The Difference Between K-12 and Postsecondary Services for Individuals with Disabilities

As more and more students with disabilities are accessing postsecondary educational options, the need for information and services beyond high school continues to grow. The first step in accessing those services is to understand the similarities and differences in services between K-12 and postsecondary education.  The key lies in the laws that regulate those services.

Similarities Between K-12 and Postsecondary Education

The similarity between K-12 and postsecondary educational settings is that all individuals with disabilities are entitled to accommodations. These accommodations are guaranteed under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which aim to level the playing field between those with and without disabilities. These laws cover individuals from birth to death, so these accommodations are available to those in all educational settings and beyond.

Differences Between K-12 and Postsecondary Education

Although all individuals with disabilities are guaranteed accommodations in all educational and occupational settings, individuals with disabilities may only receive direct services to address their deficits during their K-12 experience. This is because services for individuals from ages 3 to 21 are also covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA ensures that those who met eligibility criteria for special education receive direct instruction supports and services to meet goals outlined in their IEP, in addition to any accommodations they may need. This is a higher level of support than what is provided under Section 504 or ADA. In a postsecondary and work settings, only Section 504 and ADA apply, and therefore adults are only promised access to accommodations.  There is no requirement to provide specialized services beyond reasonable accommodations. For our adult clients, this can be quite the transition.

Now that we under have established an understanding of the differences between services in educational settings, we will continue to talk about services in the college or postsecondary level.

Adult Students

Many people are surprised when we tell them that our school psychology practice has many adult clients.  In fact, at least half of our clients have already completed their K-12 education by the time they see us. 

Why might adults need services to support their learning?  Even though we tend to think of children when we think of students, adults are students too!  And just like children, they have a wide variety of experiences that lead them to seek school psychological services.  Some come to us already having a diagnosis but needing updated assessment and documentation for accommodations.  Others come never having been diagnosed before.  Generally, these students have experienced a lot of struggles in their K-12 experience but, for whatever reason, they never received any special education services or accommodations.  Sometimes these are traditional college students who have even greater difficulties in college.  Others are adults who, because they had such negative learning experiences, go back to school later in life but want to get answers and support to help make their college a better experience.  Other adult students have gotten vocational training but need accommodations to do well on their board exams.  And the list of circumstances in which adult students find themselves is endless.

Many adults need services to facilitate their learning including assessment, tutoring, or mental health supports.  We will be dedicating our future blogs to address topics of interest to our adult learners.  Please check back to learn more about strategies you can implement in the postsecondary setting and resources that can support you.  We will also be inviting guest bloggers to share about their areas of expertise. 

IEP: Accommodations and Modifications

Since we have been talking about IEPs, in this blog we will be discussing an important component of IEPs: accommodations and modifications.  These are listed in Section 7 of your student’s IEP.  While specifically designed instruction includes the services that your student will receive to address their needs, accommodations and modifications refer to changes that can be made in the learning environment and assignments or assessments. 

Accommodations are changes in your student’s learning environment to provide them equal access to grade-level content.  Because everyone who has an IEP has such a unique profile, accommodations may vary widely, but every accommodation should be directly linked to the child’s needs.  For example, some may include additional time on assignments and tests, taking tests in a reduced distraction environment, audiobooks, frequent breaks, etc.  Similar to the specifically designed instruction portion of this IEP section, the team must list each specific accommodation, as well as the amount of time and frequency of the accommodations. 

Modifications refers to changes in the curriculum and assessments.  This means that while accommodations are generally meant to help students be able to access and achieve at grade-level standards, modifications reduce learning expectations.  Modifications tend to be reserved for a small portion of special education students with the greatest levels of need.

Accommodations and modifications are also addressed in Section 12 of the IEP which outlines information about statewide and district wide testing.  The team indicates whether the student will take assessments in each academic area (including reading, writing, math, science, social studies, and other) with accommodations or as a modified assessment.  If taken with accommodations, the team must list detail of accommodations.

