Tag Archives: eligibility

Feds Say RtI Can’t Delay Special Ed Evals

It’s that time of the school year when I think my head is going to explode. Every year from about the time of Spring Break to the end of the regular school year, all hell breaks loose as parents who have been paid lip service by their education agencies all year long realize, “OMG, the school year is almost over and my kid still can’t [plug in deficit skill area here]!

And then the emails and calls for our lay advocacy services start pouring in. Blogging during this time of the year is a particular challenge for me because I’m spread so thinly with casework.

But, the reality is that this is the time when constructive information about the special education process is most needed by parents. We can’t represent everybody and if there is a way to empower parents so they can effectively advocate for their children themselves, that is always preferred to parents having to pay us or anyone else to pursue appropriate educational outcomes for their kids.

So, today’s posting is about Response to Intervention, or RtI, with respect to assessment special education. Over the course of the current school year, I’ve seen more and more districts implementing RtI models and shooting themselves in the foot with respect to special education compliance, particularly the federal “child find” requirements, all at the same time.

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Eligibility Categories vs. Educational Needs

Click here to download the podcast version of this article.

In our label-driven society, we tend to get caught up in what things are called and why they have happened rather than what needs to be done to solve problems.

Granted, in many instances, the source of a problem is a determining factor in how that problem is solved, but too much emphasis on cause and not enough emphasis on remedy can leave people stuck in a stalemate forever. Such is often the case with special education eligibility categories and people’s perceptions of them.

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Podcast: Present Levels of Performance

On December 12, 2008, we originally published “Present Levels of Performance – What They Are & Why We Need Them”. Throughout this school year, KPS4Parents is recording many of our past text-only articles as podcasts so that busy parents, educators, and interested taxpayers can download them and listen to them at their convenience.

As always, feel free to comment on our content. We appreciate the input of our readers and listeners to bring you the information you seek. You can either comment below or email us at info@kps4parents.org.

Click here to download the podcast, “Present Levels of Performance – What They Are & Why We Need Them.”

Podcast: Understanding Special Education Eligibility

On December 7, 2008, we originally published “Understanding Who Is and Who Is Not Eligible for Special Education.” As we move through the beginning of the new school year, KPS4Parents is recording many of our past text-only articles as podcasts so that busy parents, educators, and interested taxpayers can download them and listen to them at their convenience.

As always, feel free to comment on our content. We appreciate the input of our readers and listeners to bring you the information you seek. You can either comment below or email us at info@kps4parents.org.

Click here to download the podcast, “Understanding Who Is and Who Is Not Eligible for Special Education.”

California SLPs Sometimes Confuse Legal Requirements

Today’s posting will hopefully lay to rest a misunderstanding that seems to plague special education in California. I can only presume that, like many other “urban myths” that root themselves in special education lore, at some point in time, somebody somewhere in California conducted a training seminar on speech-language assessment and services within special education and miscommunicated something that has now led to speech-language specialists throughout the state making improper conclusions to the detriment of some children in need of speech-language services.

The problem is this: the distinction between who is found eligible for special education on the basis of a speech-language impairment (“SLI”) and who qualifies for speech-language services as a student already eligible for special education under any other category. Eligibility for special education as SLI is not required in order for a child otherwise eligible for special education to receive speech-language services in order to benefit from his/her IEP.

The critical piece of legislation, which gets erroneously cited in speech-language assessment reports all the time, is 5 CCR  3030(c). Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations Section 3030 describes all of the criteria for each of the eligibility categories under which a student may qualify for special education and related services. These categories include Specific Learning Disability (“SLD”), Other Health Impaired (“OHI”), Emotionally Disturbed (“ED”), and many others, including SLI. The critical thing to understand here is that the 3030s describe who can receive special education and on what basis, not what services they will get.

What ends up happening, though, is a child will be assessed for special education purposes and a speech-language assessment will be conducted. In the course of the overall assessment, even though the child is found eligible under some category other than SLI, because he did not score below the 7th percentile on two or more speech-language assessments, the speech-language specialist will determine that he doesn’t qualify for speech-language services according to 5 CCR   3030(c). It is a complete and utter misapplication of this Code, which deals strictly with eligibility under SLI and not what services an otherwise eligible child should receive.

