top of page

Special education: IEP goals for executive functioning skills (2024)

Updated: May 7

Last Updated: March 8, 2024


So just how important are executive functioning skills?


Well, according to Dr. Adele Diamond's analysis of all the major studies on executive functioning skills:


"EFs are more important for school readiness than are IQ or entry-level reading or math" (Blair & Razza 2007, Morrison et al. 2010)

AND


"EFs predict both math and reading competence throughout the school years" (Borella et al. 2010, Duncan et al. 2007, Gathercole et al. 2004)

Oddly, when I was a special education teacher in the public school system, I could count on one hand the number of times the phrase "executive function" was brought up in IEP meetings or by parents.


Executive functioning IEP goals are not as much a part of the IEP process as they deserve to be, so as a parent, you'll need to make sure they are included in the discussion.


In this article, I'll provide you with a range of executive functioning IEP goals that will guide your student's IEP team to support the development of:

  • Planning

  • Organization

  • Self-advocacy

  • Inhibition

  • Time management

  • Initiation

  • Visualizing outcomes

  • Evaluating priorities

  • And more!


Plus, I'll walk you through how to evaluate whether or not your student's current IEP goals are written in a way that can actually help your child.


For reference, here are other articles I have written about executive functioning and the IEP process.




Table of Contents

What are executive dysfunction symptoms?

What is executive dysfunction?

When a child struggles with managing school, completing homework, organization skills, or completing a complex task, they may have executive dysfunction.


Signs that indicate your child may have executive dysfunction disorder are they struggle to:

  • Complete tasks

  • Independently transition

  • Display an appropriate emotional response when given a direct instruction

  • Plan independently

  • Identify errors in their schoolwork

  • Turn in homework assignments


Often, these skills are overlooked by teachers and schools in general, because there is a great focus on grades and subject matter knowledge.


But as we know, what matters when you enter the working world is not that you can correctly recite the order of US presidents, but rather that you can see a goal to completion.


As parents, sometimes we want to do everything for our children. We feed them, choose their clothes, set alarms for them, and remind them of where to be and when.


But one day, we will not be able to do these things, and hopefully, they have developed their executive functioning skills at this point to be successful without us.


If you are concerned your child may be struggling with executive dysfunction, ask for an Independent Education Evaluation (IEE) so your child can be assessed.


You can bring this information (and the evalution) to an IEP meeting to explore how goals can be written and services can be provided to teach your child these vital skills.


Executive functioning IEP goals

To start, it is important to understand the components of an IEP goal.

Every IEP goal must have a baseline.


A baseline is the data that is collected before the implementation of a support plan around the goal. Baseline data can be collected by measuring whatever behavior or skill is written about in the IEP goal.


Once you have a clear baseline, then you can move into writing a neat and meaningful IEP goal.


What are the parts of an IEP goal?

What are the parts of an IEP goal?

For an IEP goal to help improve executive functioning skills, it must include the following components that must be written in measurable terms:


IEP Goal Element #1: Date

  • By (date of next annual IEP)

By December 2023,...


IEP Goal Element #2: Condition:

  • when provided with...

  • when given access to...

  • with access to a calculator...

  • when provided with access to Google Tasks

By December 2023, when provided with access to Google Tasks


IEP Goal Element #3: Functional performance indicator

This is the target skill you want the student to complete.

  • student will track her assignments...

By December 2023, when provided with access to Google Tasks, Cynthia will track her assignments...


IEP Goal Element #4: Observable Behavior

What is something you can say for certain has happened?

  • by writing all missing and upcoming assignments in Google Tasks...

By December 2023, when provided with access to Google Tasks, Cynthia will track her assignments, by writing all missing and upcoming assignments in Google Tasks...


IEP Goal Element #5: Criteria

This is where you get the measurable part of the goal.

  • with no more than 1 prompt and 80% accuracy...

  • with less than three verbal prompts

By December 2023, when provided with access to Google Tasks, Cynthia will track her assignments, by writing all missing and upcoming assignments in Google Tasks with no more than 1 prompt and 80% accuracy...


