Development of student goals in school-based practice: physical therapists’ experiences and perceptions Journal Articles uri icon

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  • Purpose: Development of individualized student goals is integral to special education. Although United States federal legislation and state, local, and professional guidelines outline preferred goal development processes, actual practice does not always reflect ideal practice. The purposes of this research were to understand how physical therapists develop student goals and to identify facilitators and barriers to development of participation-based goals.Methods: Twenty school-based physical therapists participated in one of five semi-structured focus groups. Two researchers conducted thematic analysis of transcriptions of audio recordings to identify qualitative themes; a third researcher reviewed the analysis.Results: Five themes emerged related to therapists' recommendations for goal development: (1) Understand the student: The foundation for individualized goal development, (2) Teaming: The critical component to integrate varied perceptions and establish a common vision, (3) Relevant focus of goal: Addressing what is meaningful for a student's day, (4) Best practices: Embracing professional advances, and (5) Develop and write the goal: The art and science of writing goals. The first four themes also reflected facilitators and barriers to development of participation-based goals.Conclusions: Therapists' comments reflected striving to follow ideal practice recommendations despite identified challenges. This research helps educational teams understand and reflect on goal development processes.Implications for rehabilitationAlthough writing goals is a foundational task in school-based practice, meaningful goal development is a complex process.School-based physical therapists recommend working closely with students, parents, teachers, and other members of the educational team to establish good communication, trust, and a shared philosophy of collaboration and responsibility for student goalsA thorough understanding of the student serves as the foundation for developing individualized student goals.Educational teams are encouraged to understand professional, federal, state, and local guidelines and embrace professional advances in goal development practices.


  • Wynarczuk, Kimberly D
  • A. Chiarello, Lisa
  • Fisher, Kathleen
  • K. Effgen, Susan
  • Palisano, Robert
  • J. Gracely, Edward

publication date

  • December 3, 2020