Inside: Learn how to write effective IEP goals with this step-by-step guide. Discover the formula for writing measurable goals and objectives tailored to your student’s needs.

IEP goals are the future. IEP Present Levels is where the child is now; goals are where we want them to be.

Writing IEP goals, while based on data, is part art, part science. The “part science” portion is easy. Use data from evaluations to determine your baselines or starting point.

The “part art” portion is a little trickier. Projecting how much progress a child can make in about a year can be difficult. So can prioritizing what area of need really needs to have a specific goal.

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How to Write IEP Goals

It’s also something I find that many educators are not prepared for or trained in. Colleges tend to be more focused on pedagogy than the IEP process when it comes to special education.

And many college professors haven’t been in an IEP meeting in decades, if ever.

to write iep goals you start with present levels
IEP goals should be build upon the baselines in present levels.

Hence, there is a huge disconnect between college degrees in Special Education, and what really happens day-to-day. Most new teachers were only given minimal instruction in how to write an IEP goal, let alone an IEP goal with objectives.

If you wish to listen to the podcast instead of reading this, here you go.

I also have a whole separate article on: How to Write an IEP

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Writing Measurable IEP Goals

Writing good IEP goals starts with the SMART goal formula.

I have a goal-creating formula below. But, your IEP goals should all meet the following criteria.

SMART goals for IEP
Goals should be Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time Limited.

Who writes IEP goals?

IDEA does not define this. Like everything else in the IEP, IEP goals are a team decision. Teams usually farm out the duties to whoever oversees that discipline. For example, the Occupational Therapist writes the OT goal. The PT writes the PT goal and so on.

A parent can suggest IEP goals. You can submit your suggestions as part of your IEP parent concerns letter. (and make sure you follow up with the PWN!)

Or, don’t be afraid to contact the specific person ahead of time via email.

A simple, “Dear speech therapist, Child’s annual IEP is in 3 months, and I was reviewing his existing IEP. Last year the goal was XYZ, how do you feel about adding or changing it to ABC, because…(and list your reasons).”

IEP development should be an ongoing process that includes open communication.

IEP Goal Formula

You can always plug in the information you have about the student to an IEP goal formula. Here are two examples of an IEP goal formula.

Here is a common formula for writing an Individualized Education Program (IEP) goal:

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[Student’s name] will [specific, measurable action verb] [desired behavior or skill] [criteria for success] [timeframe].

For example:

  • John will read 100 words per minute with 95% accuracy by the end of the school year.
  • Sarah will increase her written expression skills by writing a 5-paragraph essay with a clear introduction, three supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion with no more than 3 spelling errors per paragraph by the end of the semester.
  • Ben will improve his social skills by initiating one conversation with a peer per day during lunchtime for 3 consecutive weeks.
IEP goal formula for special education

How to Write IEP Goals and Objectives

Many teams confuse IEP goals and IEP objectives. It helps to think of objectives as steps toward a goal.

You can use the term benchmarks instead of objectives.

IEP Objectives and Benchmarks

Benchmarks indicate the interim steps a child will take to reach an annual goal. They also serve as a measurement gauge to monitor a child’s progress and determine if the child is making sufficient progress towards attaining an annual goal. Using a roadmap analogy, benchmarks and short-term objectives are used to divide the trip to the final destination into concrete, smaller steps.


It’s important to note, that if your child takes an alternative standardized assessment, then benchmarks are a required component of the IEP.

Here is the exact wording from IDEA.

IDEA statute on how to write an IEP goal and objectives

How to Write IEP Goal Objectives

To write objectives for IEP goals, you can follow these steps:

  1. Start with the goal: Review the IEP goal that you want to write objectives for. Make sure that the goal is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
  2. Break down the goal: Identify the specific skills or behaviors that the student needs to demonstrate to achieve the goal. For example, if the goal is to improve reading fluency, the skills or behaviors might include reading at a certain speed, accurately decoding words, or reading with expression.
  3. Identify the criteria for success: Determine how you will measure the student’s progress towards the goal. This might include specific benchmarks or assessments that will be used to evaluate the student’s performance.
  4. Write the objectives: Use the information from steps 2 and 3 to write one or more objectives that will help the student work towards the goal. Each objective should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. You can use the same formula as for the goal, but with a focus on the specific skill or behavior that the objective addresses.

For example, if the goal is to improve reading fluency, an objective might be:

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Objective: John will read a grade-level passage at a rate of 100 words per minute with 90% accuracy in 3 out of 4 trials by the end of the first semester.

Remember to consider the student’s individual needs, strengths, and interests when writing objectives, and to collaborate with the student, parents, and other members of the IEP team to ensure that the objectives are appropriate and effective.

Examples of IEP Objectives

Here is one SEL IEP goal, with objectives listed below it. This is just to give you an example of how objectives and benchmark help a child toward the goal.

IEP Goal Example: The Student will develop social understanding skills as measured by the benchmarks listed below.

Objectives to support that IEP goal:

  • _____ will raise their hand and wait to be called on before talking aloud in group settings 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____will work cooperatively with peers in small group settings (ie. Share materials, allow peers to share different thoughts) 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____ will develop an understanding of the relationship between his/her verbalizations and actions/effect on others 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____ will engage in appropriate cooperative social play interactions initiated by others 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____ will engage in cooperative social play interactions by allowing others to make changes or alter the play routine 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____ will engage in appropriate turn-taking skills by attending to peer’s turn and waiting for own turn 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____will appropriately acknowledge an interaction initiated by others by giving an appropriate response, either verbal or non-verbal.

If you just read that and are thinking, “Wow! That’s a great goal!”

No worries, I have a whole list of IEP Social Skills goals right here.

How to Collect Data for IEP Goals.

On this site, you will find a whole separate post on IEP Progress Monitoring. You will find more on data collection in that article.

IEP Goal Bank

Like I said, no need to reinvent the wheel. Here are thousands of IEP goals for you to read and adapt as needed.

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Remember that IEP goals should be individualized, specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

They should also be based on the student’s present level of performance and consider their strengths, needs, and interests.

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Free IEP Binder
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