IEP Goal Element #6: Mastery

This is where you measure this target skills over a period of time or across trials.

  • for four consecutive weeks.

By December 2023, when provided with access to Google Tasks, Cynthia will track her assignments, by writing all missing and upcoming assignments in Google Tasks with no more than 1 prompt and 80% accuracy for four consecutive weeks.


IEP Goal Element #7: Measurement

How will this goal be measured?

  • ...as measured by weekly reviews of Cynthia's planner by case manager.

A complete executive functioning IEP goal:

By December 2023, when provided with access to Google Tasks, Cynthia will track her assignments, by writing all missing and upcoming assignments in Google Tasks with no more than 1 prompt and 80% accuracy for four consecutive weeks as measured by weekly reviews of Cynthia's planner by case manager.


Sample IEP goal: Planning

Date:

By (date of next annual IEP)


Condition:

when provided with a list of upcoming assignments


Functional performance indicator:

(student name) will accurately predict the amount of time required to complete all assignments due that week


Observable behavior:

by recording those estimates into a planner


Criteria

with at least (target percent) accuracy


Mastery:

in 3 of 4 randomized checks


Measurement:

as measured by reviews of (student's name) planner by (staff position that will be progress monitoring).


Putting it all together you have:

By (date of next annual IEP), when provided with a list of upcoming assignments, (student name) will accurately predict the amount of time required to complete all assignments due that week by recording those estimates into a planner with at least (target percent) in 3 of 4 randomized checks as measured by reviews of (student's name) planner by (staff position that will be progress monitoring).




Sample IEP goal: Organization

Date:

By (date of next annual IEP)


Condition:

when given dividers for each class and a binder


Functional performance indicator:

(student name) will organize class materials


Observable behavior:

by placing all completed and upcoming assignments into the appropriate section of the binder


Criteria

Independently


Mastery:

in 4 out of 5 opportunities


Measurement:

as measured by teacher observation.


Putting it all together you have:

By (date of next annual IEP), when given dividers for each class and a binder, (student name) will organize class materials by placing all completed and upcoming assignments into the appropriate section of the binder, independently, in 4 out of 5 opportunities, as measured by teacher observation.



Sample IEP goal: Self-advocacy

Date:

By (date of next annual IEP)


Condition:

when provided with templates for self-advocacy


Functional performance indicator:

(student name) will advocate to their teachers


Observable behavior:

by copying the appropriate template and filling in the blanks


Criteria

with no more than 2 prompts


Mastery:

in 3 out of 4 opportunities


Measurement:

as measured by permanent products (emails).


Putting it all together you have:

By (date of next annual IEP), when provided with templates for self-advocacy (student name) will advocate to their teachers by copying the appropriate template and filling in the blanks with no more than 2 prompts in 3 out of 4 opportunities as measured by permanent products (emails).



Sample IEP goal: Initiation

Date:

By (date of next annual IEP)


Condition:

when provided with a direct instruction to complete a task


Functional performance indicator:

(student name) will begin the task


Observable behavior:

by identifying the initial step to get started and confirming this with teacher


Criteria

with no more than 2 prompts


Mastery:

in 3 out of 5 opportunities


Measurement:

as measured by teacher records.


Putting it all together you have:

By (date of next annual IEP), when provided with a direct instruction to complete a task, (student name) will begin the task by identifying the initial step to get started and confirming this with teacher with no more than 2 prompts in 3 out of 5 opportunities as measured by teacher records.



Sample IEP goal: Time management

Date:

By (date of next annual IEP)


Condition:

when provided with directions for a multiple step task or project and visual reminders


Functional performance indicator:

(student name) will chunk the project in manageable parts


Observable behavior:

by writing out at least three tasks with estimated times for completion


Criteria

independently


Mastery:

in 2 out of 3 opportunities


Measurement:

as measured by recorded data.