Now that we have covered everything you need to know about the important components of an IEP, we will be shifting to what happens after K-12 to focus on adult learners in upcoming blog posts.  

IEP: Specifically Designed Instruction

In our last blog, we discussed the central component of an effective IEP: SMART goals. This week, we will discuss the complimentary portion of the IEP, which is Section 7. This section spells out the specially designed instruction, sometimes abbreviated SDI, that your child will receive to reach the objectives and goals that are described in Section 6. This section outlines what services the child will get, who is responsible for providing these services, the location of the services, and the amount of time that the child will receive these services.

We cannot express the importance of this section enough; this section explains what special education will look like for your child. Each area of specially designed instruction will be linked with the goal or goals that it is intended to address. The most important portion of the section is what specially designed services will be provided to your child. It is imperative that these supports are research-based interventions and services. However, it is not enough that they be research-based. The research must show that they improve the specific deficits that your child is identified as having. There must be a direct link between the need, the goal, and the service that is based on best practice and is supported by empirical literature.

Who is providing that service to your child is just as important. This is frequently driven by the location of services. If your child will receive their services using an inclusion model, typically these services will be the responsibility of the general education teacher and the intervention specialist. If your child is to receive their services in a resource room or self-contained classroom, these services are typically the sole responsibility of the intervention specialist. If your child qualifies for related services, then the provider may be a speech/language pathologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, or specialized expert such as an orientation or mobility specialist.

Another extremely important factor is the amount of time that your child will be receiving these services. The amount of time your child receives specially designed instruction should be directly related to the intensity of need that the child has. The more intensive the need, the more direct special education services the child should receive. Additionally, the more goals a child has, the more special education services they should receive. After the team details the instructional, behavioral, and functional goals in section 7, the same process will be repeated for any related services that your child qualifies to receive.

Next week we will be discussing the second half of Section 7, which is accommodations and modifications.

How to Make Smart IEP Goals

The goal of an IEP is to explicitly lay out the services and supports that your child will receive in order to meet your child’s educational needs as outlined in the Evaluation Team Report (ETR). The ETR and IEP are inextricably linked due to the fact that only data-supported needs directly stated within your child’s ETR will be addressed as goals in your child’s IEP. That is why we cannot stress enough the importance of a quality evaluation which should lead to a high-quality IEP. It is essential that each need is addressed with a specific goal to improve the child’s skills in the areas of deficit.

As stated in our previous blog, there are many sections that comprise an IEP.

Depending on the nature of your child’s disability, specific sections may hold a higher level of importance than it would for another child or family. No matter what the child’s needs are the most important portion of the IEP is Section 6, which comprises the goals and objectives for the child’s educational, behavioral, and functional goals for that calendar year. These goals are the core of a child’s IEP, and the specially designed instructional services and supports that your child receives in special education are all designed around accomplishing those individualized goals. After ensuring that all each area of identified deficit is matched by a goal, the next step is to evaluate the effectiveness of each individual goal.

Each goal within a child’s IEP must meet the standard that is set out in the acronym SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable/Attainable
  • Realistic and Relevant
  • Time-limited

The first portion of a SMART IEP goal is that the goal is specific. The requirement of specificity applies to the present levels of performance, the goals, and the objectives. The goal must be specific to your child and their needs as well as specific to the academic, behavioral or functional area that will be addressed. A specific IEP goal clearly describes the knowledge or skill that your child will learn and how the team will measure your child’s progress and mastery of that goal.

The second portion of a SMART IEP goal is that the goal is measurable. This applies to both the overarching goal and the underlying objectives required to meet the overall goal. The most important part of a goal being measurable is that you can count or observe the goal. That means that the goal is something that both parents and teachers are able to objectively measure whether or not the child is making progress toward that goal. Most academic goals are easily measurable; however, this is particularly important when assessing the quality of a social-emotional/behavioral or functional goals. The goal should also describe what data collection methods will be utilized to assess your child’s progress toward that goal and how frequently that progress will be reported to you.

