Once a child has been identified as a student with a learning disability, it can be tough for the IEP team to come to agreement on IEP goals. After all, depending on the disability, the child may have needs in reading, writing, vocabulary and much more.

And, reading is so much more than reading. It’s decoding, it’s phonemic awareness, fluency and increasing vocabulary. It is with hesitation that I am providing a list of suggestions for vocabulary IEP goals.

student doing homework

And, here’s why. I hope I can explain this well. But, too often, developing vocabulary skills is reduced to memorizing new words and their meaning. A student may be able to regurgitate that information to get by on a test or pass a grade, but true reading skills and vocabulary development is much more than that.

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When you have decent decoding and fluency skills, we don’t notice the mini-sequence of events that goes on in our brain when we encounter a new word. We may sound it out. Likely, we will place it in a frame of reference to other words that we are familiar with.

Reading-fluent students will also quickly assess prefixes, suffixes, the root and more–to determine what the word sounds like and means.

If a reading disabled student does not have those foundation skills, true vocabulary development will not happen.

diction and dictionary

All that to say–too often, on an IEP, I see vocabulary goals like “will get 80% or better on vocab quizzes and tests.”

Vocabulary on an IEP

IEP teams need to dig deeper than that. Depending on the IEP evaluations that were completed, all of the information that you need may or may not be available.

But, the team needs to know if all the basic skill sets are there before expecting the child to grow and develop a more mature vocabulary.

Learning disabled students may lack vocabulary building skills because of under-developed phonics and phonemic awareness. The team should also decide if speech therapy is warranted. Can the child effectively articulate words?

An SLP and Special Education Teacher might work together in the following ways:

  • Together they can design the instruction plan or speech sessions with IEP goals in focus.
  • They can ascertain if there are special tools needed to communicate speech and vocabulary fluency.
  • IEP goals act as the benchmark for assessing whether the proficiency level is attained or if it requires more or different interventions.

Let’s take a look at the proposed IEP goal list that focuses on reading vocabulary development in children with different learning needs.

Smart Goals for Vocabulary Development

Any IEP goal should be a SMART goal, which means it should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

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

IEP goal writing is part art, part science. Often, the parent and the team are in conflict over which IEP goals should be a priority for the student. Some students have many needs, and to address every need with an IEP goal would be overwhelming.

If you, as a parent, disagree with your IEP team about the IEP goals, learn how to pair the IEP parent concerns letter and PWN.

Here are some examples to get you started. However, it is unlikely that a child only has vocabulary building needs. The lack of ability to build vocabulary is usually one small piece in a much bigger puzzle. I would recommend that these IEP goals for vocabulary, actually be used as IEP goal objectives for a different IEP goal.

Any vocabulary skill listed below should be plugged into the IEP goal formula.

IEP goal formula for special education

By (time), a student will (mention skill) in (mention place) as measured by (name who will assess) with (level of accuracy – number of times or %) with or without using (mention support, if any).

Listed below is the list of vocabulary-based IEP goals set for an elementary school student as per the standards set by the Kentucky Department of Education.

Reading Vocabulary IEP Goals and Objectives

  1. Make meaningful words from phoneme: Differentiate and combine phonemes to sound out the word
  2. Convert combined letters to sounds and then blend sounds to form recognizable words: Child should read each letter and then combine to form the word
  3. Display understanding of synonyms and antonyms: Learn similar meaning and opposites of words commonly used
  4. Complete sentence with the correct homonym: Know see/sea, hole/whole, etc., and make a sentence with each.
  5. Add suffix and prefix to words: For example, learn to use ‘in’, ‘un’, ‘mis’=-”, as prefix and ‘able’, ‘ly’, etc. as suffix to form new words.
  6. Identify words families: Learn words families wise such as ‘it’ sound words, ‘at’ sound words, etc.
  7. Recognize and read high-frequency words or sight words: Recognize words like I, me, we, her, here, there, etc.
  8. Decode unfamiliar words: If any word heard for the first time, the child should decode it into its various parts, or spell it.

If these skills are well beyond your child’s reach, the team needs to back up. Make sure that all areas of need are thoroughly identified in present levels.

Vocabulary IEP Goals

A reminder that all IEP goals, for anything, not just reading vocabulary, are to be skills-based. One flaw I am repeatedly seeing is teams using Grade Standards to write IEP goals. IEP goals should be based off of baseline data in the IEP present levels.

If a child is significantly behind their age peers, say reading at a kindergarten vocabulary level instead of 3rd grade, writing IEP goals based off of 3rd grade standards will be meaningless. The supports and interventions put in place to achieve those goals will likely skip over teaching the necessary foundation skills.

A child will never catch up if foundation skills are not taught. Many teams do not like to put in writing how significantly behind a child is. But, just challenging them to a higher level skill without the proper supports will not be successful.

The child will only grow more frustrated and fall further behind.

kindergarten teacher and student
A teacher and student work on Vocabulary IEP Goals for Kindergarten.

Progress Monitoring Vocabulary Skills

IEP goals may need changes according to the level of learning disability prevalent. Many times vocabulary skills are assessed only by tests and quizzes given by the teacher.

The teachers may follow these assessment tips to monitor vocab progress:

  • Do peer comparison: Check proficiency levels of children and compare them.
  • Interview child: Talk with the child and ask questions but hidden in a normal conversation to assess the learning needs.
  • Take assessment tests: Tests like WJ Oral Language Subtest, etc. are available.

Developing Vocabulary: SDIs

IEPs are to be individualized. The team should determine what works best for that specific child.

Individualized education is delivered by following some strategies, such as:

  • Teach parts of speech like noun and verb through sentence manipulatives.
  • Deliver students evidence based reading programs to develop vocabulary.
  • Play vocabulary based-games.
  • Prepare anchor charts like word families charts, sight words charts, noun, and adjective charts, etc.
  • Hold group discussion and encourage children to speak small sentences or ask them to repeat anything they read in a book or online.
  • Give worksheets on antonyms, synonyms, and homonyms to solve and also for the ‘make sentence’ activity.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. As always, solid evaluations are the cornerstone to a robust, appropriate IEP. Adding vocabulary goals to an IEP while ignoring the foundation skills will not be successful for anyone.

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