Putting it all together you have:

By (date of next annual IEP), when provided with directions for a multiple step task or project and visual reminders , (student name) will chunk the project in manageable parts, by writing out at least three tasks with estimated times for completion, independently, in 2 out of 3 opportunities, as measured by recorded data.


Sample IEP goal: Inhibition

Date:

By (date of next annual IEP)


Condition:

with access to an assignment and a timer


Functional performance indicator:

(student name) will successfully remain on task


Observable behavior:

by setting a timer for a self-determined amount of time and engaging in the assignment


Criteria

independently


Mastery:

with 80% success


Measurement:

as measured by teacher observations.


Putting it all together you have:

By (date of next annual IEP), with access to an assignment and a timer, (student name) will successfully remain on task, by setting a timer for a self-determined amount of time and engaging in the assignment, independently, with 80% success, as measured by teacher observations.


Sample IEP goal: Visualizing and goal setting

Date:

By (date of next annual IEP)


Condition:

with access to a S.M.A.R.T. goals graphic organizer,


Functional performance indicator:

(student name) will set at least three S.M.A.R.T. goals,


Observable behavior:

by writing the goals using the elements of the S.M.A.R.T. goals template


Criteria

with no more than two prompts,


Mastery:

in 3 out of 5 trials,


Measurement:

as measured by permanent products.


Putting it all together you have:

By (date of next annual IEP), with access to a S.M.A.R.T. goals graphic organizer, (student name) will set at least three S.M.A.R.T. goals, by writing the goals using the elements of the S.M.A.R.T. goals template, with no more than two prompts, in 3 out of 5 trials, as measured by permanent products.



Sample IEP goal: Evaluating priorities

Date:

By (date of next annual IEP)


Condition:

with access to list of assignments that are due for a class,


Functional performance indicator:

(student name) will prioritize which assignment will have the greatest impact on the class grade,


Observable behavior:

by making a list of the assignments, starting with the most impactful to the least impactful,


Criteria

independently,


Mastery:

in 3 out of 5 opportunities,


Measurement:

as measured by teacher observation.


Putting it all together you have:

By (date of next annual IEP), with access to list of assignments that are due for a class (student name) will prioritize which assignment will have the greatest impact on the class grade, by making a list of the assignments, starting with the most impactful to the least impactful, independently, in 3 out of 5 opportunities, as measured by teacher observation.


To download my whole IEP goal bank, click here:


Sample IEP goal: Writing

Date:

By (date of next annual IEP)


Condition:

with access to graphic organizers, visual supports and a completed assignment,


Functional performance indicator:

(student name) will self initiate editing activities,


Observable behavior:

by using the C.L.E.A.R. writing methodology to evaluate if all components of a C.L.E.A.R. paragraph are completed,


Criteria

independently,


Mastery:

in 2 out of 3 opportunities,


Measurement:

as measured by permanent records.


Putting it all together you have:

By (date of next annual IEP), with access to graphic organizers, visual supports and a completed assignment, (student name) will self initiate editing activities, by using the C.L.E.A.R. writing methodology to evaluate if all components of a C.L.E.A.R. paragraph are completed, independently, in 2 out of 3 opportunities, as measured by permanent records.


To download my whole IEP goal bank, click here:


What actions should an IEP team take when a student is not making progress toward his or her IEP goals?

Having well-written IEP goals to develop executive function skills is the first step, but it is just as important that your student has opportunities to practice executive functioning skills.


Special education teachers need to assign individual tasks and measure task success on a consistent basis to ensure the goal is appropriate for your child.

It is the job of both the general education teacher and the special education teacher to utilize typical classroom assignments as opportunities for evaluating a student's ability meet their measurable goals.


Try sending this email if you are unclear on the progress your student is making toward their IEP goal:


Hello (special education teacher name)


I hope you are doing well.



I am looking forward to your update this semester on how my child is progressing toward reaching the IEP goal(s) you are supporting them on:


(copy goal here)


Would you tell me what approaches you are using to help my child reach these goals?