The third part of ensuring that your child’s IEP contains SMART goals is that it must be achievable or attainable for your child. This portion of the goal directly relates to the present level of performance for your child. This can be done by comparing how they are currently achieving in that area and determine whether or not that specific goal is achievable for your child within one calendar year. The goal must maintain a balance between being not rigorous enough, too rigorous, and being achievable/attainable.

To ensure that your child’s IEP contains SMART goals, the goal must also be realistic and relevant. The IEP goals and objectives must be crafted to meet the unique needs that result from your child’s disability as identified in the child’s ETR. The means that the goals must be specifically designed to meet the needs that your child’s disability has demonstrated. It is essential that the goals are relevant to the precise needs that have been determined by the team.

The last portion of a SMART IEP goal is that the goal is time-limited. This means that the goal is designed to address what your child needs to learn or do in one year of special education services. A time-limited goal enables the child’s progress to be monitored at regular intervals. Typically, this is done through creating short-term objectives that the child will meet in order to obtain the overall goal.

The next blog installment will discuss the importance of the specially designed instruction section of an IEP.

What should I do if I disagree with the results of my child's evaluation?

Over the past few weeks, we have been writing about the evaluation process and the IEP process that follows when a team decides that a student has a disability.  Many times, the school team and parents agree about whether the child has a disability, and what needs the child has.  When this happens, the team is able to is able to use the information from the assessment to come up with a plan to best meet the student’s needs through the creation of an IEP.

Unfortunately, not all evaluations go as smoothly, and you may disagree with the school’s findings.  Eligibility determination meetings, where teams decide whether students qualify for special education services, can be stressful and emotional.  This is especially true when all team members are not on the same page.  We will be visiting some of the options you have so that you can make the best decision for you and your child during these meetings.

First, do not feel pressure to make a decision in the moment if you do not feel comfortable doing so.  At the end of the ETR, parents are asked to sign and date the document and check the “agree” or “disagree” box.  You may find that the team’s report reflects what you know to be true about your child.  In this case, you may be comfortable agreeing with the evaluation at the time of the meeting.  On the other hand, there may be times in which you know that you disagree with the findings of the report and will choose to disagree.  When you disagree, you will be asked to write a statement to provide information about why you disagree with the findings.  You do not have to do this on the spot; in fact, it is probably a better option to write a letter to the school district once you go home and are able to review the information and organize your thoughts.  Other times, you may not be sure about whether you completely agree or disagree with the findings.  In this case, we recommend that you sign and date the evaluation to indicate that you were in attendance and to note that you will be reviewing the report before making a final decision.  If you are feeling conflicted, you do not need to make any decisions in the moment, even if you feel pressure to do so.  It is reasonable to be able to take more time to look over the information that has been provided in the evaluation to make an informed decision.  While you do not want to take too long to decide, a day or two can make you feel more comfortable in knowing that you are making the best choice for your child.

If you disagree with the ETR, you have the right to an Individual Educational Evaluation (IEE).  IEEs are evaluations conducted by a qualified examiner who is not employed by the school district responsible for the education of your child.  They must be funded by the school district if you disagree with the results of their evaluation.  Often, a school district may be able to provide you with a list of practitioners who conduct psychoeducational evaluations.  You have the right to choose your own evaluator, so feel free to do your own research and decide who you would like to evaluate your child, even if they are not on the list provided by your district.  After the IEE, the team will reconvene to decide if the new information changes your child’s special education eligibility.  The IEEs should provided additional information that will make it clearer whether or not your child qualifies for special education services.  Many disagreements can be rectified through the IEE.  However, if there is continued conflict between you and your team, or you do not feel they appropriately take the information from the IEE into account, you may wish to seek legal counsel to guide you in Due Process.

