Designing Meaningful IEPs – Selecting and Writing Annual Goals and Objectives

By Dale P. Pennell, C.A.S. and Mary Stowe, M.Ed.

November/December 2012

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Determining the Focus of Annual Goals and Short-Term Objectives 

IEPs must include measurable academic and functional annual goals (IDEA §300.320). These goals serve two purposes, both of which are responses to disability-related challenges students face. The first purpose is to enable students to access and make progress in the general education curriculum. The second is to address students’ other educational needs, including functional skill development that promotes academic achievement and preparation for independent, productive adult lives.  Annual goals are not restatements of expectations, standards, or curriculum. Rather, they are statements that target important skill clusters that enable the student to achieve grade-level academic standards and develop functional skills. 

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) website at http://www.doe.virginia.gov/instruction/index.shtml provides the standards, skill clusters, and essential skills and knowledge for all academic courses taught in Virginia’s public schools. Virginia does not have a functional skills curriculum; however, the document entitled Workplace Readiness Skills for the Commonwealth (http://www.cteresource.org/attachments/atb/WRSRepositoryFiles/WRSList.pdf) includes many functional competencies.

Useful PLoPs (Present Levels of Performance) summarize baseline data that relate to academic and functional demands students will encounter during the IEP cycle. Annual goals target difficulties for which students will require special education services in order to meet the demands. To determine the focus of annual goals, educators must first review the baseline data that identify skill cluster difficulties most likely to impede the student’s future achievement and performance. They must also come up with answers to the following questions:

  1. Does the student have a documented history of difficulty acquiring cluster skills that he or she has been taught due to the student’s disability?
  2. Will these cluster skills be taught or retaught in classes the student will take or through experiences the student will be provided during the IEP cycle?
  3. If YES, will the instruction provided to all students adequately address this particular student’s difficulties?
  4. If the answer to Questions 2 or 3 is NO, will these difficulties significantly limit the student’s ability to achieve grade-level academic standards and/or master functional skills that support success in learning, living, and working environments?
     If the answer to Question 4 is YES, the IEP team should write annual goals to address these challenges.

 The following example illustrates the process of using these questions to determine the focus of one student’s, Grady’s, IEP annual goals.

Illustration

(Grady is a sixth-grade student who has an autism spectrum disorder.)

Excerpt From PLoP:

Baseline data indicate that Grady can make inferences when he reads nonfiction material, especially when he is asked to identify cause-effect relationships (SOL 5.6h). When he reads works of fiction, Grady has difficulty making inferences from figurative language, especially in the component skills of identifying, comprehending, and using similes, metaphors, clichés, and idioms (SOL 5.5i); neither does he incorporate these literary devices into his writing.  Grady can identify and state attributes of a character that an author explicitly describes in a work of fiction, but he has difficulty inferring character traits (SOL 5.5i).  He also struggles to infer cause-and-effect relationships in works of fiction (SOL 5.5j), specifically when he is asked to predict or explain the logical consequences of a character’s words or actions.

His difficulty in comprehending cause-and-effect relationships impacts Grady’s interpersonal relationships as well. While Grady interacts with classmates during small or cooperative learning group activities, he often does not comprehend the cause-and-effect relationship between his adaptive behaviors and the manner in which others respond to them. For example, he has difficulty accepting ideas and suggestions offered by others during brainstorming activities, he makes it difficult for groups to reach consensus when potential decisions do not mirror his ideas, and it is hard for him to share with others the responsibility for completing group assignments (English Standards of Learning Student Performance by Question report, June, 2012; reading portfolio, September, 2011-June, 2012; paraprofessional observation reports of cooperative learning group activities, December-April 2012).  

Question 1:  Does Grady have a documented history of difficulty acquiring inferential comprehension cluster skills due to his disability?

Answer:       Yes.

Question 2: Will these cluster skills be taught or retaught in classes Grady will take or through experiences he is provided during the IEP cycle?

Answer:        Yes.

Question 3:  If YES, will the instruction provided to all students adequately address this particular student’s difficulties?

Answer:       No.

Question 4: If the answer to Question 3 is NO, will these difficulties significantly limit Grady’s ability to achieve grade-level academic standards and/or master functional skills that support success in his learning, living, and working environments?

Answer:       Yes.

Since the answer to Question 4 is YES, the IEP team should write annual goals to address these challenges.

Short-term objectives address subskills needed to close the gap between students’ present levels of academic achievement and functional performance and the annual goals the IEP team has written for the IEP cycle (Gleckel & Koretz, 2008). Objectives describe in sequential order the essential skills and knowledge students must acquire, but they are not restatements of the general education curriculum. Rather, they illustrate the individualized instructional plans students will receive to address their disability-related challenges in ways that will lead them toward accomplishing those grade-level academic standards and performance expectations. Although IDEA requires short-term objectives only for students who participate in an alternate curriculum, all students with disabilities benefit from having short-term objectives.

