As the beginning of autumn appears, public school is well underway for the more than 2 million students identified with learning disabilities in the United States. These students are being instructed by teachers whose responsibility is to assist them in meeting their Individual Education Plan (IEP) goals.

The IEP was first introduced in 1975 as part of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act and later reauthorized under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The purpose was to create an education that is equal to that of a student who does not have disabilities. The individualized education goals are a pivotal part of this legal document and are crucial to the student's success.

Was it the intent of the designers of this document that decisions and educational goals be made for the student or with the student?

Special educators were taught the procedure for IEP goal development in their college educational programs. It includes assessing for a student's current academic or behavior needs, and then developing a plan to meet the requirements of these needs by determining the steps to teach the student what he needs to know and do to have academic or behavioral success.

These yearly goals are typically written for the student. The legal IDEA document includes a statement that the student may be considered a part of the educational team, if appropriate, and must be required by age 16.

However, if a student is not part of the educational team, how can he work on and meet IEP goals that he does not know exists? It is prudent to involve the student from the beginning in collaboration with the team to develop and meet his IEP goals. It is appropriate to involve the student, as much as possible, in the process so that he helps to create his own educational success.

Self-determination has been identified as a lifelong skill that has caused adults with learning disabilities to be successful. Researchers have also identified goal-setting and attainment as one of the components of self-determination. Engaging a student collaboratively in planning and writing goals will lead to a greater probability that he will be a successful adult who has learned the skills of self-determination.

Special educators teaching and developing students' self-determination skills at the same time as the students learn academics has demonstrated improved academics. This indicates the significance of students learning to set and meet their own IEP goals.

At what age is it appropriate for students to collaborate with their teachers in IEP goal development? Students of all ages can engage in collaborative goal development by incorporating the findings of Raskind, Goldberg, Higgins and Herman that goals of successful individuals with learning disabilities are: specific, flexible, strategic, concrete, realistic and attainable.

The following table explains the appropriate ages to teach students goal development:

Children are capable of beginning collaborative goal development at age 6. Many students are aware, by age 6, of their areas of academic or behavior difficulty. To begin collaboratively designing solutions to their difficulties at this young age will also begin teaching self-determination.

Who is responsible for IEP goals? The evidence is clear that it is a team responsibility, which includes the student.