Difference between an IEP and a Section 504 Plan

Although an Evaluation Team Report (ETR) and an Individual Educational Program (IEP) are required for a child to receive special education and related services, there is another type of plan that is available to support children with disabilities: A Section 504 Plan. This is an individualized plan that serves as a blueprint for specific accommodations and changes to the learning environment that a child requires in order to have access to the curriculum. Under Section 504, there is no list of approved disabling conditions; therefore, it covers a wide variety of disabling conditions. Instead, the law describes a person with a disability as someone who “has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities,” has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. Frequently, children with diagnoses of attention disorders and medical conditions receive school supports through a Section 504 Plan. Major life activities can include: caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, concentrating, and working. Common accommodations found on a 504 Plan include: frequent breaks, extended time, small group testing, and prompting/cueing. An evaluation is required to determine if the child meets these criteria and is eligible to receive accommodations through a 504 Plan. Typically, these plans are reviewed and updated on a yearly basis to ensure that they continue to meet the child’s needs.

There are two defining differences between a child who has a 504 Plan and a child who has an IEP: the laws that regulate these plans and the services outlined on the plan. The first major difference is the law under which they are housed. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) are federal laws that prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities and provide protection for those individuals. It is under these laws that individuals with disabilities are afforded Section 504 Plans. Individuals from birth to death are covered under these non-discrimination laws. Therefore, the accommodations that are necessary to level the playing field for the individual are provided in a variety of settings across the individual’s lifespan. The special education services outlined on an IEP are protected under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This is the federal law that ensures special education services are provided to children with disabilities. IDEA has more stringent eligibility criteria; a student must meet the definition of 1 of 13 disability categories and must require specially designed instruction in order to make educational progress. When a student meets eligibility criteria under IDEA, that is when a IEP is created. IDEA is a special education law specifically for school-aged students. Individuals are no longer protected under IDEA once they either graduate from high school or are 21 years of age. This means the protections of IDEA do not extend to college and adult life. Many times individuals who were provided services under an IEP K-12 education are transitioned to Section 504 Plans in college.

The second difference is the content of the plans. A Section 504 Plan is designed to provide equal access to individuals with disabilities and level the playing field with non-disabled people to mitigate discrimination. Therefore, Section 504 Plans are made up of specific accommodation supports for the child. It also specifies who is responsible to provide each support and the individuals who are responsible for ensuring that the plan is implemented. The purpose of an IEP is to design an individualized special education program with specific learning goals and objectives and describe the specially designed services that the child requires to meet those goals. An IEP also provides accommodations that would be incorporated into a 504 Plan, but it goes beyond accommodations with specialized educational services. The law specifies many more components that must be included in an IEP. The contents of an IEP were covered in our last blog. Essentially, a 504 Plan provides accommodations and supports in order to provide the individual access to the educational environment, while an IEP provides specific instructional supports in order to teach specific skills to meet measurable educational and functional goals.

Eligibility under either law requires that the school must provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for the student and provide additional legal protections based on the identification of child as having a disability. Due to the fact that Section 504’s has a broader definition of disability than IDEA’s definition, this means that many more children are provided protection under this law and are eligible for a plan under Section 504 than are eligible for an IEP. Therefore, many children who are not eligible for special education services or the team does not believe that specialized instruction is necessary are referred to determine their eligibility under Section 504. A Section 504 Plan can provide the appropriate level of support for a student who requires the support of accommodations in order to level the playing field to ensure that they have equal access to the curriculum.

Individualized Education Program (IEP)

Once your child qualifies for special education through the Evaluation Team Report (ETR), the team’s hard work isn’t over yet.  They still need to create an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for your child.  The IEP is a legal document that is the plan of how the team will address your child’s needs and help them make gains.  In Ohio, the IEP must be completed within 30 days of the ETR meeting date. 

At the IEP meeting, you and your child, if appropriate, will meet with your child’s IEP team, which includes a general education teacher, special education teacher, district representative, and any other appropriate related service provider (speech/language pathologist, occupational therapist, etc.).

