Short-Term Objectives or Benchmarks?

by Carolyn Ito

Individualized Education Program teams make many decisions.  One of them is whether to choose short-term objectives or benchmarks to describe the skills the student will acquire in order to meet an annual goal.  Both of these measures break learning into "measurable, intermediate steps that enable families, students, and educators to monitor progress during the year, and, if appropriate, to revise the IEP consistent with the child's instructional needs" (Bateman & Linden, 1998, p. 43).  Both measures address skills that generalize across curriculum areas, not specific curricula or programs.  Likewise, both also contain common elements such as the name of the learner and the skill or behavior to be mastered.  Despite these similarities, there are several differences that bear exploring.

Short-Term Objectives:

The content of a short-term objective generally includes the name of the learner and the skill or behavior to be achieved.

  • Roberto will read regular multi-syllable words.

  • Nakita will recall multiplication number facts.

  • Regina will be on task.

Specifying the procedures (how the skill or behavior will be measured), the schedule (how often the measurement will occur), and the criteria (how well the student is expected to perform) adds clarity to the objectives.

Consider the following expanded examples:

  • Roberto will read regular multi-syllable words (procedure) from teacher-made word lists of 25 words (schedule) every two weeks (criteria) with fewer than five errors.

  • Nakita will recall multiplication number facts (procedures) on teacher-made (schedule) weekly quizzes (criteria) with at least 80% accuracy.

  • Regina will be on task (procedures) as measured by teacher observation, (schedule) two times a week, (criteria) for at least 30 of 45 minutes during class.  

Page 6 of this newsletter provides additional examples of ways to word procedures, schedules, and criteria for short-term objectives.


Benchmarks are also measurable indicators of student progress.  They are broader than short-term objectives and typically address major milestones.  Benchmarks identify the learner, the skill or behavior to be learned, and a target completion date.

  • Sam will comply with teacher directions without arguing 60% of the opportunities by October 15.

  • Janice will write descriptive paragraphs by January 30.

Benchmarks are particularly useful when describing a change in the percentage, the accuracy, or the rate of the same skill or behavior to be developed.  Consider Sam who needs to develop skill in complying with teacher directions.  The benchmark is a good choice to measure progress because the behavior (complying with teacher directions) is not changing.  The change is in the percentage of compliance.

Sam's benchmarks for a year might be:
Sam will comply with teacher directions without arguing

  • 60% of the opportunities by October 15

  • 70% of the opportunities by January 15

  • 80% of the opportunities by April 15

Benchmarks for Janice might be:

  • Janice will write one descriptive paragraph by October 15th.

  • Janice will three descriptive paragraphs by January 30th.

IEP teams may use either or both short-term objectives and benchmarks on the same IEP.  However, these two measures should not be mixed under the same annual goal.  So, which measure should IEP teams choose?  The following guideline may prove helpful.  When the skill or behavior leading to the annual goal remains essentially the same but the percentage, accuracy, or rate change, choose the benchmark.  When the skills leading to the annual goal are different, choose the short-term objective.

Resources for help in writing IEPs include "The IEP Tool Kit" available through the Virginia Department of Education (  This comprehensive support will soon be available in each school.  T/TAC W&M ( offers a number of resources for library loan.  Finally, the following websites contain further information on IEPs:,,,, and


Bateman, B., & Linden, M. (1998). Better IEPs: How to develop legally correct and educationally useful programs (3rd ed). Longmont, CO: Sopris West.

Date: April/May 2001