By Marcia W. Weinstein
As parents of special needs kids, it is our responsibility to help guide, direct and advocate for our children's education. I happen to live in a school district where this is a relatively easy task. Not all parents here agree with me, so it's up to us, as our child's best advocates, to ensure that our children are getting what they need and deserve from the school system. That's where the Individualized Education Plan comes in.
IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) 2004 wants to ensure that children with disabilities have "access to the general education curriculum in the regular classroom, to the maximum extent possible, in order to-
20 U.S.C Sec. 1400 (c) (5) (a) (i) Meet developmental goals, and to the maximum extent possible, the challenging expectations that have been established for all children; and (ii) be prepared to lead productive and independent adult lives, to the maximum extent possible."
It is with this mandate that we as parents must become as knowledgeable as we can to ensure that the schools, with their often limited resources, provide our children with all that they need to fulfill the IDEA mandate. It's not easy to write goals as a lay person. Many times the teachers write the goals for our children and we, deferring to the professional, accept them without question. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves and participate as a vital member of the educational team. We must go to our children's IEP meetings armed with knowledge and information about our child's needs. We need to read the teachers' goals and make sure that they fit our child based on our, as well as the educators', knowledge of his needs.
I was fortunate to attend a seminar last year presented by Pete Wright, Esq., co-founder, with his wife Pam, of www.WrightsLaw.com. Pete is an attorney and Pam is a psychotherapist, author and editor of "The Special Ed Advocate" newsletter which I receive on a regular basis. This website is a must-read for any special needs parents looking for information about special education law, and the information that follows comes directly from Pete and Pam's book From Emotions to Advocacy: 2nd Edition, published by Harbor House Law Press, Inc. in Hartfield, Va. Page numbers will be included after each item. My focus for this article is on writing SMART IEP goals.
"SMART" isn't just a cute way of talking about goals. It is an acronym that stands for:
A use Action words
R Realistic and relevant
Specific goals and objectives "target areas of academic achievement and functional performance. They include clear descriptions of the knowledge and skills that will be taught and how the child's progress will be measured" (Page 116).
Non specific: Joey will improve reading comprehension skills.
Specific: Given a 5th grade level reading passage with five paragraphs, Joey will read each paragraph, identify the main idea of the story and answer six reading comprehension questions at 80 percent accuracy on four of five samples.
Measurable means that the goal can be measured by counting occurrences or by observation. "Measurable goals allow parents and teachers to know how much progress the child has made since the performance was last measured. With measurable goals, you will know when the child reaches the goal" (Page 116).
Non-measurable: Jack will improve his writing skills.
Measurable: Given a 5th grade writing prompt, Jack will compile a four to five paragraph essay at the 4.0 grade level or above using appropriate conventions on three samples.
Action words - "IEP goals include three components that must be stated in measurable terms:
direction of behavior (increase, decrease, maintain, etc.)
area of need (ie reading, writing, social skills, transition, communication, etc.)
level of attainment (ie to age level, without assistance, etc.)" (Page 116)
No use of action words: Luke will maintain an appropriate physical distance from his peers.
Use of action words: Provided with an appropriate social story and teacher facilitation, Luke will be able to remove himself from altercations with other students and ask the teacher for assistance in controlling his behavior to avoid inappropriate physical touching.
Realistic and Relevant goals and objectives "address the child's unique needs that result from the disability. SMART IEP goals are not based on district curricula, state or district tests, or other external standards" (Page 116).
Unrealistic Realistic: Evan will demonstrate improved performance on math word problems.
Realistic and relevant: Given a 5th grade level math word problem, Evan will draw pictures representing the word problem steps to assist him in visualizing the problem steps in order to comprehend the language of the math problem.
"Time-limited goals enable you to monitor progress at regular intervals" (Page 117).
Not time-limited: Rachel will improve her reading skills by one grade level.
Time-limited: Rachel will improve her reading skills from a 3.0 grade level to a 4.0 grade level by the end of the year.
Rachel will improve her reading skills from a 3.0 grade level to a 3.2 grade level within nine weeks.
Rachel will improve her reading skills to a 3.4 grade level within 18 weeks.
Rachel will improve her reading skills to a 3.7 grade level within 27 weeks.
Rachel will improve her reading skills to a 4.0 grade level within one year.
In addition to writing goals that fit the SMART criteria, we must learn to use the data provided to us by our educational team to help us write those goals. All test results, evaluations, benchmark tests and studies conducted on, with or for your child are available to you simply by asking for them. I encourage everyone to learn about the evaluations used on your child by the schools, what the scores mean and how to apply them to writing goals. The better educated we are as parents, the better advocates we can be for our children.
*Reprinted with permission from Parenting Special Needs Magazine, July/August Issue, Copyright  by Parenting Special Needs LLC. www.parentingspecialneeds.org