For most disability categories, the IEP is made up of 14 sections.  There is an additional section for children with visual impairments. 

Section 1: Future Planning
The first part of the IEP includes information about future planning.  This is where the parents’ input about what they hope to see in the future for their child is included.  It should also include information about the student’s interests and what they would like to be when they are adults.

Section 2: Special Instructional Factors
In the second part of the IEP, the team answers “yes” or “no” questions about the child regarding behavior, English proficiency, whether they have visual impairments, communication needs, requires assistive technology, or specially designed physical education. 

Section 3: Profile
The third section addresses your child’s profile.  This should include relevant assessment data, including data from the Evaluation Team Report (ETR) and other standardized and classroom assessments.

Section 4: Postsecondary Transition
The fourth section is only required for those who will be 14 years old during the length of the IEP, but may also be completed for younger students if appropriate.  It includes a statement about the transition services your child will need based on their course of study.  For those older than 16, data from transition assessments will also be included.

Section 5: Postsecondary Transition Services
For those students who are 15 or older, the fifth part of the IEP must be completed.  This included goals regarding postsecondary education and training, employment, and independent living.

Section 6: Measurable Annual Goals
The sixth section of the IEP is the goals that address your child’s needs.  It is important that these are directly linked with the information provided in the ETR so that the team is sure that they are specifically working on the student’s areas of difficulty.  Section 6 will provide information about the area of need, the present level of performance (based on assessment results), a measurable annual goal, and measurable objectives that will help your child reach that goal.  It will also include information about how your child’s performance on this goal will be measured, and how and when they will provide you information about your child’s progress.  Each area of need will have its own goals and objectives.

Section 7: Description(s) of Specially Designed Services
The seventh section of the IEP provides information about the types of services your child will receive, which goals those services are meant to address, who will provide those services, where the services will be provided, and the amount of time and how often they will be provided.  This section not only provides information about how your child’s needs will be addressed by teachers, but also includes information about related services, assistive technology, accommodations, modifications, and medical services your child may require, as well as support that the school personnel may need.

Section 8: Transportation as a Related Service
This part of the IEP determines if your child has any transportation needs do to their disability, and what types of accommodations or modifications may address those needs.

Section 9: Nonacademic and Extracurricular Activities
This section lists ways in which your child has the opportunity to participate in nonacademic and extracurricular activities with peers that do not qualify for special education.

Section 10: General Factors
The tenth section of the IEP ensures that the team has considered your child’s strengths, your concerns, results of evaluations, performance on state or district testing, your child’s needs, and whether your child needs extended school year (ESY) services.

Section 11: Least Restrictive Environment
This section addresses whether your child will attend the school they would be normally attended if they did not qualify for special education services, and whether your child will receive all special education services with nondisabled peers.  If not, the team must provide a justification about why the child needs to be provided services in a different setting. 

Section 12: Statewide and District Wide Testing
This part of the IEP addresses state- and district-wide testing that will take place during the length of the IEP.  It included what types of accommodations will be provided for each area of assessment and whether the student should take a modified assessment.  It also addresses whether your child will be excused form passing state assessments required for graduation.

Section 13: Meeting Participants
All team members who attend the IEP meeting should sign this section of the IEP to indicate their participation in the IEP process.

Section 14: Signatures
Parents will check specific boxes and sign to indicate what services listed in the IEP they consent to.  If your child is 17, you and your child will both sign to transfer safeguard rights to the student once they turn 18 years old.  The team will also indicate if they provided a copy of the Procedural Safeguards Notice and a copy of the IEP to you or when it was sent to you.

Section 15: Children with Visual Impairments
If your child has qualified for special education services due to a visual impairment, the IEP team must complete this section.  It addresses the reading and writing media in which reading and writing instruction will be provided to meet your child’s educational needs.

