Inside: Learn everything you need to know to start setting SMART goals, including the SMART goals acronym, smart goal examples and smart goal worksheets.

Goals are all around us. We make goals all day, every day in our own head. It may be as simple as “I want to get the laundry done today” or “I plan to walk the dog.” Those are smart goals to have. But, are they SMART goals?

When it comes to SMART IEP goals, the bar is actually set a little higher. While the IEP process has become a lot more litigious than I’d like it to be, some of it is good.

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An informative graphic illustrating the concept of smart IEP goals with explanations for each component: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

Mind you, I’m not a lawyer nor do I play one on the internet. However, case law as pertains to IEPs, has mostly upheld the concept of IEP goals being SMART.

SMART IEP Goals

If you’re here, chances are you’re a teacher or parent who needs more information about IEP goals.

Having attended hundreds of IEP meetings, I get to see a variety of IEPs. Some are good, most are not. Keeping in mind, of course, that parents only call in an special education advocate when things are going well.

Parents do not call me to attend meetings with them or do record reviews because their IEP is fantastic.

While writing IEP goals requires more knowledge than “I want to walk my dog 5 days a week so he loses weight,” all IEP goals should start with the SMART formula.

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SMART Goals Acronym

So, what does it mean to be a SMART goal? According to, A Guide for Special Educators: How to Develop Effective Goals and Objectives for Children with Disabilities , ensuring that goals are SMART, it is wise to actually use each letter as a guide. SMART in SMART goals is actually an acronym.

Smart Goals Definition
SMART goals are specific measurable achievable relevant timebound

Below, I have elaborated on the SMART goal acronym a bit, and brought it back to relate to IEPs too. If you write IEP goals, you must know how to write SMART goals.

How to Write Smart IEP Goals

I have some SMART IEP goal PDF at the bottom of this post.

S: A goal should be SPECIFIC to the target.

For IEPs: This means there must be measures in which to assess concrete evidence that the student is moving steadily toward the goal. When a goal is not specific, and there is not a way to tangibly assess the goal it leaves room for interpretation by different team members.

M: M is for MEASURABLE! How will this goal be measured?  

Smart Goal Example for IEP Students:

Let’s examine an example: “Caiden will improve his math skills.” This is not specific and it is not indicating how it is measurable. A more effective, smart goal is, “Caiden will show improvement in addition skills with regrouping in 4 out of 5 trials every 5 weeks with an 85% success rate by June 2023.”

This is specific to what kind of addition and how it will be measured as showing improvement; we want Caiden to show in assessments that 4 out of 5 times with an 85% every 5 weeks he is becoming independent in his answer for addition with regrouping.

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A:  ATTAINABLE should directly correlate back to the baselines of the person completing the goal. Are you going to run a marathon in 2 weeks, if you haven’t run in the past year?

For IEPs, the baselines should be in Present Levels of Performance. What was said about Caiden in PLP in regard to strengths? Let’s just say in PLP we said that he has mastered addition without regrouping on an independent level. So, it stands to reason based on the strength in the PLP, that this goal we have for Caiden adding with regrouping is attainable.

We are also giving Caiden 4 out of 5 tries to obtain 85% accuracy and we are saying this will show growth. Caiden doesn’t need to be perfect, just show improvement. 

R: RELEVANT: How is this goal relevant to a student, a nurse, a workplace or your personal life?

When writing student SMART goals for IEPs, this can get tricky. Some students have so many needs, that we cannot possibly write and monitor a goal for everything. IEP teams have to prioritize what should be worked on.

And, what is a parent’s priority is not always the school’s priority. It should be noted as a need in IEP Present Levels and with baselines. From there, the IEP team has to decide, together, what will be worked on.

IDEA does not define how many goals an IEP should have, or who gets to choose what skills should be prioritized. This requires collaboration from the IEP team.

T: TIME: What is the time frame for the goal? At what point will you re-evaluate your progress, achieve the goal or abandon it? What time frame is achievable?

For personal SMART goals, no person can go from couch to marathon in a month or two. But, couch to 5k plans are quite popular.

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When it comes to SMART IEP goals, and that “time” component, this is where I find a lot of dissention among IEP teams.

First, please know that no, IDEA does not say that every IEP goal should be achieved within a year’s time. That year yardstick that IDEA gives is a guideline, not an absolute. With the right services and supports, what kind of progress can you expect a child to make within a year? We’re talking about predicting outcomes here, so it gets sticky.

SMART goal template
Some use realistic, others use relevant, when talking about SMART Goals.

For IEPs, a goal or in some cases an objective needs to have a reasonable amount of time. An IEP goal typically has a year time frame.

