Student working with red overlay with black text "reading an IEP goals"

How to Read an IEP: Goals

When you learn how to read an IEP goal, you are learning how to determine what specific skills a child needs to learn. An IEP goal is the driving force behind an IEP. The goals determine what skills a child needs to learn in order to close the gap between him and his non-disabled peers.

What makes a well written IEP goal?

A well written goal is SMART. A SMART goal is: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-oriented and Time-bound. We aren’t going to talk about how to write an IEP goal in this post, but you should know what to look for when you read an IEP goal. If the goal isn’t SMART, you may want to bring this up to the IEP team.

What areas can students have goals in?

Typically, students can have goals in academic areas, social areas, gross motor areas, fine motor areas, and speech areas. In each of those areas, students can have more specific goals – for instance, math calculation or phonics.

Goal Examples

Here’s a few examples of IEP goals that you might see:

When given a list of CVC words, Johnny will accurately read 80% of the words on 3 out of 4 trials as measured by classroom-based assessments, activities, and/or observations by January 1, 2023.

Jonny will be given an opinion writing prompt and will dictate a response to a scribe that contains at least 4 of the following elements: topic sentence, three details, concluding sentence on 3 out of 4 trials as measured by weekly journal entries by January 1, 2023.

When shown a field of three lunch picture choices, Johnny will select a lunch choice with no more than 2 teacher prompts on 80% of trials as measured by classroom-based observations by January 1, 2023.

Understanding Parts of a Goal

A well-written goal should have five parts. When you read an IEP goal, you should see these things:


This is the part that tells you what the stimulus is. In other words, what’s going to happen that will indicate it’s time to track the goal.


What is the student expected to do? Remember, it should be measurable and specific!


How will you know if the student is successful? Ideally, there should be an accuracy AND mastery portion. What is considered successful and how many times does the child have to be successful to consider it mastered?

Method of Measurement:

What tool(s) will be used to be measure the goal?

Time Frame:

When is it expected the goal will be mastered?

Side Note:

When I write IEP goals, I typically write them in the order above. However, the order does not matter and can be changed. As long as all five elements are there, it doesn’t matter what order you include the parts!

Goals versus Objectives

A common question I get when people are learning how to read an IEP is, “What is the difference between goals and objectives?” Goals and objectives are written the exact same way, however, they have different purposes. A goal is the over-arching, long term skill the child is expected to learn. An objective is the shorter term, smaller-steps that are taken to get there. Think of it like you are going on a road trip. Yes, you know that you want to get _____ in 10 hours, but don’t you also have shorter objectives? Don’t you want to make it to Town A in 3 hours, Town B in 2 hours and so on? If it takes you 5 hours to get to Town A, you probably can already figure out you might not make it to your destination in 10 hours unless you change your course!

That’s the magic of objectives – they give you checkpoints to make sure you are headed in the right direction, in the right speed, to make the goal!

Questions to Ask

As yourself the following questions when you are reading the goals section of an IEP:

  • How will I incorporate this goal into my instruction?
  • What data do I need to track?
  • How often do I need to meet with other team members to discuss progress?
  • How can I authentically incorporate this goal into my classroom?
  • Is this a skill I already teach?


Goals are the driving force behind an IEP. Without knowing how to read an IEP goals section, you will not be meeting the child’s full needs. It’s important to collect data so that you can make sure you are providing the student with the proper services. Goals are an individualize way for students to make progress in the classroom.

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