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STEP 3: COMPLETING AN INITIAL EVALUATION

Once informed parental consent is obtained, the evaluation team must complete the evaluation and hold the meeting to determine eligibility within 60 calendar days. For children transitioning from Early ACCESS, the team must complete the evaluation and hold the meeting to determine eligibility within 60 calendar days and prior to the child’s third birthday.

Evaluation Team Members

The evaluation team must include:

  • the parents of the individual being evaluated,
  • the general education teacher(s),
  • a representative of the LEA or AEA who is qualified to provide or supervise the provision of specially designed instruction and who is knowledgeable about the general education curriculum and the availability of the resources of the LEA,
  • any individual completing various components of the evaluation and may assist in the interpretation of the instructional implications of the evaluation results, other individuals with knowledge or special expertise regarding the eligible individual, as appropriate and
  • the individual being considered for eligibility, as appropriate.

When eligibility for Specific Learning Disability (SLD) or a disability in Academics is being considered, teams must include at least one person who is appropriately licensed to practice in their areas of service and qualified to conduct individual diagnostic examinations. This person/s must be knowledgeable and have the necessary skills to interpret evaluation data and make informed determinations about SLD and one or more of the following areas is aligned to the student concern/s: oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skills, reading fluency skills, reading comprehension, mathematics calculation, and/or mathematics problem-solving.

The evaluation team must ensure that the learner is assessed in all areas related to the suspected disability and that the evaluation is sufficiently comprehensive to identify all of the learner’s special education and related services needs, whether or not commonly linked to a particular disability or performance domain.

Comprehensiveness of Evaluation

All special education evaluations must be comprehensive, fair, and thorough enough to cover all areas of suspected disability, and include sound data from multiple data sources.

Comprehensive evaluations must:

  • consider collecting information to design interventions intended to resolve the presenting problem, behaviors of concern, or suspected disability;
  • consider the assessment or evaluation of health, vision, hearing, social and emotional status, general intelligence, academic performance, communicative status, adaptive behavior, and motor abilities;
  • inform and involve the team (including the parent) in determining the performance domain to be evaluated; and
  • for preschool-age children, include sufficient information to address the early childhood outcome areas.

 

Sufficient Breadth & Depth

  • Teams must evaluate all areas related to the suspected disability whether or not commonly linked to the disability category. For example, when a disability is suspected in hearing and there are concerns in other performance domains (e.g., academics, behavior, adaptive behavior, communication, etc.), all those domains of concern must be evaluated. 
  • Next, teams must determine if sufficient existing information is available to answer questions regarding educational progress, educational discrepancy, and educational needs in order to determine special education eligibility. The evaluation must be sufficiently comprehensive to answer the following guiding questions:
    • What evidence indicates the child has received appropriate instruction in reading, math, and there have been attempts to address the concerns through general education?
    • For preschool children, what evidence indicates the child has received instruction and activities aligned with the Iowa Early Learning Standards provided either at home or in an early childhood setting?
    • What evidence indicates the child has received appropriate instruction including research or evidence-based intervention?
    • What evidence indicates the educational performance concern(s) and progress discrepancy are not the result of limited English proficiency, socioeconomic status, ethnic, racial, cultural or familial differences, poor attendance, or mobility?
    • What evidence indicates the child’s skills are adversely impacting educational performance, or access to and participation in the educational environment or setting?
    • What evidence indicates the child’s health (illness, injury, or impairment), vision, and/or hearing are adversely impacting educational performance, or access to and participation in the educational environment or setting?
  •  If sufficient rigorous data from systematic problem solving is available to answer the evaluation questions, additional evaluation or intervention may not be necessary.

Assessment Tools & Strategies

Multiple Sources

The evaluation team must use a variety of assessment tools, methods, sources, and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental, and academic information, including information provided by the parent in order to make decisions. The team may not use any single measure or assessment as the sole criterion for determining whether a child is a child with a disability. 

Evaluations that use RIOT (Review, Interview, Observe, and Test/Task) and examine the information from instruction, curriculum, environment, and learner supports (ICEL) support comprehensive evaluation practices. The Assessment Methods & Sources Matrix provides additional detail.

