How to Set Targets for IEP's
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How to Set Targets for IEP's

A guide for teachers and staff who support in schools and educational settings on how they should set targets for Individual Education Plans (IEP's) using the acronym SMART for guidance. Examples of good targets and bad targets are given throughout the article as a guideline of things to consider and what to avoid..

Targets are an important part of an Individual Education Plan (IEP).  An IEP is a document that is drawn up by teachers, parents and educational professionals to support a student with Special Educational Needs (SEN) to fully access the curriculum.  Students need targets so as they have something to work towards and have motivation.  Being able to reach a target can give a real sense of achievement and help them to aim towards bigger and better things, supporting them in reaching their full potential.  It is also a useful way for teachers and support assistants to monitor a child’s progress, identify their strengths and weaknesses and re-evaluate targets.


When setting targets for an IEP it is useful to use the acronym ‘SMART’.  These letters stand for specific, measurable, attainable, reasonable and time measured.  This acronym can also be applied to target setting in other areas of life.  


There can be no vagueness in target setting as this can cause confusion.  There would be no point in setting a target of ‘ to get better at reading’.  How would this be measured?   Whose opinion would this be based on?  Over what time period will the child have to improve?  Examples of good targets that are specific are:

  • To increase reading age by six months in twelve months.
  • To meet their target level in Science by end of term 2.
  • To have improved in Mathematics by two sub-levels by the end of the school year. 
  • To use capital letters appropriately in writing.


To be measurable then the target must initially have been specific.  Again, simply saying that a child must get better in any given subject is not enough.  It raises the same questions about whose opinion decides this; the child may think that they have improved and the teacher may disagree.  It is also important to have measurable, factual evidence to produce to a parent and for a teacher to log over a period of time.  Measuring whether targets are being met can also identify whether a child needs further intervention in particular areas or less.  There are several ways that targets can be measured:

  • Improved grades on reports
  • .Increasing percentage on tests.
  • Specific tests for measuring reading, spelling, comprehension and arithmetic age.  
  • Continuous assessment of work.
  • Analyzed teacher feedback.


If a target is unattainable then I student is going to have a continuous sense of failure when they do not reach their targets.  This can lead to lack of confidence and self-esteem, plus reduced motivation to continue trying as they will expect to fail.  It is essential to consider the capabilities of the child and their areas of difficulties.  For example, it would be reasonable to expect a child to improve their typing speed over the period of a year if they were having weekly typing sessions.  It would be unreasonable to expect a student of thirteen with a reading age of seven to suddenly leap from an ‘E’ grade to and ‘A’ within a term.


It is not just a case of setting a target and then expecting it to happen.  Things need to be put in place to ensure that it does.  If you set a child a target of improving by two grades by the end of the second term, it is unreasonable to expect them just to continue in their regular lessons, unsupported and then suddenly make a vast improvement.  There are lots of considerations to make when questioning whether a target is reasonable.  For example:

  • What are the capabilities of the student?
  • What extra support can be put in place to support the student in achieving this?
  • What resources are available?
  • What are the time constraints?
  • When can intervention take place?
  • How will this be measured?
  • Who will be doing what?

Time Measured

It is vital that time constraints are put on achieving targets, even if they are not actually met by this time.  It is necessary to decide when this will next be measured and how.  Some targets may be short term and others may be long term.  The important thing is that this is specified.  Examples of time measured targets are:

  • To increase spelling age by six months in twelve months.
  • To achieve a grade C in the end of term Science exam.
  • To be able to use punctuation correctly by the end of the school year.
  • To achieve five or more target grades when leaving school.

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