How To Write Measurable IEP Goals Using the SMART Method

All students on an individualized education program (IEP) require goals to ensure progress in their education. Goals are individualized toward the student and should be areas for growth potential. The most common question around IEP goals is, “HOW DO YOU WRITE A GOAL!?!”

The IEP Goal Writing Process:

  1. Determine areas of specially designed instruction, SDI
  2. Determine areas within SDI 
  3. Collect baseline data within SDI focus area 
  4. Write the goal using the SMART method

Okay, we’re done! Now go write some goals… Just kidding! It’s a bit more complex than that!

Specially Designed Instruction

When starting the goal writing process, the first thing to review is the student’s evaluation report. To qualify for special education, all students must undergo the evaluation process. The evaluation process is typically completed by the school psychologist and IEP case manager. However, this process can also be completed by a private agency. The completed evaluation would then be shared with the school team. 

The special education teacher will often be the IEP case manager, but not always. The process will include the entire IEP team, including parents and guardians, and the student if appropriate.

Once the evaluation is complete, there will be an IEP meeting held. During the IEP meeting, you can expect the school psychologist and the case manager to:

  • Review the assessment results
  • Determine areas the student qualifies for SDI
  • Determine specific areas within SDI the student would benefit from. 

An example of a specific area within SDI could be the following:

Specially designed instruction: MathSpecific area within math to support: Multiplication and division with three digit numbers

Specially Designed Instruction Areas

May include:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Math
  • Behavior
  • Social
  • Adaptive
  • Speech-language therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Physical therapy

Baseline Data & Determining Most Significant Needs

Once you have determined the areas of SDI, you can begin collecting data in each of the qualifying areas. When beginning to collect data, you’ll need to develop a data collection process for each of the qualifying areas. Be sure to reference the evaluation report frequently as you must write a goal in each area the student qualifies in.

Let’s say student A qualifies in reading, writing, and math. You’ll need to decide which areas under the broader area of instruction need support. Here’s an example for student A’s three areas:

  • Reading: Reading fluency at a 4th grade level
  • Writing: Writing complete sentences
  • Math: Two digit addition

Typically, you’ll find several content areas under a broader topic area that the student needs support. While collecting baseline data, you can use curriculum-based measurements that often include a pre-assessment.

Sample Data Collection Sheets

When creating data collection sheets, you should include:

  • Student Name
  • Date
  • Goal 
  • Directions
  • Data Collection Table
  • Assessment
  • Evaluation 

The key with data collection tools is to make sure ANYONE can walk in and collect data. Keep directions concise and to the point. A bulleted list of directions is often the best approach. 

Example of a sample data collection sheet:

If there is an area of SDI such as, speech-language therapy, this goal is written by the speech-language pathologist. When therapeutic services are involved, therapists will often recruit and work with the classroom teacher to support the data tracking process in the classroom. Accurate data collection is consistently collected over four to six weeks. Once you have collected enough data to determine a baseline, you can begin writing the student’s goals.

Writing Goals Using the SMART Method

When writing a goal, there is a correct process that ensures accuracy. In 1981, George Doran, Arthur Miller, and James Cunningham developed the SMART goal process in their article, “There’s a SMART way to write management goals and objectives.” What does SMART stand for?


Specific goals use the evaluation process to identify and determine areas of need and plan accordingly. A specific goal should have a clear and defined endpoint. If a goal is too vague, it will be difficult to track, therefore the achievement is difficult to measure. 


Measurable goals must be…. measurable! Measurable goals define what evidence will be produced that will prove that progress is being made. The same evidence will inform you when to revisit the goal and process as adequate progress is not being made. Therefore, you must accurately track progress to determine if additional accommodations and/or modifications or adjustments to the goal are necessary. Progress monitoring is also essential to provide and review updates to guardians monthly. 


Attainable yet challenging goals are set through accurate assessment and data collection to determine a student’s baseline in a specific area. Use the baseline data you and the team have gathered to create reasonable goals that can be accomplished within a defined period of time. An attainable goal should not be too ambitious. If it is, it can create frustration and apathy in students, which can cause a lack of motivation. If the data is incorrect, a goal can be unknowingly out of reach of a student’s achievement or met within weeks.


