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IDEA and Iowa Administrative Rules for Special Education require the Area Education Agencies (AEAs) to work with local districts to:

  • Identify, locate and evaluate those learners suspected of having a disability, including those who are homeless, wards of the state, and attending public and/or private schools, regardless of the severity of their disability, and who are in need of special education and related services;
  • Serve all children eligible through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA);
  • Define a process to gather, collect, and consider data within the context of an individual’s unique educational circumstances related to the individual’s educational progress, discrepancy, and needs;
  • Establish both the existence of a disability and the need for special education services;
  • Comply with state rules and federal regulations; and
  • Reduce the disproportionate representation of culturally and linguistically diverse subgroups in special education.

In Iowa, the initial evaluation process to determine eligibility for special education services begins with the suspicion of a disability and/or per parent request. If a disability is suspected, a team will seek informed parent consent and begin planning the full and individual initial evaluation. During the evaluation, the team collects, gathers, and documents data in the areas of progress, discrepancy, and need, as well as exclusionary factors. At the conclusion of the initial evaluation, the evaluation team, including the parents, meet to determine eligibility for special education.

Defining Disability

IDEA defines a “child with a disability” as an individual who has one or more of 13 defined disabilities and thus requires special education and related services. However, IDEA does not require that children be classified by their disability so long as each child who has one of the federally listed disabilities and requires special education services is identified as eligible for special education.

Step 1: Suspecting a Disability

If it is suspected that a child’s educational difficulties arise from a disability and that the child may need special education services, the AEA, or AEA in conjunction with the LEA, is obligated to promptly seek parental consent to conduct a Full and Individual Initial Evaluation.

Step 3: Completing an Initial Evaluation

The purpose of the full and individual initial evaluation for special education is two-fold:

  1. to determine the educational interventions required to resolve the presenting problem, behavior of concern, or suspected disability, including whether the educational interventions are special education; and
  2. to determine if the individual is eligible for special education. In Iowa, an individual is eligible for special education when there is:
    1. a disability (a condition that adversely affects educational performance); and
    2. an educational need that requires specially designed instruction.

Step 4: Documenting the Initial Evaluation

The evaluation team summarizes the information gathered from multiple data sources using the RIOT process during the initial evaluation in the Educational Evaluation Report (EER).

Step 5: Determining Eligibility for Special Education

Upon completion of the full and individual initial evaluation and prior to the 60-day timeline, the evaluation team and the parent of the child will meet to determine whether the child is a child with a disability and eligible for special education.