Benchmark goals are an essential component of individualized education programs (IEPs) designed to support students with disabilities in achieving academic and functional goals.

These goals are specific, measurable, and time-bound, and serve as intermediate milestones that help track a student’s progress towards achieving their annual goals.

IEP goal benchmarks and objectives are an important part of IEP development.
IDEA only requires IEP goal benchmarks and objectives for some students.

Benchmark goals are typically shorter in duration and more frequent than annual goals, and provide more granular data on a student’s progress towards achieving their IEP objectives.

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IEP Goals and Benchmarks

The length of a benchmark goal on an IEP can vary depending on the nature of the goal and the student’s individual needs, but in general, they should be defined in enough detail to be both measurable and achievable within a relatively short timeframe.

What does IDEA say about benchmarks and objectives?

Here is the exact wording from IDEA.

The IDEA wording about IEP goal benchmarks

Two takeaways here. One is that the only IEPs that are required to have benchmarks are for those students who take alternative assessments.

This is something that is clearly stated on most IEPs, if you’re not sure. This tends to be the IEP students who are in a life skills classroom or similar type of programming.

Second, note that IDEA says “benchmarks or short-term objectives.” So what’s the difference?

Difference Between IEP Goal Benchmarks and Objectives

Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals are designed to support students with disabilities in achieving academic and functional goals. IEP goals are typically divided into two types of components: benchmarks and objectives.

While both benchmarks and objectives are important parts of an IEP goal, they serve different purposes.

IEP goal benchmarks are intermediate milestones that help track a student’s progress towards achieving their annual goals. These benchmarks are typically shorter in duration and more frequent than annual goals, and are designed to provide more granular data on a student’s progress towards achieving their IEP objectives.

Benchmarks are used to determine whether a student is making adequate progress towards achieving their annual goals and whether adjustments need to be made to their IEP.

IEP goal objectives, on the other hand, are the specific skills or knowledge that a student is expected to master over the course of the year.

Objectives are typically defined in measurable and achievable terms, and they are designed to be challenging yet realistic based on the data found in the child’s PLAAFP (present levels).

So even though technically an IEP goal benchmark differs from an IEP goal objective, IDEA does not require both to be on an IEP. Yes, it would be best practice to have both.

This is a change to IDEA from the 2004 reauthorization. However, as I have referenced the Federal Register many times on this site, it addressed benchmarks and objective in 2006.

Benchmarks and short-term objectives were specifically removed from…the Act. However, because benchmarks and short-term objectives were originally intended to assist parents in monitoring their child’s progress toward meeting the child’s annual goals, we believe a State could, if it chose to do so, determine the extent to which short-term objectives and benchmarks would be used.

However, …a State that chooses to require benchmarks or short-term objectives in IEPs in that State would have to identify in writing to the LEAs located in the State and to the Secretary that such rule, regulation, or policy is a State-imposed requirement, which is not required by Part B of the Act or the Federal regulations.

71 Fed. Reg. at 46663

IEP Goals and Benchmarks Example

To help illustrate what a benchmark goal might look like, let’s consider an example related to reading comprehension. Suppose a student has an annual goal of improving their reading comprehension skills by increasing their accuracy and speed when answering questions about grade-level texts.

Here’s an example of a benchmark goal that could be set to track progress towards this objective:

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Benchmark Goal: By the end of the second quarter, [Student] will accurately answer 80% of comprehension questions related to grade-level texts, as measured by teacher-administered reading comprehension assessments, across three consecutive data points.

In this example, the benchmark goal is defined in specific terms, with a clear target for the student’s level of accuracy and a timeframe for achieving this goal. The goal is also measurable, with the student’s progress being assessed through teacher-administered reading comprehension assessments.

Finally, the benchmark goal is achievable, as it sets a realistic target for the student’s level of comprehension based on their current abilities.

Your child's IEP targets should be realistic and attainable.
Your child’s IEP targets should be realistic and attainable.

How long is a benchmark goal on an IEP?

The length of a benchmark goal on an IEP can vary depending on the nature of the goal and the student’s individual needs. Some benchmark goals may be achieved within a few weeks, while others may take several months.

For example, a benchmark goal related to mastering a specific math skill might be achievable within a few weeks, while a benchmark goal related to improving social skills might take longer to achieve.

Regardless of the length of a benchmark goal, it’s important that it be both measurable and achievable. The goal should be defined in specific terms, with clear criteria for success and a timeframe for achieving the goal.

This helps ensure that progress towards the annual goal can be tracked and that adjustments can be made to the student’s IEP as needed.

Are IEP benchmarks for academics only?

In addition to academic goals, benchmark goals can also be set for functional goals related to daily living skills, social skills, and behavior management.

For example, a benchmark goal related to improving social skills might look like this:

Benchmark Goal: By the end of the first quarter, [Student] will initiate social interactions with peers at least once per day, as observed and recorded by a teacher or aide during recess and lunch periods, across three consecutive data points.

In this example, the benchmark goal is defined in observable terms, with clear criteria for success and a timeframe for achieving the goal. The goal is also achievable, as it sets a realistic target for the student’s level of social interaction based on their current abilities.

IEP Goals and Benchmarks Examples

Here are three examples of IEP goals and benchmarks. I realize that after the word “goal” that what is stated behind it is not measurable. This assumes you have the baseline data from evaluations to put in the goal.

I purposely left the goal as vague, and a big picture kind of thing. Because many times I hear from parents or IEP team members who say “I don’t know how to write an IEP goal for something like social skills or executive functioning.”

And I get it, because at the outset, it often feels like social skills are subjective and not objective, and too difficult to measure. But, if you list your benchmarks and objectives first, you can then work backwards and come up with a measurable IEP goal.

For example, for the first IEP goals and benchmarks example, you would add in the IEP benchmarks for reading comprehension, and that would give you a reading comprehension IEP goal.

Goal: Improve reading comprehension skills

  • Benchmark 1: By the end of the first quarter, the student will be able to identify the main idea in a short reading passage with 80% accuracy as measured by teacher observation.
  • Benchmark 2: By the end of the second quarter, the student will be able to summarize a reading passage in writing with 80% accuracy as measured by teacher assessment.
  • Benchmark 3: By the end of the third quarter, the student will be able to answer inference questions about a reading passage with 80% accuracy as measured by teacher assessment.

Goal: Improve social skills and interactions with peers

  • Benchmark 1: By the end of the first quarter, the student will initiate conversation with a peer during a structured activity with 80% success as measured by teacher observation.
  • Benchmark 2: By the end of the second quarter, the student will be able to respond appropriately to questions from a peer during a conversation with 80% success as measured by teacher observation.
  • Benchmark 3: By the end of the third quarter, the student will be able to ask questions to a peer during a conversation with 80% success as measured by teacher observation.

Goal: Improve executive functioning skills

  • Benchmark 1: By the end of the first quarter, the student will be able to write down all homework assignments accurately in their planner with 80% accuracy as measured by teacher observation.
  • Benchmark 2: By the end of the second quarter, the student will be able to prioritize tasks by importance and deadline with 80% accuracy as measured by teacher observation.
  • Benchmark 3: By the end of the third quarter, the student will be able to organize materials and work space with 80% accuracy as measured by teacher observation.

Overall, the length of a benchmark goal on an IEP can vary depending on the nature of the goal and the student’s individual needs. However, regardless of the length of the goal, it should be both measurable and achievable, with clear criteria for success and a timeframe for achieving the goal.

This helps ensure that progress towards the annual goal can be tracked and that adjustments can be made to the student’s IEP as needed.

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