Individual Education Plans

Writing the IEP using ABA

The Ontario IEP Resource Guide states that “All learning expectations must be stated as measurable outcomes for the purposes of evaluation.  They should be expressed in such a way that the student and parents can understand exactly what the student is expected to know or to be able to do” (Ministry of Education, 2004, p. 32).  ABA strategies can assist in writing IEP goals that are measurable with clear criteria for acceptable performance so that communication with all team members is clear.

IEP goals include learning expectations, teaching strategies, and assessment methods.  Behavioural objectives in ABA include target behaviours, conditions of intervention, and criteria for acceptable performance (Alberto and Troutman, 2009, p.29), and these often line up with the learning expectations, teaching strategies, and assessment methods of the IEP.

Behavioural objectives in ABA include:

  1. Target behaviour (Learning expectations in the IEP)
  2. Conditions of intervention (Often teaching strategies in the IEP)
  3. Criteria for acceptable performance (Often assessment methods in the IEP)


Target Behaviours and Learning Expectations

The purpose of targeting behaviours in ABA is to be sure that the same behaviour is consistently observed, even by different assessors.  To do this, behaviours must be able to be seen or heard.  They must be observable, measurable, and repeatable.  For example, goals to count, read orally, name, underline, repeat, match, point to, or label are observable, measurable, and repeatable.  Goals to understand or appreciate are not (Alberto and Troutman, 2009, p.30).  The operational definition of a target behaviour in ABA is “the definition which everyone will operate when discussing, observing, counting, reporting, or consulting about this student’s performance of this behaviour, thus eliminating as much ambiguity as possible” (Alberto and Troutman, 2009, p.31).  Target behaviours make excellent learning expectations in the IEP.

Target behaviours must be:

  • Observable
  • Measurable
  • Repeatable


Conditions of Intervention and Teaching Strategies

The conditions of intervention are the antecedent stimuli that come before the target behaviour in ABA.  Although certain conditions of intervention may be included in the learning expectations of the IEP, many other conditions may be included in the teaching strategies of the IEP.  For example, it may be an expectation to perform a task with only gestural prompt, but one of the strategies may be to use a partial physical prompt and fade it.  The conditions of intervention include requests, such as verbal or written instructions; modelling, which is a visual demonstration that is part of the request, not a prompt; materials, such as worksheets, flashcards, rewards, and visual prompts; the setting, including the location, time, and activity involved; and prompt level, ranging from physical, gestural, verbal, and visual to independent (Alberto and Troutman, 2009, p.34).

Antecedent stimuli include:

  • Requests
  • Modelling
  • Materials
  • Setting
  • Prompt Levels


Criteria for Acceptable Performance and Assessment Methods

The criteria for acceptable performance gives a definition for the acquisition of goals in ABA.  Although these criteria can also be used in the learning expectations of the IEP, many other criteria may be used in the assessment methods section of the IEP.  Acquisition of Goals can be defined by the frequency of occurrence (eg. 10 times consecutively, 80% correct responses), the accuracy of response (eg. within 1/8 inch of model, with 70% accuracy), the duration (eg. within 30 minutes, for 10 minutes), and the latency (Eg. start within one minute of the bell ringing) (Alberto and Troutman, 2009, p.35-36).  Be sure there is a point of closure, for example, 80% of the time for three weeks (Alberto and Troutman, 2009, p.37).  The hierarchy of response competence in ABA moves from acquisition as defined here to fluency, which is the speed of response, for example, within 20 seconds.  It then moves on to maintenance, including overlearning a skill so it won’t be lost, and finally to generalizing to various instructions, materials, people, or environments (Alberto and Troutman, 2009, p.42).  Although maintenance is rarely used as an IEP goal (but I have used it in the case of students with regressive conditions where the goal may be to maintain a skill as long as possible), both fluency and generalization can be used as both learning expectations and assessment methods in the IEP.  For example a previously acquired goal may be rewritten to be done with greater fluency or with other staff the following term.

Acquisition of goals can be defined by:

  • Frequency of occurrence
  • Accuracy of response
  • Duration
  • Latency


Hierarchy of Response Competence:

  • Acquisition
  • Fluency
  • Maintenance
  • Generalization


Of course, not every single tool will be used in every single expectation.  These are only tools to assist teachers in writing clear, meaningful, useful IEP goals and in turn assist them in making clear, meaningful, useful reports based on those IEP goals.


Alberto, Paul A. and Troutman, Anne C.   (2009). Applied Behaviour Analysis for Teachers.  8th Ed.  Upper Saddle River: Pearson.

Ministry of Education.  (2004).  The Individual Education Plan: A Resource Guide.  Ontario.


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