The law requires your child’s IEP to include:

…a statement of measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals, designed to meet the child’s needs that result from the child’s disability to enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum; and . . . meet each of the child’s other educational needs that result from the child’s disability.

The best method to achieve measurable annual goals is to use “SMART Goals”; SMART is an acronym which describes goals that are:

S Specific

M Measurable

A Use Action Words

R Realistic and relevant

T Time-limited


SMART IEPs have specific goals and objectives. Specific goals 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.

Look at these two goals. Which one is specific?

Dylan will increase study skills for academic success.

Dylan will demonstrate the following study skills: skimming written material

and use reference materials in social studies class.


SMART IEPs have measurable goals and objectives. Measurable means you can

count or observe it. 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.

Which of these two goals is measurable and observable?

Owen will improve his reading skills.

Given second grade material, Owen will read a passage of text orally at 110-

130 wpm with random errors.


Action Words

IEP goals include three components that must be stated in measurable terms:

(a) direction of behavior (increase, decrease, maintain, etc.)

(b) area of need (i.e., reading, writing, social skills, transition, communication,


(c) level of attainment (i.e., to age level, without assistance, etc.)

SMART IEPs use action words like: “The child will be able to . . .”

Which of these goals is specific, measurable and includes action words?

Betsy will decrease her anger and violation of school rules.

Provided with anger management training and adult support, Betsy will be

able to remove herself from environments that cause her to lose control of her

behavior so that she has no disciplinary notices.


Realistic and Relevant

SMART IEPs have realistic, relevant goals and objectives that 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.

Which of these goals is specific, measurable and realistic?

Kelsey will demonstrate improved writing skills.

Kelsey will improve her writing and spelling skills so she can write a clear,

cohesive, and readable paragraph consisting of at least 3 sentences, including

compound and complex sentences that are clearly related.



SMART IEP goals and objectives are time-limited. What does the child need to

know and be able to do after one year of special education? What is the starting point

for each of the child’s needs (present levels of academic achievement and functional


Time-limited goals and objectives enable you to monitor progress at regular intervals.

Assume your child is in the fifth grade. Alex’s reading skills are at the early third

grade level. Here is a specific, measurable, time-limited goal that tells you what Alex

can do now and what he will be able to do after one year of special education:

Present Level of Performance: Given third grade material, Alex reads 50-70

wpm with 4-6 errors.

Annual Goal: Given fifth grade material, Alex will read 120 wpm with only

random errors.

To ensure that Alex meets his goal, we will measure his progress at nine-week

intervals (4 times during the school year) (aka objectives).

After 9 weeks, given third grade material, Alex will read 110 to 120 wpm with

1-3 errors.

After 18 weeks, given fourth grade material, Alex will read 70-100 wpm with

1-3 errors.

After 27 weeks, given fifth grade material, Alex will read 70-100 wpm with 1-3


At the end of the year, Alex will read 120 wpm with only random errors.

IEP meetings can be frustrating and challenging but having a clear understanding on how to use SMART goals will help ensure your child has measurable annual goals, designed to make academic progress. More information on SMART IEP goals can be found at and


Author, Ed Spinks, is an attorney and parent of a child with Down syndrome. He focuses his legal practice in the areas of Elder Law, Estate Planning and Disability Rights. He also serves on the Board of Managers for GiGi’s Playhouse Tampa, and is a member of the Education Law Committee of the Florida Bar. For more information about Ed, or his law practice, please visit them online at or on Facebook at

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