Special Education Process:
What to Do if You Have Academic Concerns
All people learn at different rates, and have areas of strength and areas of weakness. Some students have such weaknesses that make it difficult for them to access the general education curriculum, interfering with their academic progress. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that sets guidelines for schools to ensure all students receive a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), as required by law. Below is a brief description of the process for providing a student with special education services.
The special education process is long and complicated. It is designed to take a thorough look into significantly struggling students to gain a better understanding of exactly where they are struggling and why. When we have this specific understanding of students, we can figure out how best to meet their needs. It can be a very intimidating experience for students and families, but the teachers and special education team at Falcon Hill work hard to help families through each step with the ultimate goal of creating happy, self-confident life-long learners.
I have some concerns about my child's progress at school. What do I do?
The first thing you should do is talk to your child's teacher. Children naturally learn at different speeds, resulting in a range of abilities in each grade. This range is greater in the lower grades, and narrows in the upper grades. Your child's teacher knows what a "typical" student in that grade is able to do and will be able to talk with you about your concerns.
My child's teacher has concerns as well. What can he/she do?
If your child's teacher has concerns about your child, he/she will sign up for the Teacher Assistance Team (TAT). TAT is made up of primary and intermediate teachers at the school. At a TAT meeting, teachers explain the concerns they have, share work samples, and work together to provide suggestions, advice, and interventions that teacher can try to help your child make progress.
My child's teacher tried interventions for several weeks, but my child still isn't making adequate progress. How do we refer my child for evaluation?
If interventions have been tried over a period of time (usually around 6 weeks), but there are still serious concerns, the child can be referred for a special education evaluation. The teacher will fill out a form explaining in detail the specific concerns, the interventions tried, and their effectiveness. The parents will fill out Parent Input forms, explaining the child's developmental, medical, and educational background, as well as concerns parents have. All forms will be turned in to the school psychologist.
Review of Existing Data (RED) Meeting
The Referral and Parent Input forms have been turned into the school psychologist. What happens next?
The school psychologist will set a Review of Existing Data (RED) meeting with the "team" members. The team members may consist of the school psychologist, parents/guardians, classroom teacher, special education teacher, and speech / language pathologist if there are speech or language concerns. Other team members may be invited, as needed. During the RED meeting, the team reviews the existing data, including the student's strengths and weaknesses and results of interventions. After reviewing the existing data, the team determines whether additional data is needed.
The team reviewed the existing data at the RED meeting, and determined that more data is needed. What happens next?
If the team reviews the existing data and determines that additional data is needed, an individual evaluation plan is set. The team determines what specific data is needed and agrees to collect that data. The evaluation plan can include any of the following, as appropriate:
- Educational evaluation of learning and achievement: standardized tests to measure the academic skills taught in school
- Observation of learning environment: observation by special education personnel of the student's performance and interactions in the learning environment and/or other school settings
- Psychoeducational assessment: standardized tests to measure intelligence and cognitive functions and skills such as verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning, problem-solving, memory, and perception
- Social/Emotional Assessment: formal and informal tools designed to evaluate a student's social skills or emotional characteristics
- Functional Behavior Analysis: formal and informal tools designed to evaluate a student's behaviors and their functions
- Adaptive Behavior: Assessment of the student's in-school and out-of-school behavior and how the student functions independently to meet standards of personal and social responsibility
- Speech/Language Evaluation: formal and informal tools to determine proficiency in communication skills, whether articulation (ability to articulate speech sounds, voice and/or fluency), receptive (understanding language) or expressive (using language to be understood)
- Fine Motor Assessment: formal and informal techniques to assess fine motor skills associated with school-related tasks (such as writing and cutting)
- Gross Motor Assessment: formal and informal techniques to assess gross motor skills (such as gait, and development of gross motor functions)
- Assistive Technology Assessment: assessment of the student's need for and potential benefit from various types of assistive technology
Once the team agrees on the appropriate evaluation plan, parents give permission to conduct the evaluation by signing the permission form. The RED meeting ends and the team has 60 calendar days to conduct the evaluation to gather the additional data.
Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team (MET) Meeting
A special education evaluation was conducted. How and when do I find out about the results?
No more than 60 days after the permission to evaluate was signed, a Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team (MET) meeting must be held. At the MET meeting, the team discusses the results of the assessments conducted during the evaluation. This new data is reviewed, and the team uses the data to make a decision regarding eligibility for special education.
How is eligibility for special education determined?
At the MET Review meeting, the team determines eligibility based on a review of all data collected so far. There are 13 categories of disability listed in IDEA. They are Autism, Deaf-Blindness, Deafness, Emotional Disturbance, Hearing Impairment, Intellectual Disability, Multiple Disabilities, Orthopedic Impairment, Other Health Impairment, Specific Learning Disability, Speech or Language Impairment, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Visual Impairment. If the team determines that the student meets the criteria for one or more areas of eligibility, and that he/she needs special education services, then the child can be found eligible for special education services, and eligibility forms are signed by the team members.
Where can I get a copy of the evaluation results?
Once the eligibility decision has been made, the school psychologist will put together a Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team Report. This MET report includes a summary of the entire evaluation process, including the assessment results and the eligibility determination. Parents will be provided with a copy of this report, with signatures from all team members who had input.
Individualized Education Program (IEP) Meeting
At the MET meeting, the team determined that my child has a disability and is eligible for special education services. What do we do to help my child?
Within 30 days of determining eligibility, the team must meet again to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Within that time frame, the special education teacher(s) will gather additional information to identify current skill levels and educational needs. At the IEP meeting, the team will work together to write a specific plan for the student's education. It will include the student's present levels of performance, specific goals, special education services required to help the student meet those goals, and modifications and accommodations that the student needs to make progress in the general education program. The IEP is a legal document, with specific requirements, as listed in IDEA. In the interest of saving time, the special education teacher often comes to the meeting with a draft of the IEP and the team makes changes as needed. The team members sign the IEP, and parents get a copy of the finalized IEP.
How do I find out about my child's progress?
A special education progress report, with specific progress on each goal, is sent home at the end of each quarter with the general education report cards. The general education and special education teachers work together to complete the report card.
How long does an IEP last?
An IEP must be reviewed no more than one year from the date it is written. This "due" date will be written in the IEP.
What if my child is making more or less progress than expected, and his/her IEP is no longer appropriate?
An IEP must be reviewed within one year of it being written, but it can be reviewed at any time, if the team determines it is appropriate. The team can either amend the IEP to make a minor change, or conduct a complete IEP review.
My child has been receiving special education services and has made appropriate progress. Can he/she get out of special education?
A student can be reevaluated for eligibility for special education services at any time, but must be reevaluated within three years of the previous evaluation. The process for the reevaluation is the same as the evaluation process. The referral usually comes from the special education teacher. If the team determines that the student has continued eligibility for special education services, an IEP is written, and the entire process continues. If the team determines that a student is not eligible for special education services, then the team signs the appropriate forms, and the student is dismissed from special education.
My child was dismissed from special education, but is struggling again. Can he/she still receive special education services?
A reevaluation can be conducted at any time. The process is the same.