Social and Emotional Goals for IEPs: Why They Are Important and How to Write Them  

It’s no secret that students with disabilities can struggle socially and have difficulty managing their emotions. Sometimes these deficits can impact their ability to learn and thrive in the classroom and beyond.

Since 1975, schools have used Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) to outline learning goals for students with disabilities and services schools must provide to meet those objectives. IEPs often center on academic goals, but a growing body of research shows that social and emotional learning (SEL) can have an important and lasting impact on all students’ readiness to learn — including students with disabilities. Accordingly, schools are increasingly integrating SEL goals into IEPs to better prepare their youth for academic success.

How to Construct SEL IEP Goals

When writing SEL IEP goals, schools should follow the same careful structure and planning procedure used in establishing academic IEP goals. Each goal must include a carefully articulated objective, detail on how progress will be measured, and documented services the school will provide to help the student meet the goal. Like any IEP objective, an SEL goal should include specifics:

  • time frame
  • a goal or action
  • the setting or context of where the goal will be measured
  • how the goal will be measured
  • expected accuracy
  • acceptable prompts or supports (if applicable)

Here is an example of a well-defined SEL IEP goal:

“By October, 2018, Joey will improve his rate of on-task behavior from 75 percent to 90 percent during large group instruction time, as measured by weekly, 20-minute momentary time sampling observations by special education staff.”

Dos and Don’ts for Writing SEL IEP Goals

The best IEP goals are measurable, meaningful, and are designed to teach a desired behavior. When drafting an SEL goal, consider the following*:

Define a specific skill and/or behavior that is objective and can be observed.
For example, “Student will increase her rate of sharing supplies willingly with others from 50 percent of opportunities to 90 percent of opportunities.”

Design the goal around what the student will do, not what he won’t do.
For example, use “Student will increase his use of self-regulation and calming strategies” instead of “Student will reduce the number of discipline referrals he receives.”

Monitor the behavior frequently enough to be able to make informed decisions about the student’s progress with specific skills.
Don’t plan to measure a behavior once or twice a semester when it should be monitored twice a month/week/day.

Measure student behavior, not adult behavior.
Rather than trying to limit the number times a student needs redirection, strive to improve a student’s rate of following directions.

Don’t set expectations of special education students higher than those of general education peers.
No student is 100 percent on task 100 percent of the time. Build leeway into your goals and don’t expect perfection.

*Source: St. Croix River Education District, MN

Example SEL IEP Goals

The Redmond, Oregon, IEP Goals and Objectives Bank is a helpful resource that organizes IEP goals by content area and includes academic goals as well as social and emotional goals. Here are a number of sample SEL goals to help you get started (click on the link above for the full list):

  • Express anger appropriately by using words to state feelings
  • Respond to teasing from peers appropriately
  • Name ways people show approval/disapproval
  • Appropriately seek help from a teacher, when needed
  • Describe situations in which student experiences a given emotion
  • Correctly identify emotions (happy, scared, angry, sad) from a set of pictures
  • Continue to maintain appropriate behavior even when frustrated
  • Identify signs of anxiety and stress in self and others
  • Engage in cooperative play with at least one other peer
  • Learn and follow the rules when playing an organized game
  • Offer to help a teacher or peer at an appropriate time
  • Refrain from interrupting others in conversation
  • Cooperate with peers without prompting
  • Maintain appropriate space and boundaries
  • Describe steps in making a decision
  • Set realistic personal goal(s)

Including SEL goals in IEPs can help educators better support the needs of the whole child and maximize student success. Aperture Education can support measurable IEP objectives with the Devereux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA), a nationally-recognized, award-winning assessment that measures students’ social and emotional competence (K-8). To learn more about the DESSA and how to incorporate SEL goals into IEPs, contact our experts today.

Additional Resources

The School Psych Toolbox — “Useful tips, tools, strategies, and topics for School Psychologists, Special Educators, Teachers, Administrators, and Parents of students at-risk and with disabilities.”

Colorado Department of Education’s “Writing Standards-aligned Individualized Education Programs (IEPs): A Supplemental Guidance Document for Designing Effective Formal Educational Plans

Examples of IEP Goals and Objectives Suggestions for Students with Autism