Why IEP Goal Banks are a Bad Idea

If we know what makes a measurable goal and can define many examples, then why not have a bank of goals from which teams choose? After all, this would ensure that every IEP, for example, has measurable goals and meets the requirements of the law, right? Plucking a goal from a list would certainly be quicker than convening a team to generate a scale of measurement for each student.

Although a goal bank may be a tempting option, defining individualized goals cannot work this way. Sure, we can identify common academic standards we would like students to achieve, but the reasons that students need support are diverse and numerous. And this diversity of strengths and baseline skill level affects the goals we write. For example, we can identify based on grade level or course that we want students to solve a certain type of problem in mathematics. But if a student is having difficulty with this type of problem, before we can write a goal, we need to understand the nature of the student’s difficulty. Is it difficulty with understanding how to carry out the operations? A difficulty with math facts? Problems with checking work for errors of accuracy? Is the student having problems knowing which operations to use? Or is the student experiencing difficulty with maintaining engagement in difficult tasks? Without a clear understanding of the student’s individual need, we cannot define the goal.

In addition to understanding the nature of the student’s challenge with the skill, we also need to understand exactly where the student is now and the student’s current rate of growth. There is no one correct criterion for any skill. Defining the scale, including the criterion for the goal, is all based on where a student is now, the trajectory of that student’s growth, and how far we believe we can move the student’s skills given appropriate intervention. Each of these variables makes a list of all possible goals impractical and unlikely to lead any team to select meaningful, individualized goals. This may feel disappointing to teams that want to streamline the process and make goal writing more efficient. But in the end, if the goal was not the right goal for the student, we have gained a quicker planning meeting but will have sacrificed all substance to the growth planning effort.

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