As part of a comprehensive evaluation using multiple sources of information, Iowa Rules requires evaluation teams to review existing evaluation data. Teams must review:

  • Evaluations and information provided by the parents of the child,
  • Current classroom-based, local, or state assessments, and classroom-based observations, and
  • Observations by teachers and related services providers.

Functional Assessments
Assessments should be functional in nature so that the resulting data can be linked to designing and evaluating interventions that address the individual’s area(s) of concern. Functional assessment is multi-dimensional and utilizes measures that are specific and direct and have a clear connection between the questions being answered and the data being gathered. The information from the functional assessment will inform the Individualized Educational Program (IEP) for the child if found eligible for special education.

Fair and Sound Assessments

Tests must be technically sound, selected and administered so as not to be discriminatory on a racial or cultural basis, administered in the child’s native language or other mode of communication, in a form most likely to yield accurate information on what the child knows and can do, and be a valid and reliable measure for the stated purpose. Each test should be administered by trained and knowledgeable personnel and administered in accordance with instructions.

Systematic Problem Solving

Comprehensive evaluations must include continued, new, or additional interventions intended to resolve the presenting problem, behaviors of concern, or suspected disability. In Iowa, teams use systematic problem-solving procedures which provides rich data to inform both the suspicion of disability and eligibility for special education services. This process must be documented and minimally includes (see Determining Learner Progress for detailed description):

  • Description of the problem
  • Data collection and problem analysis
  • Intervention design and implementation
  • Progress monitoring
  • Evaluation of intervention efforts

Systematic problem solving is also inherent in Response to Intervention (MTSS/RtI). Schools implementing MTSS/RtI use data to identify the academic and behavioral supports each child needs to be successful in the educational environment while also evaluating the overall health of the system.  The essential components include:

  • robust universal instruction in the Iowa Core or Iowa Early Learning Standards,
  • universal screening,
  • evidence-based instructional interventions,
  • progress monitoring, and
  • data-based decision making.

Data from systematic problem solving can be used for a variety of purposes in the evaluation process. For example, it can be used to determine if a learner makes sufficient progress when given intervention and to validate the types and amount of instruction a learner needs.

Determining Learner Progress

The first required component of an evaluation is for the team to use systematic problem solving to assess a child’s performance over time. Intervention implemented prior to the evaluation, continued during an evaluation, or started as part of evaluation can be used to evaluate a learner’s progress.

Analysis of the rate of progress data includes the assessment of the:

  • learner’s rate or slope of improvement during intervention;
  • amount and type of instruction necessary to ensure a positive slope (growth, progress) and how this compares to routine general instruction; and
  • other data regarding the learner’s rate of progress.

In rare and unusual cases, educational teams may not have intervention data and intervention may not be needed in order for the team to determine that the child has a disability. These include, and are not limited to:

  • a significant status change due to a health or medical condition, injury, etc.:
  • an obvious and immediate need for service that is only available through special education; or
  • the child is affected by a health or physical condition or a functional limitation that has a high probability of adversely affecting educational performance (e.g., a progressive condition, a condition strongly associated with adverse effects on developmental progress or educational performance).

To determine progress, the components of systematic problem solving must be included within the intervention, the intervention must be matched to the child’s needs, and rigorous data from multiple sources is required.

Description of the Problems(s)

 Teams must describe the presenting problem or behavior of concern. It must be described in objective, measurable terms that focus on alterable characteristics including such things as instruction, content standards, individual knowledge/skills and environmental supports.  The problem statement must describe the individual’s level of performance in comparison to the expectations of the educational setting, as well as the skill(s) the child needs to meet those demands.

Data Collection and Problem Analysis

Multiple Sources

 A systematic data-based process for examining all that is known about the presenting problem or behaviors of concern shall be used to identify the intervention(s) that have a high likelihood of success.