The School-Based Evaluation Process

After the team agrees a disability is suspected, a school-based evaluation will be initiated. There are three stages to the school-based evaluation process: the planning and consent, the evaluation process, and the eligibility determination. The school-based evaluation process is known as the Evaluation Team Report (ETR). You may also hear it referred to as a Multi-Factored Evaluation (MFE), which is the term used prior to ETR. Through this process, typically, the school psychologist is the team chairperson and is best able to respond to your questions.

Planning and Consent for Evaluation (ETR)

From the date that the team suspects that your child may have a disability, the school has 30 days to gain your consent for an evaluation. Within that 30-day period, the team will hold at ETR planning meeting. Typically, this meeting consists of you, your child’s general education teacher, intervention specialist, school psychologist, and district administrator. This meeting is designed to gain your informed consent for the school team to conduct an evaluation of your child. At this meeting, the team will discuss which areas of disability are suspected under IDEA. These are the thirteen categories in which the team can suspect that your child meets disability criteria under: Autism, Deaf-Blindness, Deafness, Emotional Disturbance, Hearing Impairment, Intellectual Disability, Multiple Disabilities, Orthopedic Impairment, Other Health Impairment, Specific Learning Disability, Speech or Language Impairment, Traumatic Brain Injury or Visual Impairment Including Blindness. Then, the team will develop an evaluation plan based on the reason for referral and the areas of disability that are suspected. This is done through completing the following documents: Referral for Evaluation (PR-04), ETR Planning Form, Parent Consent for Evaluation (PR-05), and Prior Written Notice (PR-01).

The Referral for Evaluation (PR-04) form explains the reason that your child is being referred for an evaluation. The reason for referral is supported by information regarding your child’s educational history, attendance, background information, health data, and environmental factors. The ETR planning form determines which assessments will be completed and incorporated in your child’s evaluation. This form details all of the assessment areas that are related to the suspected disability categories, whether or not current data is available in those areas, whether or not additional information will be collected in a particular area, and who is responsible for conducting the assessment. The planning form drives the entire evaluation; therefore, it is extremely important that you are comfortable with the things that are detailed on this form, and you agree that it will provide a comprehensive evaluation for your child. The Parent Consent for Evaluation (PR-05) is the document in which you grant your voluntary, informed consent for the school team to put the evaluation plan into action. Signing the consent form also verifies that you received a copy of the A Guide to Parents Right in Special Education, which is a document detailing your rights and your child’s rights through this process, and that you understand the all the information provided. The district should also provide you with a Prior Witten Notice (PR-01), which explains the type of action the district is proposing to take and an explanation as to why the district is proposing that action. We would recommend asking for a copy of the paperwork for your records.

Throughout the evaluation process, new areas of concerns may arise that the team will want to assess further. In order to evaluate additional areas, the team must amend the planning form. Adjustments to the planning form can only be made with your express consent. Another Prior Written Notice (PR-01) should be provided to you detailing the amendments made and the data supporting why additional assessment is necessary.

Special Education Evaluation (ETR)

From the date that you attend the planning meeting and grant your consent for your child to go through the ETR process, the school has 60 days to complete the evaluation and hold an ETR results/eligibility determination meeting. During this 60-day period, the multidisciplinary team will complete assessments in all of the areas indicated on the ETR planning form. Typically, the multidisciplinary team consists of the parent, school psychologist, general education teacher, intervention specialist, speech/language pathologist, occupational therapist, and a district representative. Other team members can be added depending on the areas of concern. Almost all psychoeducational evaluations will include assessment in the following areas: standardized assessment in the areas of cognition, academic achievement, communicative status, and social/emotional skills; information provided by parent; background information; observation; progress in the general curriculum; data from interventions; and vision and hearing screenings. Depending on the referral concerns and the disability suspected the team can also assess: fine motor skills; gross motor skills; adaptive skills; behavior; physical exam/general health; vocational/transition; Braille needs; audiological needs; and Assistive Technology needs. These assessments are almost exclusively conducted in a one-on-one testing session with the individual with expertise in that particular area.  

