Writing SMARTER Individualised Education Plans to help students best achieve their goals

By creating SMARTER goals, you can ensure your students are set up for success and enable them to reach their potential. This article outlines the strategies you can employ to create SMARTER goals in your student’s IEP.

Individualised education plan with SMARTER goals
This blog explores techniques and ideas that come from the Positive Behaviour Support Framework which you can read more about here

Individualised Education Plans are provided to students with disabilities or a complex profile that significantly impacts their engagement at school.

Their IEP presents an opportunity to get clarity on what the student will be learning or focusing on in the upcoming year at school.

By creating SMARTER goals, you can ensure your students are set up for success and enable them to reach their potential. This article outlines the strategies you can employ to create SMARTER goals in your student’s IEP.

What is an Individualised Education Plan?

An IEP is a school-based document that gives information about how a student is currently doing, their goals, accommodations and teaching strategies that will be used to help the student progress towards their goals in measurable ways.

The school must initiate and conduct a meeting to develop and/or review a student’s IEP at least once every twelve months.

This allows the team to determine whether the student’s current program is effective and if not, then it provides the opportunity to plan on how to meet the student's unique learning needs.

Parents or guardians can ask for a meeting at any time if they feel they are needed to address concerns or issues that they have about their child’s attendance, schoolwork, behaviour or how their child is fitting in with other students. This meeting provides the opportunity to plan, make appropriate adjustments or amendments.  

How do you develop the IEP?

IEPs are developed with Observation, Data Collection, and Assessment.

Before an IEP can be developed it is important to identify what a student can currently do (baseline information) and what are the areas of need. Below is a list of areas to focus on.

Depending on your student, you can determine areas of need that apply them:

  • Academic skills,
  • Communication skills,
  • Physical skills,
  • Independent skills,
  • Social skills,
  • Emotional and behavioural regulation skills,
  • Work skills,
  • Transition skills,
  • and Health and wellbeing related skills.

Information about their current skills in each of the focus areas listed can be gained by referring to previous assessments, reviewing previous reports, conducting further educational assessments and observing the student’s current performance in the learning program.

Examine the difficulties the student has at school during both structured and unstructured times. Collect comments and suggestions from both parents, educators, and students on what they see as the most troubling aspects of the curriculum.

Discuss with the student about their passions, skills, preferred learning methods and ambitions via open dialogue with them.

Assessment and Data are Collected: Now What?

Set priorities for areas of need in order, where the student is experiencing difficulties or the area that is of the greatest need at this current point in time.

You can also have a conversation with the student about what area should be prioritised based on what they feel will be of benefit to them.

Develop SMARTER Goals for the Individualised Education Plan

Central to IEPs are goals. Goals describe what the student will be learning or focusing on in the coming year at school. Goals in an IEP are meant to be achievable; there shouldn’t be so many goals that they are overwhelming to the student and IEP team. Therefore, each goal should be developed with care and forethought.

To keep the number manageable, the team should consider setting one to two goals for each “big” area of need. A useful way of setting goals that are powerful is by using the SMARTER system.

This system helps spell out the criteria or standards that can be used to measure if your student is indeed making progress toward mastery.

SMARTER system for developing Individualised Education Plans

Below we have a detailed description of each letter in the SMARTER acronym.

To ensure your goals meet the SMARTER criteria, answer the following questions:


  • Who? Identify the team of people who will be involved in the goal development process.
  • What? Identify what needs to be accomplished.
  • Where? Identify the location/s where the goal will be accomplished.
  • When? Identify a timeframe for the goal accomplishment.
  • Why? Why?Identify the reasons, purpose, or benefits of accomplishing the goal.


  • How much/How many? Identify actions, products or effort that can be used to track and measure your student's progress.
  • How will your student know that they are making progress? Identify ways that you can assist your student realise their progress so that they can stay motivated and on track.


  • What are the attitudes, abilities and skills need to achieve your goal? Identify your student’s capacity to do what is being asked of them.
  • What are the steps that need to be undertaken to achieve the goal? Identify a step-by-step plan to achieve the goal.


  • What is the reason, purpose, or benefit of accomplishing the goal? Identify the relevance and importance of the goal to your student.
  • What effect will achieving your goal have on your student’s life or on others? Identify the relevance and importance of the goal to the various members of the team.


  • How long will it take to accomplish this goal? Identify a timeframe for the goal.
  • When is the completion of this goal due? Identify a target date for the achievement of the goal.


  • How often will you check on the progress of the goal? Establish a schedule for progress reports and check-ins with the team.

Re – Write

  • Who will adjust the goal to meet the new need? Identify IEP team members responsible for goal evaluation and adjustment.
  • Who will implement the changes? Identify IEP team members responsible for working on goals with the student.

Examples of SMARTER IEP Goals for Students

Listed below, you will find a compilation of example objectives written with the SMARTER guidelines in mind:

Communication Skills Example

  • Desired Outcome: Lucy will develop the skills to use her communication book to make requests.
  • Example of Goal: During morning tea and lunchtime Lucy will request a particular food item by locating the corresponding picture symbol from an array of 5 picture symbols on her communication book by pulling off the picture symbol and giving it to her teacher without prompts 90% of the time.

Social Skills Example

  • Desired Outcome: Gary will greet his peers.
  • Example of Goal: Gary will look at his peer and sign 'hello' when given 3 out of 4 opportunities during morning circle with gestural prompting by a staff member.

Academic Skills Example

  • Desired Outcome: Jenny will improve her ability to count.
  • Example of Goal: Given direct instruction and visual supports, Jenny will be able to count by ones the numbers 1 - 10 with 90% accuracy during a Maths activity.

Independent Skills Example

  • Desired Outcome: Minnie will use technology to access leisure activities.
  • Example of Goal: Minnie will use a single switch mounted on a switch-mounting arm positioned to the right side of her head to access the foot spa 8 out of 10 times.

Physical Skills Example

  • Desired Outcome: Jacob will walk using his walker.
  • Example of Goal: Jacob will initiate three steps with his walker to touch the Smartboard when given 3 out of 5 opportunities in a day.

Emotional and Behavioural Regulation Skills Example

  • Desired Outcome: Benito will recognise and use appropriate strategies to manage her frustration.
  • Example of Goal: Given a class situation when Benito is experiencing frustration, she will ask for a break by pointing to the ‘I want a break’ cue card with verbal prompting by a staff member about what calming down strategy would help 90% of the time.

Work Skills Example

  • Desired Outcome: Lucy will complete a work task independently.
  • Example of Goal: When given a paper filing task at the school office, Nina will remain on task for a minimum of 5 minutes independently with no verbal prompting.

Health and Wellbeing Example

  • Desired Outcome: Jodie will participate in physical education activities regularly.
  • Example of Goal: Jodie will participate for ten minutes with her peers in at least one fitness session every day.

By creating SMARTER goals, you can ensure your students are set up for success.

For each of the agreed goals, an outline of the teaching instructions, strategies and resources should be provided to your student to help the team achieve the goal.

This includes the names and roles of the various team members who will be responsible for implementing various aspects of the IEP.

Conclusion: IEPs present an opportunity to get clarity

In conclusion, the IEP presents an opportunity to get clarity on what the student will be learning or focusing on in the coming year at school. By writing SMARTER IEP goals we can help:

  • Improve student motivation to learn,
  • Build a strong sense of self as a learner,
  • Encourage more consistent school attendance,
  • Improve behaviour at school, and
  • Improve academic performance.

Positive Behaviour Support Resources and Services

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