Data collected on the presenting problem or behaviors of concern shall be:

  • Evaluations and information provided by the parents of the child;
  • Current classroom-based, local, or state assessments, and classroom-based observations; and
  • Observations by teachers and related services provided.

Functional Assessments
Assessments should be functional in nature so that the resulting data can be linked to designing and evaluating interventions that address the individual’s area(s) of concern. Functional assessment is multi-dimensional and utilizes measures that are specific and direct and have a clear connection between the questions being answered and the data being gathered. The information from the functional assessment will inform the Individualized Educational Program (IEP) for the child if found eligible for special education.

Fair and Sound Assessments

Tests must be technically sound, selected and administered so as not to be discriminatory on a racial or cultural basis, administered in the child’s native language or other mode of communication, in a form most likely to yield accurate information on what the child knows and can do, and be a valid and reliable measure for the stated purpose. Each test should be administered by trained and knowledgeable personnel and administered in accordance with instructions.

Intervention Design and Implementation

Interventions shall be designed based on the defined problem, the data collected and problem analysis, parent input, and professional judgments about the potential effectiveness of interventions.

The interventions shall be described in an intervention plan that includes:

  • a goal,
  • strategies to address goal attainment,
  • methods to monitor progress,
  • methods for decision-making based on progress monitoring data, and
  • who is responsible for implementing the intervention.

Interventions shall be implemented as developed and modified on the basis of objective data and with the agreement of the evaluation team. The data derived from interventions that are not implemented as developed or properly modified cannot be used to make educational decisions.

For example, the intervention calls for three sessions of 20 minutes each week of additional assistance which was actually provided less than 3 times a week. The child does not make expected progress. The failure of the child to make expected progress cannot be used to make an educational decision because the intervention was not implemented as designed.

Progress Monitoring

Interventions must include ongoing progress monitoring to make timely instructional decisions, evaluate the effectiveness of interventions, and evaluate learner progress. Progress monitoring should include the development of a goal for the learner, determination of how progress will be measured, and methods of collecting and using progress monitoring data.

Establish the Standard of Comparison

When establishing the goal or aim line for an intervention, the team must determine the standard of comparison to be used. The four types of progress comparisons may be used. The comparisons are listed in order of preference.

  1. Peer comparison;
  2. Comparison to younger peers or a developmental level;
  3. Historic performance; and
  4. Goal expectation.

Additional guidance may be found in the Progress Standards of Comparison Paper.

Establish How Progress Will be Monitored

Progress monitoring data is the systematic and ongoing collection of data on performance over time. It is collected using instructionally sensitive measures that directly assess the outcomes of the intervention and are designed to ensure that data are reliable and valid for decision-making.

Progress monitoring data is used to determine the effectiveness of an individual’s current instruction or intervention, and if changes in instruction or intervention are needed.

The frequency of progress monitoring must be in direct relation to the intensity of the problem being which is addressed, and the intensity of the intervention implemented.

Collect and Use Progress Data for Decision Making

The intervention plan must define:

  • who will collect the progress monitoring data,
  • how it will be graphically displayed, and
  • decision rules for determining how to evaluate intervention effects.

Instruction decisions can be made based on the frequency of progress monitoring. Seven or more data points are often needed to make a statistically valid instructional decision. It is not recommended to monitor monthly or quarterly as the information gathered is not sufficient to be instructionally sensitive decisions. Keep in mind that a three-week instructional period is recommended prior to making an instructional decision.

For example, if progress is monitored:

  • Daily – the effectiveness of instruction may be determined after two weeks (10 data points)
  • Twice a week – the effectiveness of instruction may be determined after 1 month (8 data  points)
  • Once a week – the effectiveness may be determined within 1 quarter (9 data points)

Common decision-making rules include the following:

4 Point Decision-Making Rule: When at least three weeks of instruction have occurred and a minimum of seven data points have been collected following the initiation of or change in instruction, a four-point rule will be applied. An instructional change will be considered if four data points fall above or below the goal line.

