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I am the author, creator, and Mom behind Dyslexia Mom Life.

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Sabrina has been an attorney for over 14 years practicing in the Bay Area. Initially, her law practice focused on personal injury civil litigation matters with clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to family-owned businesses.

In 2017, Sabrina decided to leave her civil litigation practice in order to advocate for her child. Sabrina now practices Special Education law exclusively. As the mother to a daughter with dyslexia, Sabrina understands that navigating the special education process can be stressful and intimidating for parents. Having gone through the IEP process with her own child, she understands the frustration parents often feel, wanting so desperately to get their children the help they need yet not knowing where to begin.

Sabrina is sharing how to write an effective IEP goal. Below are a few of the highlights of what she is teaching in this episode.

  1. IEP meeting strategy tips
  2. How needs drive goals and goals drive services
  3. Using SMART goals to create IEP goals
  4. Understanding present levels
  5. What to do if you don’t agree with the IEP teams

Writing SMART Goals

S.M.A.R.T. goals is defined as –

Specific – The goal needs sufficient detail to know exactly what the goal states. It should target areas of academic achievement or functional performance. What specific skills do you want to improve?

Measurable – The goal must have an objective way to measure whether the child is meeting the goal or not.  Ask yourself, can you observe or count it to know whether your child met her goal? When a teacher says a student is making progress, that is the teacher’s opinion based on subjective observations (and it may or may not be accurate). Also, grades are not objective assessments of progress.  There’s a lot that goes into grades (student’s effort, participation, teacher’s subjective beliefs, student’s attitude, grade inflation, etc.)

Attainable/Appropriately Ambitious – Goals should be attainable but at the same time appropriately ambitious. A lot of times, school districts will draft goals that are easy for students to attain, to show the services are working.  You don’t want goals that are so easy to attain, that they are meaningless.

Results-Oriented – Desired result should be clearly stated and directly address your child’s unique needs.

Time-Bound – The goal should have a date to achieve the goal. Long-term goals (student’s annual goal) as well as short-term goals to measure progress toward long-term goals.

SMART Goal Examples

Example 1: The student will decode unfamiliar words with 80% accuracy using teacher prompts as measured by teacher observation.  The baseline is 40%.

  • What’s wrong with this goal?
    • Not specific – What “unfamiliar” words? How many? Grade level?
    • Not measurable – Who determines what “unfamiliar words” are? How many times does the student need to perform this task with 80% accuracy? “Teacher observation” isn’t measurable by itself, and it is inherently subjective. Sometimes you may see “formal or informal assessments” as the measure of the goal.  What does that mean?  Who is making up these assessments?  Which assessments? Need to specify the words, and it is best to attach the words to the IEP so everyone is on the same page.
    • Attainable/ambitious – We don’t really know because we don’t understand what this goal is measuring.  Also, “with teacher prompts” is problematic.  What does that mean?  Could that mean the teacher prompts the student with the answer?
    • Results-oriented – We don’t really know because we don’t understand what this goal is measuring
    • Time-bound – When will the student need to achieve this goal?  We don’t know. 

Example 2: By February 2021 (or next annual review date), the student will independently read at least 33 out of 41 Dolch third grade sight words in two of three consecutive trials as measured by teacher-charted data.”  Baseline: Student can independently read 16 out of 41 Dolch third grade sight words.

  • Specific – The student will independently read a certain number of words off the Dolch third grade sight word list
  • Measurable – We know the student will independently read a certain number of words and how the data will be recorded.  We can see the list and the teacher’s notations.
  • Ambitious/Attainable – No teacher prompts. Dealing with a finite number of words.  The student is currently at 40% accuracy, and we want to get him to at least 80%.
  • Results-oriented – We know exactly what results that we are looking for. (at least 33 of 41 Dolch words) No ambiguity.
  • Time-bound – We now have an end date by which we want the student to achieve the goal.

We have also revised the baseline to make more sense.  We can only re-write this goal because we have this baseline data.  If we didn’t know how many Dolch third grade sight words our student could independently read, we wouldn’t be able to write the goal this way.

Now that we have our annual goal drafted, we can break it down into quarterly goals or other short-term goals to make sure our student is making progress toward her goals.



This episode provides general information and is intended for informational purposes only. Nothing contained in this episode is to be considered as either creating an attorney-client relationship or as the rendering of legal advice for any specific case. Nothing contained in this episode constitutes legal advice or a guarantee of successful results. You should consult an attorney or advocate for advice regarding your individual case.


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