A typical example of this would be a child who is eligible for special education pursuant to 5 CCR   3030(g) for autistic-like behaviors (in special education in California, a medical or psychological diagnosis cannot be made by the school psychologist, so this section of the code provides alternative language and defines the criteria by which a special education eligibility category can be identified for a child exhibiting the symptoms of autism), but who is relatively verbal. While his scores may hover just above the 7th percentile on the speech-language tests he was administered, they are still very low and his low language functioning compounds his other problems arising from the other needs arising from his handicapping condition.

In this example, anyone in their right mind can see that the child needs pragmatic (social) language intervention and help with idiomatic and figurative (non-literal) language. He doesn’t have any friends, he doesn’t get jokes, and he doesn’t understand clichs and colorful sayings, such as “Clear as mud.” This makes it difficult for him to participate in group projects with peers and understand the writings of Mark Twain. He needs goals that address these areas of need and speech-language services in order to benefit from his IEP.

No subsection of 5 CCR  3030 drives the selection of services that any child gets, only whether or not a particular child is eligible and, if so, under what category. The IDEA mandates that children who are eligible for special education, regardless of what category they qualify under, receive whatever supports and services are necessary in order to afford them a FAPE.

Specifically, the federal regulations found at 34 CFR  300.320(a)(2) state that IEPs must include for each child measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals designed to meet the child’s needs that result from the child’s disability to enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum and meet each of the child’s other educational needs that results from the child’s disability.

An eligible child is a child who requires, as a result of one or more handicapping conditions, special education and related services in order to receive educational benefit. 34 CFR  300.39 “Related services” is described at 34 CFR  300.34. In none of this is there anything that suggests that the only way that an otherwise eligible child can receive speech-language services is if he is also found eligible as SLI.

In fact, 34 CFR  300.304(c)(6) states that, when evaluations are conducted for special education purposes, they must be “sufficiently comprehensive to identify all of the child’s special education and related services needs, whether or not commonly linked to the disability category in which the child has been classified.” Congress understood when it crafted the IDEA that you don’t individualize a child’s program by resorting to “cookie-cutter” strategies that are based on a kid’s eligibility category.

The IDEA is the skeleton of special education law. It establishes the basic framework and minimal standards. It is left to the states, if they want any federal special education dollars, to add the flesh to the bones by creating their own state-level legislation that explains how each state will implement the requirements of the IDEA. While states are free to add more obligations to their schools than what the IDEA requires, they are prohibited from reducing the protections offered to students and parents under the IDEA lest they sacrifice their funding.

What this means for speech-language services to special education students in California is that the IDEA basically says each eligible child must get whatever he/she needs in order to receive educational benefit, regardless of what type of services are required and regardless of the applicable eligibility categories. That’s the whole concept of individualizing a child’s education plan based on his/her unique educational needs.

There is nothing at the state-level that reduces this federal mandate, nor could there be unless California were to choose to go it alone to cover its special education costs and we all already know that California can’t pay its bills even with the federal funding it receives. It absolutely cannot afford to give up its federal special education funding.

We’re curious to know if there are any other state-level debacles involving misinterpretations of the law happening elsewhere. Readers are encouraged to post comments to this posting about such misinterpretations that may be occurring where they live.

Understanding Who Is and Who Is Not Eligible for Special Education

Eligibility is a very confusing concept for most parents trying to negotiate their ways through the bureaucracy of special education. It’s an unfortunate reality that special education has to be regulated in order to make objective determinations as to whether students benefitted from their services or not, but the regulations create what is to some parents seemingly insurmountable barriers to entry.

 

This is further compounded by an industry-wide (and I am considering public education an industry, here) initiative to intervene before students are so far gone that they actually need special education. On the surface, this sounds like a good idea. If acted upon in good faith, it’s a great idea. Why wait until a child is so far behind that he/she may never catch up Why resort to labeling the child as “disabled” when what’s closer to the truth is that he/she was never taught the way he/she actually learns?