Trendline Analysis: When at least four weeks of instruction have occurred and a minimum of eight data points have been collected following the initiation of or change in instruction, the trendline will be analyzed. An instructional change or increasing the goal will be considered if the trendline is steeper than (i.e., above) the goal line or if the trendline is less steep than (i.e., below) the goal line. Note: This presumes a goal line with a positive slope.

 

 

Evaluation of Intervention Effects

The effectiveness of interventions shall be evaluated through a systematic procedure in which patterns of individual performance are analyzed and summarized. Decisions regarding the effectiveness of interventions focus on comparisons of child’s progress with their initial level of performance (i.e., baseline), the progress data, and the target level of the intervention.

Data are used to answer the following questions:

  • Is the progress monitoring data valid for decision making?
    • Was the intervention implemented as developed or properly modified?
    • Was the data collected as regularly and frequently as required?
  • Was the intervention matched to the child’s needs and implemented with integrity?
    • If so, the data may be useful in making educational decisions
    • If not, the professionals reviewing the intervention effects may need to give the results less weight in terms of decision making
  • What does the decision rule tell us about the learner’s progress?
    • How does the learner’s rate or slope of improvement during intervention compare to expectations?
    • What was the amount and type of instruction necessary to ensure a positive slope (growth, progress) and how does this compare to routine general instruction?

Determining Learner Performance (Discrepancy)

The second required component is the evaluation team considers the individual’s skills in comparison to the standards applicable to all children (discrepancy). The discrepancy decision is based on reliable, valid, current and relevant measures of the student’s skills.

Purpose of Discrepancy Information

Discrepancy data provides objective evidence that:

  1. an individual’s level of performance is meeting standards through commonly provided general education services or,
  2. an individual’s level of performance is different from the standards applicable to all children (Iowa Core Standards, Iowa Early Learning Standards, etc.) or,
  3. an individual’s level of performance is meeting standards, but performance is sustained by instruction and interventions that might constitute special education

Required Discrepancy Information

In order to consider and make decisions related to a child’s level of performance, the team must have:

  • multiple data sources related to the domain and area(s) of concern
  • a description of the standards applicable to all children in the areas of concern
  • a description of the child’s current level of performance, and
  • a quantitative and qualitative description of any difference that may exist between the child’s performance and the standards applicable to all children

The standard chosen must be relevant to the targeted area of concern. Teams must first consider comparing the individual’s performance to the Iowa Core Standards or Iowa Early Learning Standards. In the absence of these standards of comparison for the areas being evaluated, the following standards may be used:

  • research-based benchmarks,
  • district measures of peer performance,
  • local district, AEA, state or national norms,
  • developmental norms,
  • classroom expectations, and
  • school policy statements (e.g. student code of conduct)

The description of the student’s current levels of performance should have the highest level of rigor. The team’s conclusion regarding a child’s performance in the evaluated domain is sound when multiple sources of data (e.g., RIOT-Review, Interview, Observe, Test/Task) support the conclusion. In determining whether convergent data for the decision-making is present, the team must consider the weight given to each piece of data, the number of different data types available, and the extent to which a conclusion is supported by the data.

Determining Educational Need

The educational need is the third required component of evaluation and is reflected in the team’s judgment that an individual requires special education and related services in order to receive a free and appropriate education (FAPE). Specifically, teams should use data from a variety of sources including the intervention(s) implemented prior to, and/or during the evaluation and other assessments conducted through RIOT (Review, Interview, Observation, Test/Task) as part of the evaluation.

Educational need is a data-based description of the resources necessary to improve, maintain and/or accelerate the child’s rate of learning. This requires teams to operationally define the conditions under which the child’s learning is enabled or enhanced and determine the learner’s needs in the area of instruction, curriculum, environment, and learning supports.

Instruction

Instruction refers to the delivery of the content material. It consists of the strategies and methods that enable learning.

  • How do you need to instruct the learner (e.g., lecture, direct, modeling, child-led) to ensure growth?
  • Does the instruction need to be provided by a specially trained professional?
  • How much time is needed on a skill?
  • Does the skill need to be reviewed periodically to be mastered and maintained?
  • What does the instructional group need to look like (e.g. small group, with a peer, individual? What motivates the child?

