or his car seat or playground equipment. I didn’t see any value in being able to stand up and jump 3x.

I asked for reasoning, and whatever they said at the time was very weak. Something about it being a transferable skill and that once he could jump 3x, he’d then be able to do other things. I was skeptical.

Anyway, I ended up rejecting that entire IEP because it was garbage. But what do you do if there is one IEP goal you don’t want?

Choosing IEP Goals

When you write an IEP goal, it’s part art, part science.

IEP goals need to meet a significant amount of criteria. First, they should meet the 5-prong test for SMART goals. SMART is an acronym.

A blackboard with the words goal setting and choosing iep goals on it.
Goals should be Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and time-limited.

Then, there’s the “part science” portion of the goal. Look at the data from the most recent evaluations, the child’s strengths, and their IEP present levels. Extract the relevant data and build a goal from there.

Meaningful IEP Goals

I’ve written a bunch posts about developing IEP goals. Good goals have to be measurable. They should be related to your child’s areas of need. But they also need to be meaningful.

Yes, my son has poor core strength and motor planning, which results in not being able to jump. But being able to jump was not meaningful to us.

This part would be the “R” in SMART-relevant. And this is where you’ll find much disagreement among IEP team members. Often, the parent’s priorities, or how relevant they see a goal, is not what the school staff sees.

You may encounter things like “Well, we can’t do that because…” and “We have to have an IEP goal for this because….”

When parents face statements like that, they often ask me where they can find it in IDEA to refute those statements. To that, I say, put it on them.

Ask them where in IDEA or state regulations it says they must do it the way they are saying. Because one of the pillars of IDEA is I Individualization.

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Chances are, you won’t find it cited anywhere that the goal development must happen as stated.

A group of people choosing IEP goals, sitting around a table with laptops.

How many IEP goals?

One of the retorts you may hear is, “That’s too many IEP goals; an IEP can’t have that many goals.”

IDEA does not define how many goals an IEP should have or can have. There is no minimum or maximum number.

But some of our kids (like mine!) have so many needs that it’d be impossible to have a separate goal for each area of need.

It’d be great if every student had only four areas of need, and then you wrote four IEP goals. Life doesn’t come in neat, convenient packages like that.

The team then needs to come together to prioritize. In my mind as both a parent and an advocate, I fully believe that the parents’ wishes or priorities should rank above the school’s priorities.

This is because we are the ones, as parents, who have to live with this child and see them through to the very end. The school team only has to see them through the end of the school year.

Schools often choose IEP goal priorities based on what supports and services are already in place in the building. Harsh truth. But no team says, “I’d just LOVE to develop a whole new program or intervention for this one kid.”

They know what interventions they offer for other kids, so it’s convenient for them to scale that intervention when possible.

Full Parent Participation

As I nag all the time, IEP parents need to ensure they are participating in these 5 parts of the IEP process. That’s your starting point. If you are participating and the team is valuing you as an equal member, it’s unlikely that you’ll end up with crappy IEP goals. As part of the process, you and your child can tell the team what is a priority for you.

Your IEP needs to be collaborative, not directive.

You should always submit a kick-azz Parent Concerns Letter for your IEP.

Goals are an IEP Team Decision

Like every other part of the IEP, goals are a team decision. Parents are mandated IEP team members.

Sounds lovely on paper, but it doesn’t always play out that way.

Because, at the end of the IEP process (final IEP meeting), the school presents you with their final offer of FAPE. Their final offer of FAPE is the final draft IEP.

At that point, parents have to read and use their procedural safeguards if applicable.

A pink ipad and a cup of coffee on a table, illustrating productivity and organization for IEP goals.

When you Disagree with your IEP team.

You can do several things if you see goals on your child’s IEP that you do not want. Of course, it will depend on the situation and when you were given this information.

During IEP Development: You should be participating in the 5 parts above. Ensure the team is aware of your priorities, and don’t be afraid to suggest goals for your child. Make sure that they address an area of need listed in present levels. I even have a huge IEP goal bank for you to peruse and get ideas.

Before the meeting: Take notes if you saw a draft IEP and this is a concern. Have alternatives. Ask for clarification; perhaps there is value in the goal you did not see.

During the meeting: Talk about it. Tell them that upon initially reading this goal, you do not think it is meaningful or appropriate. If you don’t have any data or ideas on the spot, follow up after the meeting.

After the meeting: Learn and use the PWN. Or decide if this is worth fighting for.

Our time and our school resources are limited. So let’s not waste time on our kids that we don’t think has value.

All these years later, my child still cannot jump three times. But that’s ok.

Because now he can climb in and out of my minivan, the bathtub, and Rifton chair.

And that’s meaningful.

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