Shifting Priorities: IEP Goal Writing

New Standards in Special Education Series: Being Compliant Isn’t Enough – How to Prepare Your District for the Increasing Responsibility to Improve Student Outcomes

Author: Matthew Korobkin, Senior Advisor – PCG.

While mandated compliance indicators remain important, under the Results-Driven Accountability (RDA) framework, the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) has sharpened its focus on what happens in the classroom to promote educational benefits and improve outcomes for students with disabilities. This shift, coupled with the United States Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the importance of establishing ambitious and challenging Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, is significantly impacting special education. Taken together, RDA and the Supreme Court’s Endrew decision require school districts to take a fresh look at what they are doing to transform their special education programs from a focus on compliance to one on effectiveness.

Annual IEP Goals Post-Endrew

A key part of effectiveness is in the creation of a student’s IEP goals. Annual IEP goals that are ambitious, relevant, and measurable play a critical role in the long-term outcomes of students with disabilities. The importance of well-written IEP goals recently came to light in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District.1 In this decision, the Court updated its prior standard for determining a school district’s provision of an appropriate education for students with disabilities. This case centered on the importance of establishing ambitious and challenging goals that enable each student to make academic progress and functional advancement, and advance from grade to grade.

In considering Endrew when developing IEP goals, teams should ensure the goals are “ambitious” in light of each student’s circumstances. Teams should design goals that are driving students to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum, using alternate achievement standards when appropriate; and meet their other educational needs related to the disability. Goals should be standards-based and SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Breaking that down further:

  • Specific: The IEP goal is specific in naming the skills, subject area, and targeted result.
  • Measurable: The IEP goal has a clear criterion for measuring outcomes; quantifiable or through observation.
  • Achievable: The IEP goal is ambitious, challenging, and enables the student to make academic progress.
  • Relevant: The IEP goal is written to meet the student’s unique needs resulting from their disability.
  • Time-Bound: The IEP goal has an end date(s) to allow for progress monitoring.

Progress Monitoring Post-Endrew

Progress for a student with a disability, including those receiving instruction based on alternate academic achievement standards, must be appropriate in light of their circumstances. Furthermore, yearly progress must be more demanding than the “merely more than de minimis” standards that had been used by some lower courts. For children with disabilities, receiving instruction that aims this low would be tantamount to “sitting idly . . . awaiting the time when they were old enough to ‘drop out.’”2 The IEP must be appropriately ambitious in light of the student’s circumstances, just as advancement from grade to grade is appropriately ambitious for most children in the regular classroom. Students’ goals may differ, but every student should have the chance to meet challenging objectives. By developing measurable IEP goals, districts can collect data to monitor progress and ensure that students are making progress towards IEP goals. Systematic, ongoing assessment and reporting of student progress enables educators to “substantiate what the student is learning, the effectiveness of materials and methods being used during instruction, and the efficacy of the IEP.”3

Coming Soon

Additional articles in the “New Standards in Special Education Series: Being Compliant Isn’t Enough – How to Prepare Your District for the Increasing Responsibility to Improve Student Outcomes” will focus on:

  • Essential Elements of IEP Goals
  • A Guide for Special Education Directors: How to Support Effective Goal Writing
  • Progress Monitoring: How Are You Using Data to Drive Effective Programming and Instruction?

About the Author

Matthew Korobkin is a New Jersey-based special education subject matter expert with Public Consulting Group. A former teacher and state education official at the Delaware Department of Education, he now works with school districts on special education strategic planning, training, and special education program reviews.

About Public Consulting Group

Public Consulting Group, Inc. (PCG) is a leading public sector management consulting and operations improvement firm that partners with health, education, and human services agencies to improve lives. Founded in 1986 and headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, PCG has over 2,000 professionals in more than 50 offices around the US, in Canada and in Europe. PCG’s Education practice offers consulting services and technology solutions that help schools, school districts, and state education agencies/ministries of education to promote student success, improve programs and processes, and optimize financial resources. To learn more, visit


1 Retrieved from disabilities/2017/03/22/fcb7bc62-0f16-11e7-9d5a-a83e627dc120_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.8d54086e9dd5

3 Gleckel & Koretz, 2008

For more information on how EDPlan can help you create ambitious, standards-based, and SMART IEP goals, contact us today at 1-800-210-6113 or

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