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Special Education Concepts Applied to General Education | Scaffolding

Updated: Mar 12

It is no secret that special education and general education teachers may not always speak the same language. But oddly, our goals are almost exactly the same. We each have learning targets for students with multiple objectives aligned to meet a common larger class goal. The only major difference is where our students start on the learning ladder.

So if this is the case, why aren't more general education teachers setting smart goals for students?

What is a smart goal in relation to education?

A smart goal in relation to education is a goal that is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. This smart goal is based in relation to the education learning target of a unit or chapter. Achievement of this goal could be measured by noting the percentage of questions answered correctly on a quiz before and after the two-week period.

Yes, it's true, if you are an education professional, smart goals are nothing new but, how we apply them and how we think about them in our classroom might be. Are smart goals only for students with IEPs? Are smart goals only important for students needing an intervention?

Who could benefit from a smart goal

The major question is this, if the student lags behind their peers by one or more years is that not a qualifier for an IEP goal or intervention? How we instruct, scaffold, and set out to fill these learning gaps can be very similar. Each student needs to demonstrate mastery in a target skill. If this target skill has subsequent prerequisite skills that may be two or more years behind their general education classmates, the learning progression would be exactly the same.

Learning progression is the same

Students with IEPs may have difficulty learning at the same pace versus a student who simply missed a great deal of class time or failed to master a prerequisite skill. So, yes, it is easy to see that the teaching will need to be approached differently in some cases but, the learning progression is still the same. For example, a student who needs to learn how to add and subtract 3 digit numbers is going to start by adding single-digit numbers without regrouping. The progression would be single-digit with regrouping, double-digit without regrouping, and then double-digit with regrouping.

Smart goals for all students just makes sense

Teachers can use smart goals to support multiple levels of student learning, not just one as laid out in a classroom learning target. General education teachers (Title one schools especially) could use smart goals to progress student learning in very select and targeted areas. Just imagine the power of filling a learning gap at one or two skill steps below mastery rather than waiting for it to be caught by the intervention team at two or more years behind the benchmark.

Goosebumps at the thought of a general education teacher writing smart goal contracts with students who fail to pass a major assessment. Assess the challenge points, address the misconception and reteach through a well define smart goal with objectives, all scaffolding the learner to success.

Smart goals with standards-based grading

When a smart goal is created with 3 objectives or more, as listed above, grading with a proficiency scale is a snap. This aligns perfectly with how students in elementary classrooms are already being graded.

What is a Standard-based grading scale?


Goal not started


The learner has not yet started this skill



1 - 59%

The learner has not provided enough evidence to assess proficiency.



60 - 69%

The learner has provided evidence for assessment but does not yet demonstrate understanding of specific knowledge and skills.



70 - 79%

The learner has demonstrated an emerging understanding of specific knowledge and skills.



80 - 89%

The learner has demonstrated understanding of the specific knowledge and skills.



80 - 89%

The learner has demonstrated outstanding scholarship and fluent understanding of the specific knowledge and skills.




The learner has demonstrated the highest level of conceptual and procedural understanding of the specific knowledge and skills.

an an reaking skills into measurable and time managed smart goals bring these benefits:

  1. Students can assume responsibility for their learning by progress monitoring themselves.

  2. Parents know exactly where their child is in the learning progression and how they are being scaffolded.

  3. Teachers have report data perfectly aligned with proficiency or standards-based grading practices.

  4. Administrators can evaluate teachers with specific and data-driven student growth graphs and charts.

Sample of Smart Goal with Learning Progression - View Now

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