Posted in how-to, more seeds, special education

Writing IEP Goals and Objectives, Part 1: Understanding Grade-Level Standards

Why this Review?

I work as a special educator in an alternative setting, so the students on my caseload come from many different districts, and from many different special education teachers, all of whom had very different training when it came to writing IEP goals and objectives. So my kids’ IEPs look like, well, many different people wrote them!

Additionally, many of my kids come to me after being newly identified with a behavioral need. However, once they get to me, and they become more stable, their underlying or concomitant academic issues become apparent. So I need to now add academic goals to their IEPs. That probably happens to you, too.

Additionally, in a smaller district, such as mine, we don’t have a cadre of speech and language pathologists, psychologists, nurses or other individuals, so I sometimes have to use all of my special ed skills to come up with appropriate goals and objectives on, say, making healthy choices for a student with diabetes, or using specific language in conversation, for a child who uses the word “thingy” all the time.

IEP Direct has built-in pull-down menus, and you can Google all types of banks for IEP goals and objectives. But, have you ever had a student with IEP goals/objectives that seem like they were selected for someone else? It’s easy to just scan and click. But it makes our jobs so much easier if we choose the right goals and objectives in the first place.

Standards, Goals and Objectives: Review of Terms


In layman’s terms, the standard (whether Common Core Standard, National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies, or Components of Social, Emotional and Intellectual Habits) is the grade-level expectation for all students, by the end of that school year, as stated in the standard.

In other words, the standard lets us know what we should expect a student in that grade to know, understand and do, as a result of the general education curriculum.

Example #1: Math, Grade 6 {Common Core Standards}

6.NS.a.1. Interpret and compute quotients of fractions, and solve word problems involving division of fractions by fractions, e.g., by using visual fraction models and equations to represent the problem.

Example #2: Social-Emotional Learning , Early Elementary Grades {Illinois Learning Standards}

3A.1a.  Consider ethical, safety, and societal factors in making decisions - Explain why unprovoked acts that hurt others are wrong.  

Example #3: Instrumental Activities of Daily Living, Grades K-12

Make a list of all the chores you need to do. Check each chore off as it is completed.   

If a student has a disability of some sort, he comes with a document called an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP), that says what his Planning and Placement Team (PPT) wants him to be able to know, understand and do, after one year of general education and specially designed instruction. These are his annual goals, which will be something different from the grade-level standard – otherwise, he wouldn’t need the goal.

Along with each goal are one to several objectives. These present the details of what the PPT wants the student to achieve, after a year of instruction. Sometimes, the annual goal will remain the same, and new objectives will layer in, especially if the goal is broad (e.g., “Katie will learn and use two new strategies for note-taking and demonstrate them successfully in all content areas”).

Often, the specially-designed instruction will be incorporated into the IEP goals and/or objectives, making it clear how the PPT wants any educator to work with that student to help him reach his annual goal.

In order to write standards-based goals and objectives, it helps to fully understand the scope of the standard, as written.
Grade Level Standards
Fractions,” by Tim Green via Creative Commons License 2.0

Unwrapping the Standard

The results of our periodic testing might tell us that a particular student needs to work on computing with fractions, specifically, dividing fractions by fractions. But this result is only based on the fact that it was items such as these that the student missed on the assessment. To use these results to write a goal and its associated objectives, we first need to understand all the components of the standard, as it applies to students in a given grade-level.

We can “unpack” the standard into its composite facts and vocabulary (what the student needs to know), embedded concepts (what she needs to understand), and the associated skills required (what she needs to be able to do). Some curriculum materials refer to these as KUDs. These are the performance standards for all students by the end of the given academic year.

Let’s use the Grade 6 math standard, listed above:

6.NS.a.1. Interpret and compute quotients of fractions, and solve word problems involving division of fractions by fractions, e.g., by using visual fraction models and equations to represent the problem.

What the Student Needs to Know (Facts and Vocabulary)

For 6th graders, the critical vocabulary from this standard that we would want them to know and understand include quotient, and fraction.Other vocabulary we might include would include dividend and divisor, as they are related to the word quotient. We would want students to recognize, define and be able to use these terms. We would assume that students already know the vocabulary addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, but we might list them as review terms, along with the word operation.

