An objective, in special education, is essentially a short-term goal. You know how we have those big (sometimes hairy, audacious) annual goals? A short-term objective exists to break down that annual goal into more digestible pieces.
Short-term objectives are important for two reasons:
1. They provide stepping stones to move the student toward the big annual goal
2. They show us where the student may be falling through the cracks on the way to the big annual goal
Think about it this way. Let's say you have a goal to lose 10 lbs by the end of the summer. You start working at it, cutting back on your calories and adding in a bit more exercise...and you lose a pound or two. But then you go to a pool party and overindulge and gain it back. Then you lose, then you gain, then you lose, then you gain. Sound familiar?
A short-term objective outlines the small steps that must be met in order to achieve the larger goal. In our example of weight loss, a short-term objective may be "Eat at least 5 servings of vegetables a day for next week" or "Substitute flavored water for diet coke." They are smaller goals that push you further down the path toward your larger goal.
I can't tell you how often I hear from parents who say that their child has the same goals from year to year.
It's like the team gets to the very end of the year and only THEN realizes that the annual goal they chose wasn't realistic or reasonable, so they give the child (and themselves!) another year to reach it.
To this I say:
No no no no no no no.
My first piece of advice for these parents? Ask for short-term objectives to be written into the IEP. If the student does not meet a short-term objective for quarter 1 by the end of the first quarter, change the objectives and change the annual goal, as the student is no longer on track to meet it.
And then? Outline in the IEP what program supports, accommodations or modifications will be used during the following quarter to try to help the student meet the short-term objective so they can get back on track.
Note that many teachers do not want to include short-term objectives simply because it's more work for them to write and it's more work for them to track. If your child isn't progressing and you're not sure why-- push for these objectives!
The best way I can explain the importance of short-term objectives is think of a bridge. Your child and their current abilities are on one side and their goal is on the other. Short-term objectives are the wooden planks in the bridge to help them cross to the other side.