Relevant goals should be applicable and aligned to a content area that makes sense for the student. If the student is not showing a need for greeting peers in a baseline assessment, it would not be necessary to create a goal in that area. The goal must also support the student on a post-secondary level. Is this a skill that the student will need in the community? Consider the, so what test. Is this a skill the student needs or is it inhibiting their quality of life? Or is it something that is annoying to the adults? Always keep things student centered!


Time bound goals are realistic, yet have an ambitious end date. This keeps everyone accountable and motivated. Setting an end date helps to quantify and keep the focus on track. Be sure to monitor progress at least monthly if not weekly. Progress monitoring with fidelity is essential in knowing where the student is at in terms of their goals.

Example Goals on an IEP

I often find the best way to understand how to do something right is for me to know how it’s done wrong. The examples below might be a bit, well duh! But I wanted to clearly get the main points across. Here are three non-example goals, immediately followed by the SMART way of writing each respective goal.

Goal One:

When given a book, Student A will read three pages.

or the SMART way

By 11/2/21, when given a non-fiction short story written at the 3rd-grade reading level, Sam will correctly read three pages with 69% accuracy, from reading a non-fiction short story written at the 3rd-grade reading level reading three pages with 42% accuracy, as measured by daily data collection from the case manager.

Goal Two:

When given an addition problem, Student A will solve the problem.

or the SMART way

By 11/2/21, when given 10 two-digit addition mathematical problems at the 3rd-grade level, Sam will use the “count up strategy” to correctly solve the problem from 10% accuracy to 25% accuracy, as measured by daily data collection from the case manager.

Goal Three:

When given a writing prompt, Sam will write a sentence.

or the SMART way

By 11/2/21, when given a 3rd-grade writing topic, Sam will write two sentences including correct grammar, punctuation, and capitalization with 25% accuracy to writing three sentences including proper grammar, punctuation, and capitalization with 45% accuracy.

What are some differences you noticed between the non-example goals compared to their respective SMART written goals? A few crucial areas that are often left out in annual goals include:

  • An end date
  • Inaccurate baseline and goal data
  • Missing specific data points
  • Frequency of measurement is not outlined
  • Goals are irrelevant and unattainable

One of the essential pieces of writing a correct IEP goal is to ensure the baseline data is accurate. Goals are useless if the information provided for baseline data is incorrect. Many educators will estimate baseline data. That’s like pouring a random amount of sugar from a bag for a cake batter and assuming it’ll turn out just right… Well, maybe that’s a horrible analogy as I’ve been found guilty of doing that a few times!

Estimating baseline data means there’s no way to track whether a goal is met or if the students have retained the information. When writing a goal, it’s good practice to be sure anyone from outside of your classroom can read the goal and accurately determine the focus of the goal and how to measure it. Having multiple IEP team members review the goal is a great practice as well. Ask your school psychologist, principal, and the student’s guardians to take a look to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Measurable annual goals are one of the essential pieces of information found in the IEP. Goals allow students to reach for and achieve them, and it will enable the teachers to focus on specific areas of learning.


I know! That’s a lot, right? I hope this guide truly helps you in your IEP goal writing process! Feel free to email me or comment below to ask questions or request clarification. IEP goal writing can be tricky and there are often more detailed nuances based on a student’s need that can make things more complex when writing goals. I’m here to help!

About the author

Emily Cummings

I am a mom of two crazy, amazing, independent, little feminists. They bring so much light to my life and a lot less sleep. Since becoming a mother and increasingly in the last year, I have witnessed parents struggling to connect with their child's special education team with no success. I have become more aware of the gaps in our public school system and how parents may benefit from empowerment and advocacy tools.

My work experiences range from a juvenile detention center to an autism specialist in the Issaquah School District and a special education teacher in a self-contained program in the Lake Washington School District. My master's in teaching focused on special education and behavioral disorders from Seattle Pacific University. I completed my BCBA coursework from Montana State University.

Want to get in touch?

I'm happy to help however I can. Email me at hello at behaviorist .com.

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