What the Student Needs to Understand (Concepts)

To find the concepts in the standard, we underline the nouns and noun phrases, like so:

  • quotients (of fractions)
  • word problems (involving division of fractions)
  • division (of fractions by fractions)

What’s the difference between what students need to know and what they need to understand? Aren’t these the same words?

Not exactly. For example, students might be familiar with an array, or base ten blocks, and use them as visual models to solve problems – in other words, they understand the concept of a visual model, but they don’t necessarily have to know the term, visual model. You can teach it to them (I usually do), but it’s not a requirement of the standard that the student know the term. On the other hand, we would expect, by grade 6, that a student would know and use the words fraction and quotient.

To put it a different way, the standard requires 6th graders to understand what a quotient is (the answer you get when you divide a number by another number; an equal share), that word problems are verbal representations of problems that can be solved with mathematics (in this case, division of fractions), and that division means breaking up an area or set of objects into equal shares. This goes beyond explaining what a word means to understanding a bigger mathematical idea.

Also worth noting is that the actual standard is the portion of the text BEFORE the “e.g.” – “Interpret and compute quotients of fractions, and solve word problems involving division of fractions by fractions.” The part after the “e.g..” constitutes one way in which the child can show what she knows.

The way I was taught was there are many possible ways to do something. However, if you’re NOT doing the part after “e.g.” in a standard, you better start! Someone very smart thought this was an appropriate strategy for your grade. In this case, if you aren’t using visual models to represent fractions and computation of fractions with your sixth graders, this standard says that is a grade-appropriate way for them to learn – not just through numerical algorithms. Also, if these are recommended ways to teach the standard to all children, then we know that students with disabilities will need something different. This would NOT be the specialized instruction.

Sometimes, the grade-level standards gives suggested strategies for teaching the standard to your students.

What the Students Needs to Be Able to Do (Skills)

Phew! That was a lot. But it was important. Often, especially in math, we teach the way we learned. In my case, it was, “Ours is not to reason why – just invert and multiply.” While we will show this numerical algorithm to the students, we need to make sure they understand WHY it works, through other means.

So, what do we expect kids to DO? For the skills, we will circle the verbs and verb phrases:

  • intepret (quotients of fractions)
  • compute (quotients of fractions)
  • solve (word problems involving division of fractions by fractions)

Implied in this standard is the following skill:

  • divide (fractions by fractions)

Suggested Strategies

As we previously saw, many standards include some suggested strategies for teaching the standard, usually separated from the standard by parentheses or the abbreviation “e.g.”

  • use visual models to represent word problems (involving division of fractions by fractions)
  • use equations to represent word problems (involving division of fractions by fractions)

Anyone familiar with the Rule of Four can see that the standard is recommending three of the four modes of representing mathematical problems (geometrical/graphical, words/verbal, and numerical/symbolic). Not included here is patterns/algebraic representation.

The Rule of Four in mathematics describes the four ways that all students should be able to represent mathematical problems. Download the poster here. {Image Credit: (c) 2019, San Francisco United School District Department of Mathematics)

Note that the standard does not tell the educator what visual model to use to teach the standard. Here’s where the special educator might use a second method to support students with disabilities.

What’s the Bottom Line?

So, to recap, I’ve unwrapped my grade-level standard, and found that, in order to master the essential components of THIS standard, my 6th students need to do the the following:

  • solve, compute and explain problems involving division of fractions by other fractions [I got these skills from underlining verbs and verb phrases in the standard]…
  • … explaining the ideas of division, fractions, quotients [I got these concepts from circling nouns and noun phrases in the standard] … by
  • … using verbal [writing, speaking], symbolic [equations] and graphical [visual model] representations [I got these suggested strategies by looking for them after the abbreviation, “e.g.”] … while
  • correctly defining and using the terms fraction, quotient, divisor and dividend [I got these terms by listing words from the standard that the students would have to understand in print and use in their speaking and writing]

There will likely be other standards in the same lesson, but this is all that is required to master this particular one.

In my next post, we’ll talk about how to use our analysis of the grade-level standard, and the needs of a student, to write appropriate standards-based goals.


Mom of four, Nana to seven, homeschooler, special educator, and lover of all good things... striving to do His work every day.

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