Special education and the process of school evaluations can be a tricky and confusing experience for parents. It seems like a whole different language- with a ton of new acronyms, frequently discussed legislation, and those stories on the news about the rising incidences of various childhood health problems, it can be hard to understand the process, even while going through it. Whether your child was recently referred for a special education evaluation, currently receives specialized instruction on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), or you are looking for information on help for your kid struggling in school, this article aims to clarify information about the referral process and the steps that take place in a public school evaluation.
The Referral Process for Special Education Evaluations
School aged children and adolescents can be referred for a special education evaluation for many reasons, either by a parent or by a staff member. Referred students are typically struggling for a period of time, despite receiving intervention in many forms, such as small group or one to one help, and may not be making consistent or adequate progress. Concerns may be related to the student’s academics, behavior or social-emotional adjustment or functioning, communication abilities, motor skills, or a combination of these areas. Depending on your state, and whether your school district is using Response to Intervention (RTI), which is a tiered system of support, students may go through a series of interventions before being referred for a special education evaluation.
One example of a special education referral may be for a child who has been struggling in reading and is not making progress on reading assessments given by his teacher, despite participation in a small intensive reading group and one to one time with the teacher or a reading specialist.
Another example may be of a high school age student who, in the past, has been an average student, both academically and in her motivation toward school, has a sudden plummet in grades and attitude. This student may be referred by the parents, citing specific concerns of their child’s changes in attitude, motivation, behavior, and progress in school.
What's the Timeline for a Special Education Evaluation?
The evaluation, either parent requested or staff referred, must be completed within the federal or state established timeline. According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) federal law states a 60-day timeline for the completion of initial evaluations, but states may determine their own timeline. For example, Massachusetts state law notes a 30 school day timeline from the signature date on the parent consent form to complete all evaluations. The federal or state law also dictates the timeline in which the Team must come together to review the evaluations. In Massachusetts, the Team must meet within 45 days of that signature date to determine eligibility, based on formal assessments, observations, review of school records and educational history, as well as data and information brought to the team by the classroom teacher, parents, and any other individual who may work with the student (e.g. a reading specialist, counselor, etc).
Who's on Your Child's IEP Team?
Members of the IEP Team may consist of the following: parents or legal guardians, classroom teacher(s), school psychologist, special education teacher, other relevant service providers, such as occupational therapist, physical therapist, speech language pathologist, school counselor, dependent on the purpose of the assessment, and at times, a school administrator. Outside supports, such as Executive Function coaches or therapists are sometimes invited to participate in these meetings. In some school districts, a Team Chair will facilitate the meeting, while in others, a special education teacher, school psychologist, or other selected member of the team may serve as the meeting facilitator. The Team meets to review information, as well as determine whether the student is eligible and in need of specialized instruction. If found eligible, the Team sets out to develop the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) together.
While an evaluation can often uncover useful information that aids in proper educational decision making, some states may require medical documentation or diagnosis by your child’s physician in order to receive individualized and unique instructional supports and accommodations within the classroom. The sharing of testing results with your child’s doctor may be beneficial in order to gain the most appropriate supports when your child is struggling in school. For information related to Federal Guidelines, visit the U.S. Department of Education’s website. Your state's specific regulations for special education eligibility are typically easy to locate via a google search.
In an upcoming article, I will explain the details of the assessment process, beginning with the psychological assessment, and provide some helpful tips for families to prepare for the Team meeting.
Whether or not your child is receiving special education services, Executive Function coaching helps many students who are struggling in school. Click below to learn more about how Beyond BookSmart can help your child become more confident and successful in school and beyond.
Bree Leggio, Ms.Ed., NCSP, is an Executive Function coach with Beyond BookSmart and a state licensed and nationally certified school psychologist, with a specialization in multicultural school psychology. She received her Master's degree in Education from CUNY Queens College in Queens, NY, and is currently working as a school psychologist. She has experience providing individualized intervention, assessment, and support services for children and adolescents with academic and emotional challenges. Bree believes that a collaborative environment, where families, administrators and other support providers work as a team, is one of the most important parts of building an effective learning environment that allows all children to succeed.