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.
To start this week's blog, I decided to look up the definition of "Mastery." It's one of those words where you just know what it means, you know? But I wanted to be clear on its technical definition. And you know what? I didn't really like what I found!
Here's what Merriam-Webster says about mastery:
a : the authority of a master
b : the upper hand in a contest or competition
2a : possession or display of great skill or technique
2b : skill or knowledge that makes one master of a subject
I guess the best definition they give is 2a... but I'd like to do my own "Mallory-Webster" definition of mastery which is this:
The ability to complete a task without assistance or prompting, every time the task is given, in varying and appropriate contexts.
Let's break this down into pieces:
First, mastery includes the ability to complete a task. Mastery is active! If we're creating SMART annual goals (specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic/relevant and time-bound), then mastery of any particular goal will require the ability to perform the action stated in the goal. For example, if a goal states that a student will be able to write his/her name, the student must be able to write to demonstrate mastery. It seems so obvious, but even Merriam-Webster references "knowledge" in one definition! In education, we don't want "knowledge" of something to be the criteria. We want the action of being able to do something.
Next, mastery means a student is able to complete a task without prompting or assistance. To determine whether a student has mastered a particular skill or goal, we must assess whether they can do so without our help. Note, though, that this doesn't exclude accommodations like providing directions in multiple formats, or breaking down the directions into multiple steps. When assessing for mastery, we want to solely assess a student's ability to perform the skill, not their ability to follow directions or process large amounts of information.
Third, mastery means the student is always able to perform the skill. I think of mastery like I think of muscle memory. The student should have such a grasp on the particularly skill or task that they can do it without much conscious thought or effort. For example, I have mastered the skill of typing on a QWERTY keyboard. I can perform this skill without stopping to look at the keys or thinking about where the shift button is or wondering if there is a question mark key somewhere. Any time someone asks me to type something, I will be able to do so with a high level of performance, even if it's first thing in the morning or late at night, or on my laptop or on a desktop or even on my phone. Mastery is the ability to perform the skill whenever and wherever a student is asked.
Lastly, mastery involves transferability of the skill into varying contexts. We looked at knowledge transfer a few weeks ago so I wont belabor this point, but for a student to truly have mastered a skill, they must be able to perform the skill in any context that requires it. If a student can count money in the classroom but not at the grocery store checkout, they have not truly mastered the skill! However, if they can count money at the checkout but NOT in the classroom for some reason, I'd still consider this mastery as the checkout is the appropriate context for counting money.
Again, my very official IEP Guru definition of mastery is this: The ability to complete a task without assistance or prompting, every time the task is given, in varying and appropriate contexts.
So how does this apply to you or your student? When looking at whether your child has met his or her annual goals, go through each piece of this definition and evaluate whether the criteria is met. If your student meets some of the criteria but not others, they have not achieved mastery and the goal needs to be revisited-- typically in the form of short-term objectives. And lucky you, that's what I'm covering next week! Keep your eyes peeled...
Want more great tips? Be sure to follow IEP Guru on Facebook or join our collaborative IEP Guru Facebook group!
Do y'all remember MapQuest? It was a startling innovation at the time. Having a computer program to give you turn by turn directions and an estimated time of arrival? The future had arrived! (And yes, for the sake of this blog post I went and looked-- www.mapquest.com is still operational)
So what did you do before big trips? You logged on, input your starting addresses, input your destination address, and printed the plan. You might have even had one of those cool holders to put on your dash that held the printed directions for you. It took a fraught process (getting someplace you'd never been before) and made it relatively fool proof.
But here's the thing: MapQuest (or Google Maps now) only works if you have both points of data: where you're starting from and where you're going.
Can you imagine trying to figure out how to get to Hershey, PA if you don't know where you're starting from? Your path would certainly look different if you were coming from Philadelphia than if you were starting from Dallas. Trying to make a plan to get there, without knowing your starting point, is next to impossible. It would be a complete waste of time and energy.
And yet, this is how the IEP process operates for many students.
A benchmark is a "point of reference against which things may be compared or assessed."
In simpler terms, a benchmark is your starting destination.
In the IEP process, "benchmark" has a different name: Present Levels of Performance.
Present Levels of Performance (known as PLEPs or PLOPs) exist to be the benchmarks for assessing future growth. Using the definition above, PLEPs are intended to be the point of reference against which future mastery is compared and assessed.
A good benchmark is as detailed as possible-- again, you'd want a map that leaves from your numbered address, not from your city or state. One of the biggest issues I see with IEPs are Present Levels that are insanely vague.
A Present Level of Performance that says "Jonathan is doing much better in math, he's able to add 2 digit numbers and use a calculator correctly most of the time" is a BAD Present Level.
It doesn't provide any real information about where Jonathan is starting from, and as a result, it's going to be incredibly hard to create a pathway for him meet his goals.
Good Present Level of Performance benchmarks must include the following:
All this to say: Benchmarks are important. They are the foundation upon which the entire IEP is built, and more often than not, they're not nearly as solid as they should be.
Does your child's IEP include lackluster benchmarks? My challenge for you is to use this information to advocate for more detail. Always more detail! Once you do, share it with us on Facebook! I'd love to hear about your success.
Goals. Perhaps the single most important aspect of an IEP, but often, the portion that misses the mark to the greatest extent. While I hope you're learning a ton from IEP Guru, if nothing else, please hear this:
You need to make sure that your child's IEP goals are good.
Teaching you how to evaluate whether your child has good goals requires more space than this one blog (but don't worry, that's available in our e-course!), but here's where you can start:
Good goals are 1) focused on the skills or behaviors your child needs to develop in order to be successful and 2) are written appropriately.
The first step in writing good goals is to figure out which goal categories are most important for your child: Academic (Math, Reading, Writing), Social/Emotional, Vocational or Pre-Vocational, Transition, Fine or Gross Motor, Communication...where does your child struggle the most, and/or where will his or her current deficits be the most hindering if not addressed? Often it's not realistic or reasonable to address all areas of need, so start with those that are most pressing.
Second, look at the goals themselves. Are they clear? Sometimes we'll see goals like, "Emily will show progress in math according to her ability level." This is a BAD GOAL. First, what does "show progress" mean?
In what area of math?
How much progress will she show?
How will she demonstrate that progress?
When and how is the progress going to be evaluated?
A better goal would be, "Emily will be able to add two-digit integers, given one verbal or visual prompt, with 80% accuracy in at least 4 out of 5 trials over the course of the semester."
In addition, you need to pay attention to the language of goals across the IEP. Even if a goal seems like it's good (it is relatively specific, it includes numbers or percentages), it should not look like every other goal on the IEP with just the task swapped out. This is very common but still a no-no. Different goal areas require different skills, and therefore should utilize different tools, times frames, and strategies in order to be measured appropriately. Generic goals are not good goals.
Want sample goals and an equation for evaluating if your child's current goals are good (and how to make them better)? The IEP Guru Digital Course has everything you need to get on the path to better goals!