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SMART goals

Why your child's IEP should contain SMART goals

What is a SMART goal?


Any goal worth having needs to be specific. The only way to work efficiently toward a goal is to have a specific goal in mind. I'm sure we are all guilty of setting goals that are too vague to be accomplished. My New Year's Resolutions were the worst! How many of us have set a goal like "get healthy". It's a good idea to be healthy, but what exactly does that mean? What does it look or feel like to be healthy? It is the same with IEP goals. Your child and their team need to know specifically what to work on. You can't simply state that you want your child to read at grade level. This goal just isn't specific enough. As a former elementary teacher, that can mean so many things. Do you want the child to read at a specific rate, accuracy, or with comprehension? The other pitfall with "grade level" goals are that so much growth happens in a year that a 2nd grader in September is a much different reader than a 2nd grader in May. A SMART goal can help narrow down a broad goal.


Having a specific goal is a great step in the right direction, but now it must be measurable. What will it look like or sound like to accomplish this goal. How will you know the child has attained the goal. If this was our "be healthy" goal, we might be setting a few benchmarks to determine if we have achieved it. It could mean you lower your blood pressure by a certain number of points, which is something that can actually be measured. It is the same with IEP goals. A goal that doesn't include language that is measurable won't be able to be achieved. It must include criteria for how the data will be collected in order to measure the student's progress on the goal.

Attainable or Action

I have heard two different explanations of the A in SMART goal and I think they both apply. First, a goal should be attainable. In terms of my health goal, I know I will never be a professional soccer player, so that isn't an attainable goal. However, I could set a goal to be in good enough shape to play a 90 minute game without collapsing. Creating an attainable goal is tricky business. I am a huge believer in having big goals. I would never write an IEP goal that is easy to attain, just to have something to brag about in a year. I would much rather report that a big goal is almost achieved, than to report that an easy goal was achieved. When you have high expectations for students, you'll consistently be amazed at what they can accomplish.

The other A in SMART refers to action words. The goal should be something you can observe and should include verbs that refer to the direction (increase, decrease, etc.) you want to see the action move toward.


Having a relevant goal is sometimes undervalued. I have seen my share of irrelevant IEP goals that are a waste of time. Certainly, my health goal is relevant to me because I want to live a long and happy life. However, since goals aren't written about every single thing a child can learn in school, it is important to focus on the most relevant goals that will help the child lead a productive and meaningful life. I once got into a debate with a teacher about including a goal for reading an analog clock. It was a goal that the student had the previous year and hadn't mastered it, so it was going to be included in the future IEP. I asked the family if they had any analog clocks in their home, and after some thought, they concluded that there wasn't one single analog clock in their home. Why would it be relevant to waste more time teaching a child to read an analog clock, when that time could be spent learning another skill such as determining elapsed time on a digital clock?

I try to envision how the proposed goal will build on future and past skills that will be beneficial for an adult to have. If the goal can not build upon current skills and lead to important skills a child needs to have in order to be successful in school and adulthood, then it might not be relevant.


This one is pretty simple, as it pertains to a time frame that the goal is to be achieved within. Most IEP goals are set for one year, with benchmarks and progress reported 2-4 times in that period.

Examples and Nonexamples

Not so SMART goal

SMART goal

Get healthy

I will use the Couch to 5K plan to run a 5K in the Balboa Boogie race without stopping on October 1.

Read at grade level

By October 1, 2023, Suzy will read a DRA level 20 (or equivalent) text at a rate of 75 words per minute with 95% accuracy in 3 out of 4 trials as measured by teacher data.

Add numbers to 1000.

By October 1, 2023, when given 5 problems, Suzy will add two 3 digit numbers with and without regrouping with 90% accuracy in 3 out of 4 trials as measured by teacher data and/or student work samples.

Why use SMART goals?

By now, you can see how to write or recognize a SMART goal, but why should you insist that your child's IEP contain them? Simply put, a SMART goal is going to contain everything your child's IEP team will need to know in order to work towards the goal, determine progress, and, ultimately, know when the child has achieved it. Using the SMART criteria can take the guesswork out of it. If you want more in depth information about IEP goals, check out this SLP's post about it. To read more about how the importance of SMART goals, check out this website.

I have also included a SMART goal template that can help you determine if the goals on your child's next IEP have everything they need. You can find it on the Resources page. As always, if you need support or advice about IEP goals, contact me to set up a free 30-minute consultation to see how an advocate can help you take the stress out of IEP meetings.

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