 

However, far too often, in the name of preventing an unnecessary referral for special education, strategies are attempted in the name of “regular education accommodations” and “Response to Intervention” that aren’t successful. In the end, it becomes apparent in these instances that these “strategies” were nothing more than bad faith delay tactics used in the hopes that the parents would reach the conclusion that their children were beyond help and simply give up.

 

After all, teaching children who are struggling to master certain concepts is really, really hard. It’s a lot easier simply to not. The employees of the education system get their paychecks either way. This is a deplorable situation for parents and educators who truly care, alike.  Good teachers are constantly fighting an uphill battle to do the right things.  After a while, it’s easy to burn out and give up, leaving behind all the people who are inclined to take the easy path and just not do much of anything.

 

That said, when it comes right down to it, who is really eligible for special education? It is a misconception that the presence of disability automatically qualifies a child for special education. It does not. A disability must be present in an eligible child, but that by itself is not enough.

 

There must be a negative educational impact caused by the disability – it must interfere with the child’s learning or participation at school to a significant enough degree that specialized instruction, modifications, accommodations, and possibly related services such as speech-language services and occupational therapy are necessary in order for the child to receive educational benefit.

 

For more than two decades, everyone has been carrying on about the abysmal standard established by Rowley. Or, more accurately, Rowley has been misrepresented by public schools as meaning they don’t have to do a whole lot. Amy Rowley was passing her classes without the sign language interpreter her parents wanted and could get around school just fine, in spite of her hearing loss.  That really doesn’t speak to the circumstances of a child with learning disabilities and ADHD who is reading three grade levels below his current grade.

 

There is another case, Mercer Island, in which the appellate decision declared that the Rowley standard of “some educational benefit” and “a basic floor of opportunity” is dead. Rowley was decided in 1982 in light of the predecessor of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), the Education of Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (“EHA”). The EHA was meant simply to give children with disabilities access to the public schools. Prior to the EHA, at least a million children with disabilities were denied enrollment and there was often no programming to meet their educational needs even when they were permitted to attend school. They simply stayed home or spent pointless hours in regular classrooms with no supports waiting for the day when they could drop out.

 

In 1997, the EHA was replaced with the IDEA. With it came much stronger language about what kinds of outcomes are to be expected. I concur with the findings in Mercer Island for the very obvious reason that the purpose of any education system is to teach students what they need to know so they can take care of themselves as much as is reasonably possible when they grow up. That’s what benefits the children and their families the most. That’s what benefits society the most. (See our posting, “The Big Picture – Special Ed Issues Impact Everyone.)

 

The need for specialized instruction in order to receive educational benefit (setting aside for the moment how “educational benefit” is exactly defined) on the basis of a handicapping condition is what drives eligibility for special education. This could be something as relatively benign as an articulation disorder that prevents the student from speaking clearly enough to participate effectively in group learning activities with peers, read aloud in class, and/or effectively communicate personal needs or lack of understanding to instructors.  It could be something as severe as quadriplegia that prevents the student from independently navigating a school campus. There are a million ways to be disabled.

 

However, let’s say we have a child with quadriplegia who has mastered the use of his electric wheelchair and can get anywhere on campus he wants, is intellectually intact without any learning disabilities or emotional problems, and is able to hold his head upright and turn it sufficiently to follow instruction in the classroom. He grasps what the teacher is saying.  And, at most all he needs in his academic classes are accommodations, such as a set of books at home, a set of books at school, note-takers in class, access to a computer with dictation software on it, and assistance using his materials in the school setting in order to participate. Does this child require special education?

 

I’d argue that for a kid like this, PE is the only part of the curriculum he can’t participate in without specialized instruction and he would qualify on that basis alone, requiring Adaptive PE as his specialized instruction.  I’d also argue that for self-help needs such as eating and toileting, he would probably need a properly qualified 1:1 aide as a related service.

 

For a child with a disability that impacts his/her receipt of an education and/or participation at school, but who does not need specialized instruction, the solution is a 504 Plan. That’s another blog posting in and of itself. I’m not going to explain 504 right now.