Link to the Assessment Methods & Sources Matrix

Curriculum

Curriculum refers to the content and materials of instruction as well as the specific skills and concepts the individual needs to learn.

  • Does the learner need alternate formats of materials (e.g. Braille, digital, highlighted)?
  • Does the learner need instruction in specific replacement behaviors or specific targeted skills that are not typically used in classroom instruction?

Link to the Assessment Methods & Sources Matrix

Environment

Environment is the setting in which teaching occurs. It includes environmental considerations such as traffic flow, noise levels, seating arrangements, visual supports, the ratio of teacher to students, etc. In some cases, changes to the environment can be made through simple accommodations or modifications within the general education setting. The impact of the environment is often tied directly to strategies of instruction.

Link to the Assessment Methods & Sources Matrix

Learning Supports

Learning Supports refer to those family supports or involvement, community partnerships, transition supports, supports for engagement, assistive technology and other accommodations that are necessary for the child’s educational program. Learning Supports can include a host of classroom approaches, school-wide programs, family involvement, community partnerships, and youth engagement efforts to increase school connectedness, promote healthy development and engage them in classroom learning. Teams must consider the individual’s learning characteristics, ecological variables, information gathered through the interventions, and any other relevant information collected as part of the evaluation to determine what accommodations, modifications, services and supports the individual needs in each of the above areas.

Link to the Assessment Methods & Sources Matrix

Exclusionary & Ecological Factors

The fourth required component of evaluation is to gather information to rule out whether a child’s performance difficulties are primarily the result of a lack of appropriate instruction, socioeconomic variables, cultural differences or poor attendance. Specifically, teams should use data from a variety of sources (RIOT- Review, Interview, Observation, Test/Task) to assess possible exclusionary factors.

IDEA requires teams to consider several exclusionary factors during the evaluation. A child must not be determined to be a child with a disability if the team determines that the educational difficulty is primarily related to:

  • a lack of appropriate instruction in reading, including the essential components of reading instruction (phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension)
  • a lack of appropriate instruction in math
  • limited English proficiency

Evaluation teams must also consider if the educational difficulty is primarily due to one or more ecological factors. Team members must include those knowledgeable about the learner’s race/ethnicity/family/life circumstances/socio-economic related circumstances and have the skills to help differentiate between cultural differences and learning problems. While federal and state rules do not identify these reasons as exclusionary factors, IDEA requires state policies to prevent the overidentification of children from ethnically, racially and culturally diverse populations. Teams must consider the influence of:

  • socio-economic status
  • other ecological factors (i.e., race, ethnicity, language, family/life circumstances)

Lack of Appropriate Instruction

To ensure that underachievement in a child suspected of having a disability is not primarily due to lack of appropriate instruction in reading or math, or due to inconsistent instruction based on attendance and/or mobility the team must consider data that demonstrate:

  • that prior to, or as a part of the evaluation process, the child was provided appropriate instruction in regular education settings, delivered by qualified personnel;
  • that during the instructional intervention the child was present on a regular basis for instruction; and
  • repeated assessments of achievement at reasonable intervals, reflecting a child’s progress in response to instruction

To determine whether or not a lack of instruction is a contributing factor has three components:

  1. Gather and review class-wide data on all children, and attendance data on the child being evaluated. If most children in the classroom are achieving or are progressing at rates different from the child being evaluated, and the child being evaluated has been in school within the same school district, lack of instruction is not a likely factor and can be ruled out as a contributing factor
  2. Gather and review progress monitoring data from interventions on similarly performing children. If many students in the group receiving supplemental instruction are progressing at a faster rate than the child being evaluated, then lack of instruction is not likely a contributing factor
  3. Implement an intervention either prior to or as part of the evaluation. The best “test” of whether or not lack of instruction is a causative factor is to implement instruction systematically and evaluate its effect. If during the supplemental intervention, the child’s performance improves to the point that short-term intervention will result in performance consistent with grade-level expectations, then the instruction is likely a causal factor and the child cannot be determined to be a child with a disability. In this case, it is appropriate for supplemental instruction to continue in the general education setting

Limited English Proficiency

To ensure that underachievement in a child suspected of having a disability is not primarily due to limited English proficiency, the evaluation team must assess the possible influence of language and acculturation.

