Equity and Special Education: Writing Effective Executive Function Goals for IEPs

In special education, incorporating executive function goals into Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) is crucial for fostering equitable outcomes and supporting the diverse needs of students. While educators may be adept at crafting traditional IEP goals, writing goals specifically targeting executive function requires a nuanced approach. Here’s some guidance on how teachers can effectively write executive function-related goals for IEPs.

Identify Executive Function Areas to Target

Begin by identifying the specific executive function areas that are relevant to your student’s individual needs and present levels of performance. Common executive function areas to target include organization, time management, goal setting, self-monitoring, and cognitive flexibility. SMARTS’ Strategy Use Survey (STRATUS) can help teachers (and students!) identify students’ strengths and challenges when using strategies for planning, organizing, memorizing, shifting, and self-checking.

Use Clear and Observable Language

Write goals using clear, observable language to describe the desired behavior or skill in measurable terms. Avoid vague or ambiguous wording; instead, focus on specific actions or behaviors that can be objectively observed and quantified. For example, instead of stating “improve time management,” specify “student will independently adhere to a daily schedule with 80% accuracy.”

Focus on Functional Application

Ensure that executive function goals are aligned with the student’s functional needs and real-world demands, and consider how the targeted skills will support the student’s academic success, independence, and overall well-being. Also consider creating goals that have practical applications in various settings, including the classroom, home, and community. The SMARTS@Home Curriculum is a resource for extending executive function strategy use to home environments and can be a valuable tool to recommend to parents of students in grades 1-6.

Provide Contextual Support and Instructional Strategies

Accompany executive function goals with appropriate supports and instructional strategies to facilitate executive function development. For example, you can incorporate evidence-based interventions, such as visual aids, checklists, graphic organizers, and mnemonic devices, that align with the student’s learning style and preferences. Offer modeling, guided instruction, and independent practice to teach and reinforce targeted strategies.

Encourage Self-Reflection and Self-Advocacy

Empower students to actively participate in the goal-setting process and take ownership of their executive function development. Encourage self-reflection by prompting students to monitor their progress, identify areas of strength and improvement, and set personal goals. To foster self-advocacy skills, teach students to articulate their needs, preferences, and strategies for support.

By following these guidelines, teachers can effectively write executive function goals that support students with diverse learning needs in developing essential strategies for academic success and independence. Through targeted executive function interventions and supports, educators can promote equity and inclusion in special education and empower students to reach their full potential.

  • Taylor McKenna, M.A., M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

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About the Author

Taylor McKenna, M.A., M.Ed., has been with ResearchILD since 2021 and serves as a SMARTS Associate and Educational Specialist. Her work includes developing SMARTS executive function curricula and tools, designing ResearchILD’s EF and Equity Fellowship, and working with students on fostering lifelong EF skills and strategies. Taylor holds a Master’s of Education degree in Human Development and Education from Harvard University, Master’s of Arts degree and teaching certification in Special Education from Alverno College, and Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Dartmouth College.

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