 

The point I’m trying to make here, particularly to parents, is that special education really is meant for a specific group of kids.The federal regulations are found at 34 CFR 300.8.? Each state has its own additional language, as well. In California, for example, it’s 5 CCR 3030.

 

There are some parents who think that getting their child into special education will solve everything. That may not be so.  I’ve encountered parents who were simply looking for something to blame- a defect in their child – rather than their own incompetence as parents for their child’s problems.  Sometimes children are just responding to, or role modeling themselves after, the adults around them.

 

I’ve also encountered parents whose children did have mild problems that fell just short of qualifying them for special education. That’s the thing with the regulations. Somebody is invariably going to almost, but not quite, qualify for special education. The line has to be drawn somewhere. Those are the kids whose parents need to turn to Section 504 and learn as much about it as they can.

 

But, I’ve also encountered education agencies that didn’t want to admit that they had failed to conduct “child find” for years running, resulting in a failure to find a child eligible who should have been found eligible long ago, thereby denying the child a Free and Appropriate Public Education (“FAPE”). Because these agencies didn’t want to admit fault and were hoping to avoid being held responsible for providing compensatory education to these children, they lied and said these kids weren’t eligible at all and never had been.

 

A fair amount of litigation arises over eligibility issues. The important thing for parents to understand is that the regulations spell out who and who is not eligible for special education. You need to understand the rules before you go charging off on a mission. State law usually hones the federal law on this issue.

 

For example, if a clinical psychologist has given a child a DSM-IV diagnosis of dyslexia, that doesn’t mean the child will qualify for special education as having a learning disability, even though dyslexia is a type of learning disability; what matters is that there is a discrepancy between achievement and ability or the child has failed to respond to scientifically research-based interventions in the regular education setting because of the dyslexia, which is a processing disorder. On that basis, the child can qualify for special education as having a learning disability.

 

Educators need to appreciate that parents often don’t understand this subtle distinction and be kind and helpful to them as they try to navigate the system. Mocking them for not knowing this is simply inappropriate. Being compassionate to the needs of the student and the angst of the parents who are worried about their child’s academic performance is very appropriate.

Understanding the Initial Assessment Process

The way special education law generally works is that the implementing regulations of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (“IDEA”) set the basic framework at the federal level and each state’s laws speak to how the federal requirements of the IDEA will be implemented within its respective state. Similarly, U.S. Territories, the District of Columbia, etc. have their own equivalents of state laws speaking to the implementation of the federal regulations within their respective jurisdictions. For the purposes of today’s posting, when I say “state,”? I’m also referring to the other types of American soil.

So, given that there is so much variation from state to state in how the federal regulations are implemented, I’m going to start at the top with the federal regulations. I’ll touch on a couple of the states’ regulations, but there’s no way to fit them all into one posting. You can research your own state’s regulations by going to its web site. The U.S. Department of Education has all the states’ web sites here: . If you can’t find it on their site, there’s a phone number for the special education division listed somewhere on their site and you can call and ask what the timelines are.

To start out, let’s define what exactly an initial assessment is. I will tell you that it is not necessarily the first special education assessment the child has ever taken. An initial assessment or initial evaluation (“assessment” and “evaluation” are used interchangeably in special education) is the assessment that determines if a child is eligible for special education. Sometimes children are tested at parent request every few years and are found ineligible. It doesn’t matter how many times the child was tested before; if the child’s fifth assessment finds him eligible for special education, then it is the initial assessment of his special education program that begins with his first IEP in which he is found eligible.

Sometimes kids exit special education only to later qualify again years later. Even under a circumstance like that, if the child wasn’t in special education at the time he/she was assessed and was in special education after the assessment, then the assessment that “re-found” the child eligible for special education would be considered an initial assessment.

This use of the term is meant to distinguish it from re-evaluations and triennial evaluations. We’ll talk more about those in future blogs, but for the purposes of distinguishing among these different assessments enough for the present discussion, a re-evaluation is any assessment conducted subsequent to the initial evaluation. It could be a year later, three years later, or ten years later. A triennial assessment is also called a three-year evaluation.

