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Dear ADDitude: What Makes an Academic Goal Appropriate?

“What makes an academic goal ‘appropriate?’ My son’s school wants him to increase one reading level each year, but he’s already far behind and I’m concerned he’ll never catch up if not pushed harder and given more interventions.”

Q: “What makes an academic goal ‘appropriate?’ My son’s school wants him to increase one reading level each year, but he’s already far behind and I’m concerned he’ll never catch up if not pushed harder and given more interventions.”

ADDitude Answers

This is a great question. It sounds as if the goal needs a follow-up. IEP learning goals follow the SMART goal outline:

S- It should be specific (increase one reading level each year) and it could be extremely specific (he will read 80 words per minute).

M – It should be measurable (at the end of the year you should have a clear picture of whether your son met the goal).

A – It should include action words (will, increase, decrease, improve).

R – It should be realistic and relevant (goals should be based on the unique needs of the child and take into consideration his current reading level).

T – It should be time-limited (this sets intermediary goals, such as will read at 65 wpm by a certain date, 70 wpm at a later date, etc.).

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The goal you indicated does not seem to have any intermediary goals built in, so how will you know your son is making progress throughout the year? Request inserting intermediary goals into the IEP and progress reports. You can use those reports to determine if your son should be given additional instruction. If he is easily reaching the goals, he can be pushed a bit more; if he is still struggling, he might not be ready.

Posted by Eileen Bailey
Freelance writer, author specializing in ADHD, anxiety, and autism

ADDitude Answers

If your son has an IEP or 504 plan, goals and objectives are required. When deciding on an appropriate academic plan, it’s important to ask these questions. What do you want your child to learn? What skill are you trying to help your child acquire that will address his disability? Whether you call that remediation, instruction, intervention or accommodation, the goals are the things that we hope that your child will develop the capability to do that he doesn’t have at the moment.

I encourage parents to make sure that all goals or services are detailed clearly enough that teachers, staff, and parents can easily understand them. Additionally, goals should be written in a way that they are measurable. In this case, one reading level a year is a specific, easily measured goal. Build in a requirement that information will be shared with parents regularly. This could be monthly, quarterly, or weekly, depending on your child’s needs. When you are updated on your child’s progress, you can adjust the goals as your child makes progress to help your child reach a further goal, like a second reading level.

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An IEP requires that you specify the starting date, frequency, duration and location of services to establish accountability for the school. Parents have a right to participate, have a right to access to the information that’s in the child’s record, and have a right to seek information about how things are going, because you can’t assume that the school will do what it’s supposed to do no matter what.

Posted by Matthew D. Cohen, J.D.
Founder of Matt Cohen and Associates and legal commentator for LDOnline

ADDitude Answers

You may be making the mistake of using your son’s intelligence as a measure of his capability. If you know he is smart, you believe he is “capable” of learning more than one reading level a year.

Intelligence can be that top level marker, but then you have to start backing down the ladder for each developmental weakness that make it hard for him to convey his intelligence and fit within mainstream expectations. Does he have a reading disability, like dyslexia? Does his ADHD make it hard for him to stay focused on text, or limited working memory make it hard for him to remember the plot?

ADHD is a developmental disorder-meaning these kids are 2-3 years behind their peers in maturity and skills. So, for example, a 7-year-old is really a 4-5 year old in terms of life and school functioning.

That perspective will help you craft appropriate expectations for him.

Kids with ADHD often need modified assignments or a slower learning pace as a modification. Many have slow processing speed and/or learning disabilities that compound the already difficult task of completing schoolwork efficiently, without getting lost and distracted.

Posted by Penny
community moderator, author on ADHD parenting, mom to teen boy with ADHD, LDs, and autism

A Reader Answers

If your son has an IEP, it should have a heading that says “Present Levels of Performance or Present Levels of Academic and Functional Performance” (PLAFP). It should state what kind of assessment was used to determine the student’s level of performance–for example, observation or standardized assessment. The goals for your child should reflect a way to improve his present levels of performance.

Parents should receive some sort of progress report – as often or around the same time that you receive a report card – that reflects his progress towards those goals.

Keep a very close eye on his progress – in class and academic testing. Often, the student makes small improvements in the goal area, but doesn’t move a lot on overall academics. The only way to tell if the interventions are working is by evaluating the progress reports. If teachers don’t send progress reports on the same schedule as regular report cards, they need to note that in the IEP. They should give you a booklet of your rights and some explanation of terms and acronyms in the IEP. Get to know that as well! Good Luck!

Posted by DeeADHDMom

A Reader Answers

Your son should have an academic plan with positive – not negative -supports in place so he can work towards rewards. This gives kids an incentive to push themselves harder towards goals.

Be sure teachers are giving him a message of understanding not judgement. Ask for weekly, or more frequent, quick updates from the teacher so you can fuss over his successes at home.

Push for an IEP. Then school is under a lot more pressure to be sure goals are met. Even though an IEP and 504 plan are both legal documents, teachers tend to take IEPs more seriously.

Posted by Peacfldove

A Reader Answers

Something to think about – if your son not doing the work required for his current reading level, whether it’s because of a learning disability or because of a behavior issue, what makes you think he’ll be able to achieve an even harder goal that will require even more work?

I’m not trying to be discouraging, but I like to be honest. My son just turned 13 and will be going into 8th grade, so I have experience. Talk to your son honestly and find out if the struggle to complete the extra work is worth it to him. Harder goals are not going to be easy for him or for you, especially if he really struggles to complete the extra work.

Posted by ADHDmom2000

A Reader Answers

If more challenging goals are what you want, then fight for it, and do all that you can. Set small goals and work towards them with your son. Hopefully the small goals will add up to something great. We want big changes ASAP, but that’s overwhelming for kids with learning disabilities and ADHD.

Your son is different because his brain is different. We need to make sure that the goals are appropriate for our kids, regardless of what is the goal for other kids their age who don’t have ADHD.

Celebrate the small victories and hopefully that will motivate your son to continue moving forward.

Posted by GHM

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