Goals and Objectives

An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is a collaborative process that is used to identify educational goals and objectives that are appropriate for a student with special needs.  It is important that students, parents and educators understand what goals and objectives are and what the difference is between them.


William Warren


I find the best way to describe the difference between goals and objectives is with the old saying: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”  In this phrase, the goal is eating the elephant, and it seems like a very daunting task.  The objectives are the ‘one bite at a time.’  Eating an elephant is much less intimidating if you think about it in terms of just taking a few bites.

Goals and objectives are a crucial part of the IEP process for several reasons. Most importantly, they provide a focused set of learning activities for the student to work on. 

Goals and objectives provide a form of accountability for the student’s education.  They can be used to motivate both the student and the teachers because they offer a measurable target that can be reached. 

Goals and objectives facilitate communication between the school and the family because they provide a common language to discuss the student’s progress.

Simply put, a goal is an idea that an individual is striving to achieve.  Setting a goal provides an individual with a reason for doing something. 

Goals are a significant part of the IEP process because they give the educators direction for what they are trying to teach the student.

When starting the goal setting process, it can be useful to reference the recommendations that have been made in educational, medical and or psychological reports for the student. The goals made from these reports can target specific areas of challenge for the individual.  The goals should be written to address both immediate and long term objectives.  These goals can discuss topics like independent learning, transitioning the student into the next phase of their life, or meeting graduation requirements.

When you are creating goals for the IEP, it is important that they are written using everyday language and not filled with unnecessary jargon. 

The goals should reference the student’s past achievement, their present levels of performance and the priority of the goal. This allows educators to gauge the amount of instructional time they should devote to reaching the goal.

Be sure the goals you set are S.M.A.R.T. goals, meaning they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound.  The majority of goals that are set in the IEP should be achievable within the academic year.

When you are writing the goals for a student’s IEP, please remember to include a goal in an area of interest for them.  So often IEPs can be filled with goals that may be important to a student’s family and educators but not to themselves.  Having a goal that they are excited about can help with motivating them to work towards their other goals as well.

Objectives break goals down into observable, specific and measurable tasks that target a skill, behaviour or form of knowledge. 

Objectives take into account the student’s current performance level of a task and create sequential steps for the student to take to reach their long term goal.

Objectives are set to be completed in a specific period of time that may vary in length between a few weeks, a school term or a set number of months. 

These objectives provide focused, concrete steps towards the achievement of long term goals.

The objectives are just as important as the goals, and it is crucial the appropriate amount of time and thought is put into them. 

A well-written objective will provide guidance for the teacher about what the student is expected to do, and it will provide them with clear expectations to be used for monitoring the student’s progress.

A way of ensuring that an objective meets the measurable part of a S.M.A.R.T goal is to use the ‘A.C.T. How?’ anacronym, addressing the desired Action the student will do, the Context it is expected in, the Terms to show the objective is reached and How the objective will be evaluated.

Remember, objectives are supposed to describe the expectations for the student in a particular area and are intended to help a student reach one of their goals.  It should be realistic for the student to achieve the objective within a specific time period. Otherwise, it needs to be broken down into smaller steps that each become an objective on their own.

It is important for everyone on the IEP team to remember that goals and objectives are just that, they are based on the student’s current needs at the time they were made.  However, we must not forget that goals and objectives can change and they are not set in stone.  The priority for a particular goal can change, and a goal that once had top priority may no longer be relevant.  This is why IEPs are reviewed annually.

During this review, all of the student’s goals and objectives should be examined to make sure they still address the desired outcomes for the student.  If they do not, the IEP should be revised so it meets the student’s needs or they should be removed from the IEP altogether.

Did you know that Garforth Education has created two online courses, A Parent’s Guide to IEPs and A Teacher’s Guide to IEPs? These courses were designed to give you a clear understanding of the IEP Process and they guide you through the steps you should take to prepare for IEP meetings.

Be sure to check out the more information about IEP’s on our Facebook, InstagramPinterest, and Twitter pages.

If there is anything we can do or post to help you learn more about IEP (or any other topic for that matter) please send an email to blog@garfortheducation.com

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*Please note the information about Individualized Education Plans was based on information for students attending school in British Columbia. Individualized Education Plans are commonly used in educational settings, but the information here may not be consistent with the requirements of education systems outside of British Columbia.