An assessment of the individual’s English language proficiency may be needed in order to develop appropriate interventions or evaluate the individual’s response to interventions and to make eligibility decisions. It is important to have someone on the team who is knowledgeable about the child’s linguistic diversity and who has the skills to help differentiate between language acquisition and disability characteristics. When the family’s primary language is not English, a member of the school team who is proficient in the family’s language or a trained interpreter should conduct interviews with the family.

The team may find it helpful to review and discuss the following questions:

  • How does the child’s performance compare to others of like linguistic backgrounds?
  • Are the materials and methods used in the evaluation to measure progress, discrepancy and need non-discriminatory?
  • Have assessments been administered in the language and form most likely to yield accurate information on the student’s performance?
  • Did the interventions from which progress data is gathered adequately address linguistic variables impacting the child’s performance?
  • What is the child’s performance on measures of linguistic aptitude (e.g. Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills, Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency)? Does the student speak and understand the language of instruction?
  • Based on the information gathered and analyzed with respect to this child, does the team feel that the individual’s educational performance is primarily the result of linguistic variables?

Decisions about the role of language and acculturation on a learner’s performance must be made based on:

  • assessments that take language/acculturation into consideration, and
  • consideration of the learner’s progress compared to similarly acculturated learners – for example:
    • if an individual’s performance does not fall below the expectations of peers with similar linguistic backgrounds, the individual’s needs are not likely due to a disability requiring special education
    • for children whose primary language is not English, communication deficits only constitute a disability if the communication problem is present in both English and the individual’s primary language

Socio-economic Status

During the evaluation, the evaluation team must gather information to rule out economic factors as the primary reason for performance deficits to ensure that students from low SES are not over-identified for special education and related services.

Evaluation of the influence of economic factors should include gathering and analyzing educational history, ecological, contextual, instructional and behavioral information. Considering the elements of lack of appropriate instruction may provide teams with additional guidance.

Teams must take proactive steps to ensure that students from low SES backgrounds are provided the necessary supports, instruction, and enrichment activities to ensure academic success.

The team may find it helpful to review and discuss the following questions:

  • Are the child’s needs a result of, or in part related to, a lack of having similar opportunities to learn as peers?
  • What social contexts (e.g. health, nutrition, safety, mobility) may be impacting educational performance?
  • What strategies have been employed to assist learning (e.g. modeling, scaffolding, strength-based instruction, school-based opportunities for drill/practice)? Describe the impact.
  • What behavioral strategies have been used to foster resilience, positive responses, motivation and engagement? Describe the impact.
  • Is the child’s pattern of learning similar to others with similar socioeconomic status?

Other Ecological Factors

Ecological factors such as those associated with race, ethnicity, culture, language or family/life circumstances may influence a child’s educational performance and must be considered when suspecting a disability and/or making eligibility decisions. Teams must assure they are not the determinant factor for a child’s delays or difficulties.

Members of the evaluation team must describe and document any relevant information regarding race, ethnicity, culture, language or life circumstances that affect the individual’s performance in the area(s) of concern.

To ensure that ethnic, racial, cultural or familial/life circumstances are not the primary reason for underachievement in a child suspected of having a disability, the team might find it helpful to review and discuss the following questions:

  • How is the individual’s performance compared to others of similar backgrounds?
  • Are the materials or techniques used to measure the child’s performance non-discriminatory?
  • Did interventions address cultural, racial, ethnic or familial variables impacting the child’s performance?
  • Are the school curriculum, instruction, and climate respectful of the values, beliefs, customs, and traditions of the child and his/her family?
  • Is the child’s pattern of learning similar to others with similar cultural, racial, ethnic or familial ecological variables?

Explore Step 4: Documenting the Evaluation 

As the evaluation team completes the evaluation, the information and results are summarized and documented in the EER.