The ETR document has four separate sections. After completing the testing portion of their evaluation, each examiner completes what is known as a Part 1. A Part 1 is a written report that is divided into three sections. In the first section of a Part 1, each evaluator summarizes the results of the assessments that they conducted with the student. The results section should be data driven. It will provide the standard scores that your child received on the assessment in order to compare them to their same aged peers across the country as well as a narrative description of the assessment given and describe the specific areas of strength and weakness your child demonstrated. The assessor then completes the Part 1 by providing a descriptor of the child’s educational needs based on the testing results and the implications that those needs have on the student’s instruction and progress monitoring.

Part 2 of the ETR is a Team Summary. Each evaluator summarizes their evaluation results, needs, and implications into a team summary that provides a brief overview of the evaluation. This should provide a cohesive summary of your child’s strength and weaknesses in relation to all assessment performed and information gathered.

Part 3 of the ETR is specific to children who are suspected of having a Specific Learning Disability. This portion of the ETR is where the team determines the areas in which the child meets criteria for having a learning disability in: Basic Reading Skill, Reading Fluency Skills, Reading Comprehension, Written Expression, Mathematics Calculation, Mathematics Problem Solving, Oral Expression, and Listening Comprehension. This is also the portion in which the team summarizes the data utilized to support the eligibility decision in those areas utilizing either a response to scientific, research-based intervention or a pattern of strength and weaknesses. The team must also determine that the learning disability is not due to any of the exclusionary factors: a vision, hearing, or motor disability; mental retardation; emotional disturbance; Limited English Proficiency; environmental or economic disadvantage or cultural factors. The team must also document that the student’s underachievement is not due to a lack of appropriate instruction. 

The ETR culminates in Part 4, which is the eligibility determination section. All four of these components comprise a complete ETR.

Eligibility Determination for Special Education Services

Part 4 of the ETR remains incomplete until the entire team meets for an eligibility determination meeting, which is held within 60 days you granting consent for the evaluation. In this section, the team must answer three questions in order to determine whether or not a student meets eligibility criteria for special education and related services including: is the determining factor for the child’s poor performance not due to a lack of appropriate instruction in reading and math or the child’s limited English proficiency; does the child meet the state criteria for having a disability based on the data provided in the document; and does the child demonstrate an educational need that requires specially designed instruction. If the answer is yes to all three of these questions, then the child is eligible for special education services under one of the thirteen IDEA categories. Following the ETR meeting, the school has 14 days to finalize the document and send a copy to the parent.

If your child meets eligibility criteria for having a disability under IDEA, then the next step is for the team to create an Individual Education Program (IEP), which we will discuss in our next post.

How do I request an evaluation if I suspect my child has a disability?

In our last blog post, we talked about the steps you should take with your school’s education team if you suspect your child may have a disability.  We suggested that you work with your child’s teacher and the rest of the team first (sometimes called Intervention Assistance Team, RTI Team, MTSS Team or Problem Solving Teams) so that your child can get the extra support they need in school and so the team can gather helpful information about what interventions work best for your student. 

But what should you do if your child is receiving intervention and is not showing appropriate growth or if they stay significantly behind their peers?  In this case, you may choose to request an evaluation to determine if they qualify for special education services.  In Ohio, schools must respond to your request within 30 days of receiving it.  This does not necessarily mean that they must conduct the evaluation, but this begins the process.  It is best to put your request in writing and provide it to your child’s school psychologist, teacher, or principal. 

Request a Special Education Evaluation

In order to write the most effective letters, we recommend to include the following:

  • State that you are formally requesting an evaluation to determine if your student is eligible for special education service.

  • Provide information about your child such as their name, date of birth, school, grade, and teacher’s name.

  • Indicate that your child is not making expected progress, and that you suspect a disability.