Composing Annual Goals and Short-term Objectives

Annual goals describe in broad (skill cluster) terms the individualized curriculum students require (Price & Nelson, 2007) and the expected results of the special education and related services students are to receive during the IEP cycle. Short-term objectives identify the essential prerequisite knowledge, skills, or behaviors that students must acquire in order to achieve their annual goals. Both annual goals and short-term objectives include the following components:

  1. State the time frame by which objectives and the goal will be accomplished. 
    What is a reasonable date (within the next 12 months) by which the student should be able to master each objective and the goal it supports
  2. Describe the specific conditions under which mastery of objectives and the goal will be assessed for mastery.
    What information or materials will every educator provide, and in what environment will the student perform each time an educator assesses the student’s performance in relation to an objective or goal?
  3. State the behavior or specific action the student (by name) will perform to document mastery of objectives and goals. 
    What activity will an educator witness or what products will an educator examine to measure the student’s performance?
  4. Indicate the criterion for mastery; that is, how much, how often, or to what level the action must occur in order for the student to demonstrate mastery of objectives and the goal.
    How will an evaluator know that the student has mastered an objective or goal and is ready to address more complex demands of the academic or functional skill cluster?

The following examples of annual goals and short-term objectives illustrate these components.

Illustration 

Annual Goal #1:

TIME FRAME
(FOR MASTERY)
CONDITIONS
(FOR ASSESSING MASTERY)
BEHAVIOR
(SPECIFIC, OBSERVABLE ACTION)
CRITERION
(FOR MASTERY) 

By March 2013,

when Grady receives a  variety of prompts for which to write descriptive essays,

he will include figurative language (similes, metaphors, hyperbole, idioms and clichés), using at least a different one of these literary devices correctly

in each of four consecutively composed pieces (focus – SOL 5.4d and 5.7f).

 

 Short-term Objective #1:

 
TIME FRAME
(FOR MASTERY)
CONDITIONS
(FOR ASSESSING MASTERY)
BEHAVIOR
(SPECIFIC, OBSERVABLE ACTION)
CRITERION
(FOR MASTERY)

By December 2012,

when Grady reads descriptive passages that include similes, metaphors, hyperbole, idioms, and cliches,

he will identify and explain these literary devices

in at least four out of five consecutive trials.

 

Short-term Objective #2:

TIME FRAME
(FOR MASTERY)
CONDITIONS
(FOR ASSESSING MASTERY)
BEHAVIOR
(SPECIFIC, OBSERVABLE ACTION)
CRITERION
(FOR MASTERY)

By February 2013,

when Grady reads descriptive passages that include similes, metaphors, hyperbole, idioms, and clichés that he is able to identify and explain correctly,

he will compose original sentences that use these specific examples of literary devices (one sentence per device)

in at least four out of five trials per example.

 

Annual Goal #2:    By April 2013, when Grady is given literary passages to read and comprehension questions that require him to infer cause-effect, consequences, and character traits, he will do so with at least 80% accuracy in four of four consecutive trials.
Objective #1 By October 2012, when provided a reading passage and comprehension questions that require him to infer cause-effect relationships and consequences, Grady will answer the questions correctly and reference the appropriate portions of the text to justify his answers, with at least 85% accuracy in 8 of 10 consecutive trials.
Objective #2 By February 2013, when provided a reading passage and comprehension questions that require him to infer character traits, Grady will answer the questions correctly and reference the appropriate portions of text to justify his answers, with 80% accuracy in four of five consecutive trials.
Annual Goal #3 By May 2013, when Grady works in cooperative learning groups, he will accept group rules for making decisions and complete his roles agreeably (without incident or argument) in at least three of four consecutive opportunities
Objective #1 By November 2012, as Grady’s cooperative learning group creates a work plan, he will offer suggestions only when it is his turn and comply with group decisions agreeably (without incident or argument) in at least three out of four consecutive trials.
Objective #2

By January 2013, after Grady’s cooperative learning group determines its work plan, he will accept and fulfill his action plan responsibilities agreeably (without incident or argument) in at least four out of five consecutive trials.

 

The template that follows provides a means by which IEP teams may determine the extent to which the annual goals and short-term objectives they write address and measure crucial academic and functional skills that require specially designed instruction.

CHECKLIST FOR ANNUAL GOALS OR OBJECTIVES
QUESTIONS
YES
NO

1.  Does the goal or objective address difficulties documented by baseline data recorded in the PLoP?

  

 

2.  Does the goal or objective address difficulties that result from the student’s disability?

 

 

3.  Does the goal or objective address a significant difficulty that will not be taught through the general education curriculum in which the student will participate during the coming IEP cycle?

  

 

4.  Does the goal or objective address a significant difficulty that will otherwise prevent the student from achieving grade-level academic standards or functional performance expectations?

 

 

5.  Does the goal or objective include a time frame for mastery that is within one year of the implementation date of the IEP?

  

 

6.  Is it reasonable to expect that the student will master the goal or objective within the specified time frame?

  

 

7.  Does the goal or objective describe the specific materials, information, and environment educators will provide to the student when assessing his or her performance?

  

 

8.  Does the goal or objective clearly describe how an educator will quantitatively gauge the student’s progress and eventual mastery of the objective/goal?

  

 

9.  Do the objectives describe in sequential order the steps of the specially designed instructional plans the student will receive?

 

  


Acquiring the competencies that annual goals and their objectives target requires specially designed instruction provided over time, as well as periodic assessment of progress toward expected results. Future articles in this Link Lines series will address these IEP components.

References

Gleckel, E. K., & Koretz, E. S. (2008). Collaborative individualized education process. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill/Prentice Hall.

Price, K., & Nelson, K. (2007). Planning effective instruction: Diversity responsive methods and management. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.