STEP 5: DETERMINING ELIGIBILITY FOR SPECIAL EDUCATION
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Eligibility determination relies on evidence to support both the presence of a disability and the need for support services, related services, and supplemental aids and services, that are specially designed instruction.
Planning the Eligibility Determination Meeting
Prior to the conclusion of the 60 day times, the evaluation team must contact all evaluation team members, including the parents, to schedule the eligibility determination meeting.
Eligibility decisions are made by a team of individuals composed of the individualized education program (IEP) team and other qualified professionals. An AEA representative is a required participant with knowledge or expertise to interpret the instructional implications of the evaluation results and intervention outcomes.
To prepare for the meeting, the evaluation team must finalize the evaluation and document the results on the EER. It is recommended that a copy of the EER be sent to the parent at the time the Meeting Notice is sent.
Procedures for Eligibility Determination Meeting
When the evaluation team meets to determine eligibility, the team will:
- Introduce evaluation team members and review the roles and responsibilities of team members.
- Provide parents with a copy of the Procedural Safeguards and review their rights with them.
- Ensure each team member is provided a copy of the EER.
- Using the evaluation data, the team will address the following questions:
- Does the individual have a disability?
- Is special education required to meet the individual’s educational needs?
- Is the “determinant factor” for the individual’s performance difficulties or the perceived need for special education any one of these factors: lack of appropriate instruction in reading, including the essential components of reading instruction; lack of appropriate instruction in mathematics; limited English proficiency; cultural factors; or environmental or economic disadvantage?
- Based on the evaluation the team determines eligibility for special education:
- If the team determines that a child has a disability and, by reason of that disability, needs special education and an exclusionary factor is not the determinant factor, the team must identify the child as an eligible individual. The evaluation team will then develop an initial IEP. (The IEP may be drafted in preparation for the meeting and developed with the full team following the eligibility determination or during a meeting within 30 days of the determination.)
- If the child is not eligible, provide parents with Prior Written Notice of a Proposed or Refused Action to inform them of the team decision.
Eligibility determination teams should work toward consensus in determining if a child is eligible for special education services. The individual team members are entitled to have input and participate (IAC § 281—41.306(1)), but not control the outcome. There are specific eligibility standards that must be addressed in this process and the required procedures to meet these standards. It is not a matter of opinion. If consensus is not obtained, the decision lies with the AEA (IAC § 273.5(1)) and the family may pursue due process procedures.
A disability is a mental or physical condition in one or more performance domains that adversely affects educational performance.
Evaluation teams consider a child’s progress (performance over time) and discrepancy (level of performance in comparison to the standards applicable to all children) in the following areas:
- access to general education settings and opportunities,
- developmental progress,
- involvement and progress in the general curriculum, or
- interpersonal relationships or personal adjustment
The disability component of eligibility is met by:
- Progress (performance over time) and discrepancy (level of performance) that does not meet the standards applicable to all children; or
- Progress (performance over time) or discrepancy (level of performance) that meets the standards applicable to all children but is sustained by instruction and interventions that are akin to special education
Note: When considering whether instruction and interventions are sustaining a child’s progress and level of performance, include consideration of outside supports provided or obtained by the parents or guardians.
Additional information on considerations for determining disability, please refer to Key Considerations for Determining a Disability.
To be eligible for special education, a student with a disability must need specially designed instruction (SDI) to meet disability-related needs. This component of eligibility is met when the child needs adaptations to the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction:
- To address the unique needs of the child that result from the child’s disability; and
- To ensure access of the child to the general curriculum, so that the child can meet the educational standards within the jurisdiction of the public agency that apply to all children.
Teams must consider all disability-related needs in determining if specially designed instruction is needed. The following questions should be used to guide teams in determining if a child’s needs include specially designed instruction:
- Are adaptations based on a child’s disability-related needs necessary to address the adverse effects on educational performance?
- A “Yes” response supports the need for special education.
- Are all instructional adaptations needed by this individual part of general education instruction’s allowance for the differing needs of diverse learners (e.g., differentiation, flexible grouping, remedial programming, and alternative educational programming that provide non-disabled students with leveled, repeated or slower-paced instruction, etc.)?
