It’s another New Year and a time to reflect on the past, to examine the present, and to look forward to what may be possible for the future. Simply stated, it’s time for that New Year’s resolution. New Year’s resolutions are intended to provide a determined course of action that leads to a positive change. Yet, for many, these resolutions are soon abandoned and forgotten. Of the 45 percent of Americans who usually make New Year’s resolutions, only 8 percent are successful in achieving their resolution.
There must be a common factor among those who are successful. According to a 2007 study, setting simple, measurable goals with benchmarks and accountability among friends and family make a positive difference (New Year’s Resolution Experiment).
So, what does any of this have to do with IEP goals? Just like resolutions, IEP goals are much more likely to be successful when they have the following characteristics:
1. A meaningful IEP goal
A meaningful IEP goal has a clear function and purpose that if achieved will have a positive, observed impact on the student’s success. A resolution that is chosen for you without your input or the input of those who know you best is destined for failure.
Yet, IEP goals are frequently written without considering the student’s point of view. A student should be given opportunities to participate in the development of their IEP goals to the greatest extent that they are able. Even if the student is nonverbal and has limited cognitive skills, consider what will make the greatest difference for that student. Seek input from every member of the IEP team to ensure that the goal is just the right match
2. Focused IEP goals
When we speak of resolutions, we’re usually speaking of one goal. It makes sense to have more than one IEP goal because we’re usually addressing multiple skills or areas of learning. However, we have to be careful about the number of skills that are reasonable to work on at one time and in the course of one year. When there are too many goals, the student’s program may lack a clear focus and a lack of progress tends to follow.
3. Measurable IEP goals
The resolution to lose weight is much more likely to be successful if you break it into smaller measurable IEP goals (like losing one pound per week). IEP goals that are measurable and have clear benchmarks that bring focus to a student’s program.
The data that we so often speak of indicate when goals are appropriate and when they need to be adjusted.
4. Attainable IEP goals
Attainable IEP goals are based on prerequisite skills and emphasize a progression of learning. If you have never learned to swim and set a one-year resolution to swim in the Olympics, you’ll probably quit pretty quick. Every IEP has a section where present levels are documented as a foundation for new goals. When there is a missing skill between a student’s current skill level and the next skill to be learned, we are setting the student up for failure.
5. Supported IEP goals
We know that resolutions have an improved rate of achievement when there is a support system in place. The IEP team is intended to provide a similar kind of support and accountability. A team that is aligned on a focused end goal encourages and participates in the implementation of the IEP. This means that the IEP goals must be clearly communicated among the team.
If you are a member of an IEP team, I would encourage you to take a look at that IEP. Are the goals meaningful, focused, measurable, attainable and supported? If not, take the opportunity to review and to respond to what is needed. It’s never too late to adjust that plan!
Trisa Harris is a special education consultant and co-owner of Frameworks Consulting, Training, and Retreats. Her expertise includes IEP process and systems navigation, multidisciplinary team collaboration and mediation, program design/evaluation and customized training and retreat programs for parents and professionals.