True Confessions: The Truth about Standards-Based Goals

The term standards-based goal does not actually mean what everybody thinks it means. This is one of the biggest misconceptions in the Mid-State Region. So, I wanted to take some time to state the facts and myth bust.

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Fact: A student with a disability’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) must contain measurable annual goals. A measurable annual is a skill-based goal. The skill should be directly aligned with the student’s needs, as identified in the student’s present levels of performance.Fact: You can have both academic and functional based goals. If the student has an academic skill deficit, then there would be academic goals. There can be functional goals (organizational, study skills, daily living skills) if there are identified functional needs in the present levels of performance.

Myth: Measurable annual goals are based on the curriculum. No, measurable annual goals answer the question, “What skills does the student require to master the content of the curriculum?”   They do not answer, “What curriculum content does the student need to master?” The curriculum is a given, as all student with disabilities are general education students first and foremost.

Fact: Measurable annual goals are based on skills that can be assessed and measured all year round. If goals were written based on the curriculum, we would see statements such as “have not yet started this goal; will begin next quarter.” The IEP is in effect for a year, therefore the goals should be written with the anticipation the student will achieve the goal by the end of the year. The student will need the year to make progress.

Fact: A student’s IEP should be aligned to the grade-level standards. This is being known as a standards-based IEP. In 2014, the New York State Education Department released a memo titled, “Role of the Committee on Special Education in Related to the Common Core Learning Standards.” SED conveyed the message that a student with a disability’s IEP should be aligned with the grade level standards that all students are working towards achieving. It goes back to the concept that all students are general education students first and foremost. Therefore, the IEP should identify the essential skills and knowledge that the grade level standards ask the student to perform. In essence, in a given grade-level content area, what does the student need to know and be able to do? The IEP would then state where that student is currently performing in a given need area. This is what is called a gap analysis; the comparison between grade level expectations and current ability level (in an area of need). Once the gap is clear, the CSE can then determine what supports to put into place so that child can access and make progress in the general education curriculum. The CSE will also be able to identify the true skill needs of the child as we now know the priority skills for a given grade level.

Myth: The IEP must include goals that are standards. Be careful with this statement. A standards-based goal is not a standard written as a goal. It is not a measurable annual goal citing or referencing the standard. According to the SED memo listed above, “standards-based IEP goals are not simply restatements of the standards; rather, standards-based annual goals identify the essential skills and knowledge that a student with a disability needs to acquire in order to master grade-level content standards.”

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Fact: Standards-based goals are skill-based goals that are aligned to the standards. The skill identified in the goal is a priority skill for that individual child to access and progress in the general education curriculum. Working on this type of goal will help that child bridge the “gap.”

Fact: Recommendation is no more than 3-5 measurable annual goals on an IEP. There are numerous standards for a given grade-level. If you turned all the standards into goals, the student would end up with 20+ goals. 3-5 goals are a reasonable number of goals for a child to achieve in a year. Key word “achieve.” Goals should be achieved; not removed or the same from year to year.

Goal writing is a very difficult concept. Here are the key points to reminder:

  • Skill-based goals
  • 1 skill per goal
  • Measurable (Must be able to see it, count it, document it)
  • 3-5 goals across all disciplines

And a skill-based goal answers these questions:

  • Can you visualize the student performing the skill? Can you keep data on it?
  • How will this skill help the student in accessing and progress in the general education curriculum?
“Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.”
-Tony Robbins


Erica Morat
For more information, please feel free to e-mail me at or attend the regional offerings of Standards-Based IEPs and Measurable Annual Goals!

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