- A “Yes” response does not support the need for special education.
- Do the individual’s needs include the ongoing need for instruction from individuals with specialized professional training or licensure, alternative instructional materials or curricular modifications, or adjusted or expanded standards/benchmarks?
- Any “Yes” response supports the need for special education.
- Does the child need time for re-teaching concepts on a consistent and frequent basis? Or Does this child need more opportunities to practice a skill in order to master it?
- A “Yes” response supports the need for special education.
Additional information on considerations for determining need, please refer to Key Considerations for Determining a Need for Specially Designed Instruction.
Determining Possible Exclusionary Factors
Teams must address the following question when determining if a learner has a disability: Is the “determinant factor” for the individual’s performance difficulties or the perceived need for special education any one of the following factors?
- lack of appropriate instruction in reading, including the essential components of reading instruction;
- lack of appropriate instruction in mathematics;
- limited English proficiency;
- cultural factors; or
- environmental or economic disadvantage
When one or more of the above factors is the primary factor responsible for the concerns, the child must not be determined to be an eligible individual and the child’s needs must be met in some other way.
The key concept is the primary “determinant factor.” A child may lack instruction and have a disability; a child may have limited English proficiency and have a disability; etc.
If the team determines that a child has a disability and, by reason of that disability, needs special education and an exclusionary factor is not the determinant factor, the team must identify the child as an eligible individual.
Procedures for Determining if a Child is an Eligible Individual on the Basis of Specific Learning Disability (SLD) and/or the Academic Domain
These procedures are on the basis of a specific learning disability (SLD) and/or the Academic Domain. Iowa Administrative Rules for Special Education address additional criteria required when determining if a child is eligible on the basis of a Specific Learning Disability and/or the Academic Domain. Teams are required to follow all comprehensive evaluation procedures as noted above as well as the below additional requirements.
Eligibility Team Membership
When eligibility for Specific Learning Disability 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 below areas as aligned to the student concern/s: oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skills, reading fluency skills, reading comprehension, mathematics calculation, mathematics problem-solving.
Additional Evaluation Requirements
When determining if a child has a SLD or disability primarily related to the academic domain, in addition to the comprehensive evaluation and documentation requirements noted above, teams:
- Are prohibited from using a severe discrepancy between intellectual ability and achievement for determining if a child is eligible,
- Must determine if a child achieves adequately compared to age, grade-level expectations or standards in one or more of the following: oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skill, reading fluency skills, reading comprehension, mathematics calculation, mathematics problem solving,
- Must assure the concern is not primarily the result of the additional exclusionary factors:
- A visual, hearing or motor disability
- Mental disability, or
- Emotional disturbance
- Must observe the child in their learning environment and document the child’s academic performance and behavior in the areas of difficulty
- Must document:
- Whether the child has a Specific Learning Disability OR is an Eligible Individual
- Relevant behavior, if any, noted from the observation
- Relevant medical/clinical findings including diagnosis such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia etc.
- Whether the report reflects each team member’s conclusions and a separate statement presenting the member’s conclusions when the report does not reflect the group
Note: Contact AEA Special Education Director or their designee regarding specific documentation.
Eligible Individual (EI) vs Specific Learning Disability (SLD) Identification
In Iowa, children with disabilities are referred to as “eligible individuals” (abbreviated as EI), rather than particular labels. This is because labels, standing alone, do not provide parents and educators with information regarding instructional needs. This is also because labeling may be the basis for inappropriately restrictive placement decisions. While not requiring the use of a disability-specific label, the use of the EI “label” does not exempt the team from determining whether a child is included in one of the IDEA’s disability categories such as Specific Learning Disability (SLD).
While disability labels are not required, in exceptional circumstances and given appropriate data, a team may decide that a child’s special education program would benefit from identifying a child based on a label.
When a child is eligible for special education with a disability in the academic area and meets the qualifications regarding SLD, the eligibility determination team may determine if the child is best served under the Specific Learning Disability label or under Eligible Individual.
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