IEP Goals to Support Behavior Modification

Behavioral goals are a great way to support developmentally disabled students

Teacher pointing to students in class
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When a student in your class is the subject of an Individual Education Plan (IEP), you will be called upon to join a team that will write goals for her. These goals are important, as the student's performance will be measured against them for the remainder of the IEP period, and her success can determine the kinds of supports the school will provide. 

For educators, it's important to remember that IEP goals should be SMART.

That is, they should be Specific, Measurable, use Action words, Realistic, and Time-limited

Behavioral objectives, as opposed to goals linked to diagnostic tools such as tests, are often the best way to define progress for mild to severely mentally disabled children. Behavioral goals show clearly if the student is benefiting from the efforts of the support team, from teachers to school psychologist to therapists. Successful goals will show the student generalizing the skills learned in various settings into his daily routine.

How to Write Behavior-Based Goals

  • Behavior goals are statements that will describe no more than three things about the individual's behavior.
  • They will state precisely the behavior to be exhibited. 
  • Describe how often and how much the behavior is to be exhibited.
  • Indicate the specific circumstances under which the behavior will occur.

When considering desirable behavior, think about verbs. Examples could be: feed self, run, sit, swallow, wash, say, lift, hold, walk, etc. These statements are all measurable and easily defined.

Let's practice writing a few behavioral goals using some of the above examples. For "feeds self," for example, a clear SMART goal might be:

  • Student will use a spoon without spilling food on five attempts to feed.

For "walk," a goal might be:

  • Student will walk to the coat rack at recess time without assistance.

Both of these statements are clearly measurable and one can determine if the objective is being met successfully or not.

Time Limits

An important aspect of the SMART goal for behavior modification is time. Specify a time limit for the behavior to be achieved. Give students a number of attempts to complete a new behavior, and allow for some attempts to not succeed. (This corresponds to an accuracy level for the behavior.) Specify the number of repetitions that will be required and state the accuracy level. You can also specify the level of performance you are looking for. For example: student will use a spoon without spilling food. Set the conditions for the pinpointed behaviors. For example:

  • Student will eat meals, using a spoon without spilling food on at least five attempts at lunch time.
  • Student will motion for the teacher's attention after a task has been completed when the teacher is NOT busy with another student.

In summary, the most effective techniques for teaching students with mental disabilities or developmental delays come from changing behaviors. Behaviors are easily evaluated in students for whom diagnostic tests are not the best option. Well-written behavior objectives can be one of the most useful tools for planning and evaluating the exceptional student's educational goals. Make them a part of the successful Individualized Education Plan.

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Your Citation
Watson, Sue. "IEP Goals to Support Behavior Modification." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Watson, Sue. (2023, April 5). IEP Goals to Support Behavior Modification. Retrieved from Watson, Sue. "IEP Goals to Support Behavior Modification." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).