Creating Quality Benchmark Goals: Best Practices and Common Mistakes

Whether you are a professional in a school or private setting or a parent working with your child at home, quality goals are vital. We turn our focus to benchmark goals this week, having discussed annual goals previously. Benchmark goals are stepping stones to help a child achieve annual goals. The purpose is to allow a child to work toward the grand accomplishment of the annual goal while still gaining achievements that will show progress and boost desire for further improvement. Best practices and common mistakes in creating benchmark goals are similar to those found in creating annual goals. However, “practice makes perfect” is a saying that holds true when learning to create goals.

Writing Goals

Benchmark goals contain the same components as annual goals. Identifying the person, performance, conditions of performance, and the criterion for successful completion are all mandatory. However, benchmark goals enable the accomplishment of annual goals. Think of them as tools to finish the race, instead of the race itself. The benchmark goal is not the final product. While successfully completing a benchmark goal deserves some praise, as a professional you are being paid to successfully achieve annual goals. As a parent, you want to see the bigger picture fulfilled. Below are some examples of how annual goals and benchmark goals work together.

Annual Goal: Luke will independently initiate, maintain, and end a conversation of at least three (3) minutes with at least two (2) different peers and/or adults in 4 out of 5 trials over the course of an extracurricular activity as measured by the special education teacher or aide.

Benchmark Goals: 

  1. Luke will choose one extracurricular activity and sign up for the activity’s next function by the listed due date with the help of the special education teacher.
  2. Luke will initiate, maintain, and end a conversation of at least two (2) minutes with at least one (1) different peer or adult (with scaffolding) in 4 out of 5 trials.
  3. Luke will initiate, maintain, and end a conversation of at least three (3) minutes with at least two (2) different peers and/or adults (with scaffolding) in 4 out of 5 trials.
  4. Luke will independently initiate, maintain, and end a conversation of at least two (2) minutes with at least one (1) different peer or adult in 4 out of 5 trials.

Notice how the completion of each benchmark goal prepares Luke to achieve the annual.

Common Mistakes

We addressed the lack of component clarity when we discussed annual goals. The same mistakes happen in setting benchmark goals. One mistake unique to benchmark goals is the gradual change in the criterion of the annual goal as a substitute for writing a new goal. Take a look at the example below.

Annual Goal: Luke will write a two (2) page paper detailing the services and accommodations he will need to succeed in post-secondary education with 90% accuracy in 2 out of 3 attempts as graded by the special education teacher.

Benchmark Goal: 

  1. Luke will write a two (2) page paper detailing the services and accommodations he will need to succeed in post-secondary education with 40% accuracy in 2 out of 3 attempts as graded by the special education teacher.
  2. Luke will write a two (2) page paper detailing the services and accommodations he will need to succeed in post-secondary education with 65% accuracy in 2 out of 3 attempts as graded by the special education teacher.

Neither of the benchmark goals assists Luke in achieving the annual goal. Both 40% and 65% accuracy are failing. The benchmark goals provide no direction on how Luke can work his way toward achieving the annual goal. For the benchmark goals to be effective they need to provide measurable steps at acquiring the skills needed to meet the annual goal. Look at the example below to see the corrections.

Annual Goal: Luke will write a two (2) page paper detailing the services and accommodations he will need to succeed in post-secondary education with 90% accuracy in 2 out of 3 attempts as graded by the special education teacher.

Benchmark Goal:

  1. Luke will list three to five (3-5) services and accommodations that he will need to succeed in post-secondary education with 100% accuracy in 4 out of 5 attempts as measured by the special education teacher.
  2. With the help of the special education teacher or paraeducator, Luke will write a one (1) page paper detailing the services and accommodations he will need to succeed in post-secondary education with 100% accuracy in 2 out of 2 attempts as graded by the special education teacher.

You can see how the new benchmark goals are designed to help increase Luke’s ability to meet the requirements of the annual goal. Remember, the rule for generalization is meeting 80% or higher accuracy. This rule applies to both annual and benchmark goals.

Final Thoughts

Benchmark goals are equally difficult to create as annual goals. Study quality examples found in textbooks and online resources, such as the Idaho Training Clearinghouse website. Here are three points to remember when creating annual and benchmark goals:

  • Specify. Ambiguity is not your friend. Be as clear as possible and add operational definitions if necessary.
  • Use zone of proximal development. Don’t create goals that are too easy or too hard for the individual to successfully achieve. Instead of creating reading comprehension goals for the grade level the child is already on, create goals that are one-to-two grade levels above. Make the goals challenging, reachable, and rewarding.
  • Collaborate. Ask other professionals to assist you in creating goals. Collaboration will help you become a better professional and a more respected parent. There is no shame in teamwork.
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