Objectives are that goal broken up into smaller chunks of time to give the student a chance to show success in smaller increments. Objectives, in some cases, are optional. In some circumstances, IDEA requires objectives. Such as, for students who take alternate assessments.

We saw in Caiden’s goal that he would be monitored as being successful, accomplishing that math goal with an 85% success rate  4 out of 5 times for the whole year. The hope is that by the final reporting time he receives A for Achieved.

Objectives for Caiden’s goal could be “Caiden will complete 2 addition problems  with regrouping independently by December”. If Caiden reaches these objectives, smaller chunks of the bigger goal, there is a better chance for success. If not, the goal needs to be revisited for a more appropriate goal.

Not meeting an IEP goal within a year is not a slam dunk for parents, in most situations. Usually, the goal did not meet the SMART criteria.

SMART IEP Goals Examples

Let’s analyze Mason’s educational goal for SMART criteria. Is this goal an example of a SMART goal?

ACADEMIC: Mason B      Age: 5      Classification: Developmental Delay

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Present Levels of Performance: 

Reading:

Strength: According to CBMs and formal testing Mason is doing very well with letter and sound identification. He is beginning to put some cvc words together. 

GOAL: Mason will utilize phonics skills in a multisensory reading program to decode 25 CVC words with digraphs with 85% accuracy in 8 out of 10 trials by June 2023.

Specific?Yes, he will be given cvc words with digraphs to read on a regular basis. He needs to achieve 85% accuracy on 8 out of 10 trials. 
Measurable? Yes, he will be given word lists of 25 words used in the multisensory reading program and will be progressed monitored that he is showing growth reading them with 85% accuracy 8 out of 10 times during data collection
AttainableYes, circle back to PLP~ Mason strength is that he mastered letter and sound recognition. This strength will hopefully serve him in this next set of phonetic instruction. It has great potential for attainability. 
RelevantYes, it is relevant because we see his strength in PLP and he will be afforded an evidence-based multisensory reading program to reach his goal.
Time lined Yes, this student is being given the whole year to achieve this goal which will be progress monitored regularly. 

Other important factors for writing Present Levels of Performance, Goals, and Objectives is that everything should be positive, again using a child’s strengths to assist them in achieving goals in their areas of need.

SMART IEP Goal Student Example

Here is an example of a SMART goal that does not meet much of the criteria, nor use best practices.

Example, “Aubrey will not throw a temper tantrum when she doesn’t get her way”.

A SMART behavioral goal would be:

Aubrey will count to 5 and ask to take a walk when she is in crisis, 8 out of 10 times in a 5-week period until June 2023.

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This is of course, assuming that Aubrey has the skills to self-identify and self-advocate when she is in crisis. If she does not, that would be the goal.

Specific?Yes, she needs to count to 5 and ask to take a walk when she is in crisis
Measurable?Yes, her behavior needs to be documented when she is in crisis. This documentation needs to explain if in a 5-week period 8 out of 10 times, she did indeed count and ask for a walk and she needs to do this all year. Any divergence from this can be noted in the documentation.
Attainable?Yes, the teacher knows the student and will teach and model this replacement behavior, allowing the counting and the walk to attain the goal. She has the necessary sub-skills to achieve this.
Relevant?Yes, Aubrey was unhappy after she had meltdowns and it disrupted her learning and that of others.
Time lined ?Yes, her behavior will be documented and reported in a 5-week period for the whole year.

Let’s move on to some SMART goal templates.

SMART IEP Goal Setting

Of course, if we are talking about a personal goal, much of this can be done in our heads.

But, when setting SMART goals, sometimes it helps to see it on paper. There is lots of research that says when we write something down, we remember it better.

I’m a pen and paper person myself, I like things written down.

Colorful smart IEP goals worksheet with questions to guide goal planning.
This SMART IEP Goal worksheet can be found below.

SMART IEP Goal Worksheets

If you’re having trouble downloading these SMART goals worksheets and SMART goal templates, there’s a video you can click on in my sidebar. It’s a quick screencast that will help you print these SMART goal PDF.

This one is plain for easier printing and for older students or adults.

I put them separately so you don’t have to download and print SMART IEP goal planners that you do not want.

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This SMART IEP goal worksheet is for kids.

I hope you found everything you need to know about SMART IEP goals here. Thanks to Linda for helping with the post.

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Linda Gilmartin is a high school special education teacher, an adjunct college professor for future teachers, and the Administrator of the social media group Transitioning Teens/Adults with Special Needs Life After High School, and Author of Transitioning Special Needs Teenagers and Adults. 

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