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What to Look for in an IEP Goal Bank

At a Glance

In this post, we dig in a little deeper on what to look for and what to watch out for around IEP goal banks!

Identify and describe 3 types of practices to look out for when combing through IEP goal banks online.

There is a lot out there on IEP goal banks, so it can be useful to know which ones can be helpful vs. unhelpful and even potentially harmful.

Welcome back to our continued discussion IEP goal banks, where we started out by talking about some of the ways that goal banks can be helpful despite some legitimate concerns about their potential misuse if we are not careful. 

But knowing some parts can be useful and other parts may cause problems begs a very important question: how do we know which parts are useful and which could do more harm than good?

Let’s dig in a little deeper on what to look for and what to watch out for!

Methods and Practices

❌ Stay Away!

Watch out for outdated methods and practices!

One reality of the large variety of goal banks that are out there is that they were created at different times by people with different ideas of best practices for IEP goals. 

When we say outdated methods, we are talking about a few things, but most importantly the types of practices that have been shown to be harmful, and especially any goal that hyper-focuses on those types of goals. 

Common examples of outdated practices include eye contact, being “appropriate”, and sitting still.

Of course, a goal bank with outdated or bad ideas can still have some useful tidbits, but it is also worth considering that there are other goal banks out there. 

The reason one outdated practice is a red flag is because once you see a few there is a good chance that there are more to come. Of course, using your best judgment will be part of the process too, and there’s also nothing stopping you from incorporating a few useful goals into a different goal bank that is more up-to-date.

The most important thing is to avoid falling into the trap of letting an outdated goal or way of thinking into a student’s IEP, because that is where it can do real harm!

✅ Keep Reading

Look for actively updated methods and practices, and student-centered approaches.

Student-centered approaches can mean a number of different things, from focusing on self-advocacy to use of communication devices and systems to incorporating a student’s strengths and interests. 

By contrast, many “behavior” oriented goals might feel on the surface like they are centering a student because they are technically about the student, but in practice, the real focus is on the way the “behavior” in question is viewed as disruptive or undesirable.

When evaluating an particular goal or set of goals in an IEP goal bank, it’s worth considering a few questions. 

What is accomplishing this goal meant to address? How does this goal positively impact the student? Are we sure the goal is primarily about benefiting the student? Would/Does your student agree that this type of goal is important? Can it be individualized to reflect my student’s needs? 

If you can answer these types of questions confidently and affirmatively when it comes to a particular goal or set of goals, then that is a great sign you are on the right track!

Language About the Student

❌ Stay Away!

Avoid goal banks that use negative language.

Let’s start out this section by clarifying exactly what we mean when we say negative. 

While there is of course something to be said for being aware of the tone of a given goal when writing and individualizing, Here we are referring to negating language like “don’t” and “reduce or decrease.” 

The specific type of goal we are referring to is those that focus on stopping or reducing challenging behaviors.

We do want to take a moment here to distinguish between the clearly unnecessary IEP goals that police completely harmless behavior like fidgeting or stimming and seemingly good faith goals that are meant to address genuinely challenging behaviors that can be harmful to the student or others. 

In the latter case, we will be discussing some helpful alternatives and why we find a different approach to be valuable in the next section.

In the case of the former, some goals centered around behavior that might be viewed as annoying or disruptive can pop up as very obvious red flags. 

If your goal bank is suggesting goals like “Don’t talk” (Yes, we’ve really seen that one in an actual goal bank!), then that’s a good sign that it might be time to move on.

✅ Keep Reading

Goals that employ positive language.

One helpful way to consider the context of challenging behaviors is that simply negating them does not necessarily mean the student’s problem has been solved. 

While it is true that some behaviors can be genuinely harmful and need to be addressed, it is also important to remember that these behaviors don’t happen in a vacuum and that all too many autistic students are expected to simply tamp it all down while their concerns, fears, or pain goes unaddressed. 

This is the danger of including a negative goal, even when we are talking about a behavior that we all agree needs to be reduced. It elevates “the way the problem affects us” over “the problem as it affects the student.”

It is also worth remembering that when we are talking about planning IEP goals, we are not in the middle of a dangerous situation where we may have to make a split-second judgment call. 

This is exactly the time to be planning ways to avoid getting into those situations in the first place, reviewing what may have gone wrong with previous plans, and figuring out how to do better in the future. 

With that in mind, a good sign of a strong IEP goal bank is when they use positive, student-focused language. 

To use a hypothetical example, if a student sometimes has trouble with biting themselves when they are upset, a more positive IEP goal would focus on ways we can proactively manage the feeling of being upset or the types of activities or environments that can lead to being upset in the first place. 

Every student will have varying comfort levels with different strategies, but options can include identifying and using coping strategies, learning about self-regulation, asking for help and other forms of self-advocacy. 

As a bonus, it’s a great way to get your gears turning on more proactive strategies to set your students up for success.

Pushing You and Your Student

❌ Stay Away!

Goals that just focus on the present.

While every IEP goal is theoretically pushing you and your student in some direction, it is worth considering the point of focus for each. What exactly are we pushing toward? 

One potential red flag among IEP goals is when they overly focus on what is happening in the moment compared to taking steps toward the future. 

This type of thinking is evident in a lot of “don’t” based goals. Sure, when you complete a “don’t” based goal you might be addressing a specific problem, but how do you meaningfully build on having met that goal, as opposed to just choosing the next goal to work on?

When evaluating an IEP goal, try considering what an extension of that goal might be if we are to assume the student is successful in meeting it. 

Try writing out what the next goal might look like if things go according to plan. Is there a clear logical next step? If not, it may be worth reconsidering whether there is a more productive goal to pursue.

It is worth noting here that just because present-oriented goals are not necessarily the best match with an IEP doesn’t mean you have to completely ignore present-focused goals. 

Depending on the goal they can be valuable in a day-to-day sense or fitting under the umbrella of a different long term goal. 

But when we are taking a step back to write something as plan oriented as an IEP, we should do so with a bigger picture in mind!

✅ Keep Reading

Goals that focus on the student’s future.

IEP goals are often walking a tricky line of needing to be achievable in a particular time frame but building up toward a larger overarching target. 

But IEPs goals that are capable of walking that line are also the most helpful types of goals in a student-centered approach. 

When we understand a student’s larger, potentially more abstract goals, we can fit their medium-sized IEP goals into a context that shows how we are building toward achieving that goal.

Not only will having this core goal in mind as a teacher make it easier to make judgment calls about what to do in day-to-day situations, it will also make it much easier to justify why we are doing a given type of work, or trying to employ a particular coping mechanism, or why we want to practice using a particular communication device to our students, their support network, and ourselves. 

Our number one goal as teachers should be to help students learn how to become who they want to be, and IEP goal banks with a focus on the future can be an incredibly valuable tool for achieving it.


After encouraging you to take a closer look at IEP goal banks despite some of the reasonable concerns around them, we hope this post has clarified some red flags and green flags to look out for. 

If you come across a goal bank you are unsure about or you have a question about this process, or if there’s something related to this topic that you’d like to hear more about then we would love to hear from you! 

Just drop us a line at Best of luck to everyone in crafting the best IEP goals that we can!

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