For a long time, I purposely did not include lists like this on my site–lists of things like math word problem IEP goals. I refrained from putting math goals because struggling in math is usually indicative of other issues. I still stand by that, and encourage you to pursue other areas of need for a student.

For example, look at executive functioning, reading, decoding and other pre-skills necessary for math skills.

A little girl is solving a math word problem at her desk.

For many of us, reminiscing about our school days and doing word problems does not bring happy memories. Finally, we learned some math calculations, and then a story was added to it. I’m a visual learner, so reading a few sentences and having to create a math problem from it was a nightmare.

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Of course, in the 1970s and 1980s, it wasn’t common to say, “Hey, this child could use some visual support. Let’s give her a graphic organizer so she can plan out her thoughts.”

That may be an accommodation that is appropriate for your child or student.

IEP Goals for Math Word Problems

What is a math word problem? What is a multi-step word problem? Why are word problem goals important? Is there a better term for these?

On the IEPs that I write, I call them life skills mathematics. Because that is what a math word problem is–applying real-life scenarios to math.

Some schools refer to math word problems as math story problems. And that’s just what we’re doing–telling a story and applying math.

A group of women standing in front of a whiteboard, solving a math word problem during an IEP meeting.
Some students may benefit from working in small groups and drawing the concepts on a whiteboard.

Math Word Problem Assessments

Many teachers can tell you in their gut if a child is struggling in math. However, IEPs are data driven, so the student will need evaluations to determine baselines.

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Several assessments can be used to determine a child’s ability to solve math word problems. Here are a few options:

  1. Standardized Tests: Assessments like the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test (WIAT), Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement (WJ-III), or the KeyMath-3 Diagnostic Assessment can provide standardized measures of a child’s math problem-solving abilities, including word problems.
  2. Curriculum-Based Measures (CBM): CBM assessments focus on monitoring a student’s progress in key academic areas. Teachers can create their own CBM for math word problems, evaluating a student’s ability to solve problems at their instructional level.
  3. Diagnostic Assessments: These assessments are designed to identify specific areas of strength and weakness. For math word problems, diagnostic assessments can evaluate a student’s understanding of mathematical concepts, problem-solving strategies, and ability to apply these skills to word problems.
  4. Observational Assessments: Teachers can observe students as they work on math word problems, noting their approach, strategies used, and errors made. This provides valuable insight into a student’s problem-solving process and can inform instructional planning.
  5. Portfolio Assessment: A portfolio of a student’s work on math word problems can provide evidence of their progress over time. It may include samples of completed word problems, self-assessments, and reflections on problem-solving strategies.
  6. Informal Assessments: These can include informal interviews, questioning techniques, or small-group discussions focused on solving word problems. Informal assessments provide a more flexible and interactive approach to understanding a student’s problem-solving skills.

The choice of assessment depends on factors such as the student’s age, grade level, individual needs, and the specific goals of assessment. It’s often beneficial to use a combination of assessment methods to gather a comprehensive understanding of a student’s abilities in solving math word problems.

A pencil sits on top of a sheet of math paper.

Math Word Problems

We start out by showing pictures of objects being put together or taken away, but really we are teaching our kids how to navigate life. These skills are equal in importance to their reading goals.

Our kids need to know when to add, subtract, multiply, or divide in real-life situations. So, yes, first they need to be reaching not only decoding but comprehension goals.

Equally important is finding evidence-based strategies for reaching word problem IEP goals, or as I like to say, life skills mathematics goals. Also, in this day and age, our kids need to be adept with a calculator as well.

Needless to say, the child’s present levels will factor into the selection of these goals.

It begins with ensuring that our little ones are grasping that putting things together is adding it all up and when things are removed, they are being taken away. I teach high schoolers with Intellectual Disabilities and we actually have a song or mnemonic device to remember, “put it all together and add it all up” as we take our left and right hand and make a + sign.

For subtraction, we have another one that goes “when things are taken away we subtract,” and we make a sweeping motion with our hands to indicate the – sign.

In a school setting, you may see a worksheet with cookies or oranges on it. In real life, this story problem would be putting items in a shopping cart. And, maybe remove them if you don’t have enough money.

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For my students, I want them to be able to go into a store and purchase something and know they are receiving the correct change. While we work on doing this manually, my goal is for them to be adept with a calculator.

The crucial part of writing a word problem, (or life skills mathematics, sorry I can’t help it!) IEP goal is that they are mastering which operation to use.  We need to find evidence-based multisensory, hands-on strategies for mirroring real-life situations to reach word problem IEP goals.

In our class, we have real money along with our calculators to buy and return items in our mock situations. This gets more difficult to do as they get older and situations cannot be recreated but we can still tell stories and teach them to put themselves in those situations.

Here we begin to talk about the multi-step word problem! Once we have mastered when to use which operation, we can apply it to the multi-step word problem.