Additionally, is there anything I can do to support this work?



Thank you for your guidance,


(Your name)


This template is drawn from my article Four Emails You Need to Send In November which will give you more ideas on how to prepare for the end of each school semester.


What other areas of executive functioning are there?

This is not an exhaustive list. Goals can also be written in other areas of executive functioning deficits such as:

  • Emotional control

  • Problem solving

  • Self monitoring

  • Self control

  • Impulse control

Conclusion

Supporting the development of executive function skills in children with Individualized Education Plans requires ongoing, diligent effort. As a family, you are your child's first and most influential teacher, and fine-tuning their IEP to promote EF skills can make a world of difference in their learning journey.


However, we understand that understanding and implementing the intricacies of an IEP can feel overwhelming. Remember, you are not alone in this journey. Many families have navigated this path and found success, and we're here to support you every step of the way.


By subscribing to our weekly newsletter, you're taking a significant step toward empowering your child's academic progress. Each issue will equip you with tips, strategies, and resources to help you fine-tune your child's IEP to build stronger EF skills. You'll get insights from experts, real-world success stories from other families, and actionable steps to help your child succeed.



Further resources:

  • https://adayinourshoes.com/executive-functioning-iep-goals-accommodations/

  • Blair C, Razza RP. Relating effortful control, executive function, and false-belief understanding to emerging math and literacy ability in kindergarten. Child Dev. 2007;78:647–63. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

  • Morrison FJ, Ponitz CC, McClelland MM. Self-regulation and academic achievement in the transition to school. In: Calkins SD, Bell M, editors. Child Development at the Intersection of Emotion and Cognition. Am. Psychol. Assoc.; Washington, DC: 2010. pp. 203–24. [Google Scholar] [Ref list]

  • Borella E, Carretti B, Pelgrina S. The specific role of inhibition in reading comprehension in good and poor comprehenders. J. Learn. Disabil. 2010;43:541–52. [PubMed] [Google Scholar][Ref list]

  • Duncan GJ, Dowsett CJ, Claessens A, Magnuson K, Huston AC, et al. School readiness and later achievement. Dev. Psychol. 2007;43:1428–46.[PubMed] [Google Scholar] [Ref list]

  • Gathercole SE, Pickering SJ, Knight C, Stegmann Z. Working memory skills and educational attainment: evidence from National Curriculum assessments at 7 and 14 years of age. Appl. Cogn. Psychol. 2004;18:1–16. [Google Scholar] [Ref list]


About the author

Sean G. McCormick is a former public school special education teacher who founded Executive Function Specialists to ensure all students with ADHD and Autism have access to high-quality online executive function coaching services. 

With this mission in mind, he then founded the Executive Function Coaching Academy which trains schools, educators, and individuals to learn the key approaches to improve executive function skills for students.


He is also the co-founder of UpSkill Specialists, a business with a mission to provide adults with ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder, access to high-quality executive function coaching services that can be accessed through Self-Determination funding.

1 Comment


У нашому житті завжди присутні новини, що дає нам змогу бути в курсі подій, адже це на сьогоднішній день дуже важливо, тим більше з тим урахуванням, що ситуація така волатильна. Для того, щоб бути в інформаційному просторі, я використовую тільки якісний новинний портал, який надає мені новини з різних сфер діяльності. Таким чином, я дізнаюся новини економіки https://delo.ua/economy/, що дає мені нові знання, а також розуміння того, що зараз відбувається в індустрії. Окрім економіки, я так само стежу за новинами політики, крипти, фінансів, а також гуманітарними новинами, які не менш важливі, ніж всі інші. Таким чином, склавши всі ці факти, я можу з цілковитою впевненістю сказати, що я завжди перебуваю в інформаційному просторі, що, своєю чергою, допомагає мені бути більш…

Like

About 👋

EFS started with one teacher deciding that kids with ADHD needed better access to quality executive function coaching services. Since then, we have grown to a team of specialists working both private students and public schools to enhance executive function skills for all students. 

bottom of page