All evaluations are supposed to be sufficiently comprehensive in all areas of suspected disability to properly inform the IEP team. For initial evaluations, this is paramount because a child’s eligibility determination needs to be based on a rich body of data that includes scores on standardized testing and actual school work, as well as feedback from the adults interacting with the child throughout the day. The parents play a huge role in informing the IEP process.

But, initial evaluations aren’t supposed to be all about finding kids eligible. That’s only half of what initial assessment is supposed to achieve. The other half of the initial assessment is to identify the student’s present levels of performance. If the child is eligible for special education, this information is used to create the measurable annual goals.

If the child is not eligible for special education, he/she may still be eligible for a 504 Plan, in which case the present levels data would drive the content of that document. If the child is not eligible for a 504 Plan, then the local education agency would still have to provide regular education accommodations. In the very least, the child’s teacher should know about the assessment findings so that he/she can provide regular education accommodations to the degree they are needed.

Once a referral has been made for special education assessment, an assessment plan must be provided to the parents. While many school districts rely on 34 CFR Sec. 300.503 to issue denials of assessment referrals, in California, for example, whether or not school districts must conduct an assessment once a referral has been made is non-negotiable.

5 CCR Sec. 3021(a) states that all referrals for special education assessment <em”>shall initiate the assessment process. According to EC 56029, a referral for assessment is any written request by a parent, teacher, other service provider, or foster parent of the student to have the student tested for special education.

Georgia, to the contrary, has a very curious practice that I’d like to know more about. Its stance is apparently that while parents have the right to make referrals pursuant to the federal regulations at 34 CFR Sec. 300.301(b), local education agencies have the right to refuse those referrals pursuant to 34 CFR Sec. 300.503(a)(2).

I’ve seen schools say the same thing in California despite the State laws that prevent it, but in this instance, it’s the Georgia Department of Education that’s taking this stance (see the Georgia Department of Education Special Education Implementation Manual

Gwinnett County (Georgia) Public Schools conveniently leaves out of its public information anything about how parents can make referrals for assessment as well. With the State Department of Education taking the position that it has apparently taken, at least based on what I could find, I have to wonder if there are local education agencies in Georgia that simply ignore parent referrals altogether without any consequence. I’d be interested in hearing from folks in Georgia about this. I really couldn’t find anything to help me out looking at the that have come out of Georgia.

Regardless of what state you’re in, once the referral has been made and assessment has been consented to by the parents in writing, under the newest IDEA regulations, local education agencies can’t take more than 60 days to conduct the assessment, write the reports, and hold the IEP meeting to go over the data. However, some states have imposed even shorter timelines. It is 30 days in Minnesota for the evaluation process to take place. While state law cannot diminish the protections offered to students under the IDEA, it can add to them.

The same federal law that specifies the maximum deadline also mandates that initial assessments be comprehensive enough in all areas of suspected disability to allow the IEP team make informed decisions about whether a child qualifies for special education services and, if so, what those services should entail. This is where things can get dicey.

There can be a great variation of opinions as to what constitutes as “reasonably sufficient” when it comes to assessments. At minimum, the assessors should be qualified for the types of assessments they are respectively performing, follow the instructions of the producers of any standardized assessments, and follow the “best practices” of their respective professions.

It is also important to know that, while those areas that were tested may have been done so sufficiently, that doesn’t mean that all areas of suspected disability were assessed. I can’t even begin to tell you how many children I’ve come across with huge red flags in the area of auditory processing who have never been properly assessed for it. Auditory Processing Disorder (“APD”) can only be diagnosed by an audiologist.

The quality of any evaluation is important, but the initial evaluation is the one that’s opening the Pandora’s Box of the child, the way he/she learns, and the nature of his/her disability. You need to go into that situation equipped to contend with whatever you may find because, typically, you have very little to go on regarding a child’s educational needs at the time of the initial assessment, other than the fact that the child is not being successful in school.

Our next posting will be devoted to understanding assessment data. If I can, I think I’d like to put it together as a screencast for you because there are statistics involved and, personally, I need visual aids to understand concepts like that. I can’t presume I’m the only one.

Please do post your comments, particularly parents and educators in Georgia. We’d like to hear people’s feedback regarding how long these assessments take in their experience.