A multi-step word problem requires more than one step or mathematical operation to solve it. Lest we forget the word problems that are missing a piece (ex. There were 7 people in the pool when I arrived. By the time I left there were 15. How many people came to the pool?)

Let’s write IEP goals and list some teaching strategies for all types of word problems.

We will write some SMART IEP goals for word problems.

A boy is solving a math word problem in front of a white board in a classroom.

ELEMENTARY Word Problem IEP Goal

When word problems are read to Jesse and he is prompted to use strategies, Jesse can solve one-step word problems and understand which operation (addition or subtraction) to use to complete the problem with answers up to 30 with 80% accuracy in 3 out of 5 trials by June 2023.

SPECIFIC: one step; addition or subtraction; answers up to 20, knowing which operation

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 MEASURABLE: 80% accuracy in 3 out of 5 trials

ACHIEVABLE: Yes, I know my student can add and subtract and knows our classroom strategies for understanding which operation to use

RELEVANT: This child has the needed foundation as listed in IEP Present Levels, and the goal is related to his/her identified needs.

TIME MEASURED: 80% accuracy by June 2023

SECONDARY Word Problem IEP Goal

Sam will read a multi-step word problem independently and using learned strategies,  compute with a calculator knowing which operation to use (+,-,x,/), and show the steps in the work in 8 out of 10 trials with 100% accuracy by June 2023. 

These goals consistently require the student to use learned strategies.

This child has the needed foundation as listed in IEP Present Levels, and the goal is related to his/her identified needs.

First, word problems should be done regularly, even if sometimes done as a “do now”, “exit ticket”, or homework. Other times formal lessons go over learned concepts and possibly add new ones.

Math Word Problem IEP Goals and Objectives

Here are 10 more examples of Math Word Problem IEP Goals.

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  1. Objective: Student will accurately identify key information in math word problems. Goal: By the end of the IEP period, student will correctly identify relevant data in 9 out of 10 math word problems.
  2. Objective: Student will apply appropriate mathematical operations to solve word problems. Goal: Student will successfully solve multi-step math word problems using correct operations in 8 out of 10 instances.
  3. Objective: Student will demonstrate comprehension of mathematical vocabulary in word problems. Goal: Student will define and correctly use mathematical terms within word problems in 9 out of 10 instances.
  4. Objective: Student will construct visual representations (diagrams, charts) to aid in solving word problems. Goal: By the end of the IEP period, student will create accurate visual representations for 8 out of 10 word problems.
  5. Objective: Student will explain problem-solving strategies used to solve math word problems. Goal: Student will articulate problem-solving steps and strategies for solving word problems in 9 out of 10 instances.
  6. Objective: Student will accurately interpret and analyze math word problems. Goal: Student will correctly interpret and analyze the meaning of 8 out of 10 math word problems presented.
  7. Objective: Student will apply critical thinking skills to assess the reasonableness of solutions. Goal: By the end of the IEP period, student will accurately evaluate the reasonableness of solutions in 9 out of 10 word problems.
  8. Objective: Student will demonstrate proficiency in translating word problems into mathematical equations. Goal: Student will accurately translate word problems into mathematical equations in 8 out of 10 instances.
  9. Objective: Student will identify and apply relevant problem-solving strategies to various types of word problems. Goal: Student will demonstrate mastery of at least 5 different problem-solving strategies across 9 out of 10 word problems.
  10. Objective: Student will increase accuracy and efficiency in solving math word problems. Goal: By the end of the IEP period, student will solve math word problems with 90% accuracy and within a reasonable time frame.

 Word Problem Teaching Strategies and Accommodations

Remember that a student will need a certain level of executive functioning skills to do math word problems. If a student is repeatedly “stuck” on word problems despite many accommodations and teaching strategies, assess their EF skills to see if they have the foundation to apply math skills to the scenarios.

  • Teach kids to draw the items in the word problem
  • Use manipulatives where applicable
  • Ask students to tell you what the problem is asking
  • Tell students to visualize what is being asked and which operation will help solve it
  • Use play money where applicable
  • Read, Think, Write, Draw
  • Visual graphic organizers
  • Circle important information, or highlight it
  • Cross out unnecessary information
  • Talk through the word problem with the student
  • Use of a calculator as appropriate
  • Show link and relevance to real life
  • For older students, explicit instruction in the mastering of algebraic notation for solving more complicated word problems

For students with disabilities, explicit instruction is needed with evidence-based strategies.

An excellent site to jump to is What Works Clearinghouse (https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/). Type in word problems and you will get evidence-based strategies with resources including videos in addition to a wealth of information.

It is also good practice to keep our kids in the loop by giving them a receipt from the store and having them use the calculator to check the answer and ask questions in the store, at home, or anywhere that will challenge them to think of a mathematical solution.

Just as reading and writing are necessary skills to master, so are mastering word problems as they are needed in everyday life.

Math IEP Goals

Once again, I want to thank Linda for helping with this 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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