  • Note any specific areas of difficulty your child may be experiencing (academic skills, attention, social/emotional, behavioral, communication, motor, social skills, sensory, etc.).

  • Provide information about what makes you suspect a disability. This might include:

    • Past and current interventions, and any progress monitoring information

    • Report card information

    • Assessment information from state testing or the classroom

    • Any current medical diagnoses.

    • Any outside support your child receives, such as tutoring, mental health counseling, or other therapies

    • All of the support you provide them because of their difficulties.

Meet with the Team

Within 30 days, you should be invited to speak with the team.  At that time, you will review the data, and the team will decide if they suspect a disability and whether to move on with an evaluation.  If you have not received a response within 30 days, you should follow up with the school’s principal and/or the superintendent.  If your student has been provided interventions and there is data to demonstrate their difficulties in school, the team will likely agree to an evaluation.  If the team does not suspect a disability, the should come up with a plan on how to address your concerns and schedule a follow up meeting to go over new data based on the plan.

Unfortunately, at times you may find yourself disagreeing with the team.  It is important to know that you have rights and that there are resources for you.  You may opt to pursue a private evaluation.  While this type of assessment would be at your own expense, you also have more input about the evaluation process, and your concerns drives it much more than it might in a school setting.  Additionally, many schools have a parent mentor that is free of charge to you and can offer you information and attend meetings with you.  You may also choose to seek a private advocate.  In this case, make sure that you choose someone with a strong educational background and good reputation in the area.  The Ohio Department also offers information about parent rights on their website that can be accessed by clicking here.  The Ohio Coalition for the Education of Children with Disabilities (OCECD) may also be another helpful resource if you are having difficulty coming to a resolution with the school.

Next post, we will write about what happens during the evaluation process once the team suspects a disability.

What to do if you suspect your child has a disability?

When your child is struggling in school and you suspect that your child may have a disability, it can be an emotional experience and many people will provide you with a multitude of solutions to your problems. As former school professionals, we can provide you with our recommendations from beginning to end.

Meet with Teacher

Our first recommendation is always to start by meeting with your child’s teacher. Your child’s classroom teacher is the most knowledgeable individual about your child in the school building. They spend the most time with them and are should be a centralized hub of data regarding your child’s performance within the school. At the meeting, I would ask a number of questions to determine where your child currently stands in relation to other students in the class, school and nation. Here is a list of questions that we would recommend you ask your child’s teacher during that meeting:

  • What are my child’s current grades?

  • What are my child’s strengths and weaknesses?

  • What data do you have to support those areas of strength and weakness?

  • What does that data mean for my child’s educational performance?

    • How does my child’s data compare to the peers in the classroom, school, and nation?

    • Does the data show that my child is making progress or is my child’s performance stagnant?

    • If your child is making progress, is it considered adequate/does it meet expectations for progress?

    • How is this data used to inform my child’s instruction?

  • What interventions are being implemented in the classroom/what differentiated instruction is my child receiving?

  • Is my child receiving any additional supports targeting their area of weakness?

  • How long has my child been receiving these supports?

  • Do you have any concerns regarding my child’s social/emotional or behavioral functioning?

Meet with Intervention Team

After meeting with your child’s teacher, where you should be able to collect valuable information regarding your child’s academic performance, we would suggest that you request a meeting with the school’s intervention team. This team is called different things in many different schools. We have frequently seen these teams called: Intervention Assistance Team, RTI Team, MTSS Team or Problem Solving Teams. These teams typically will involve you, your child’s classroom teacher, grade level intervention specialist, school psychologist, and building level administrator. The purpose of these teams is to analyze student data, design intervention specific to the student’s needs, set an intervention goal, and determine how progress will be monitored. Most teams have a format that will guide the meeting. However, these are important questions that you should have the answers to before leaving the meeting:

  • What intervention options are available for my child in the school?

  • What Tier of intervention is my child receiving?

  • What intervention has team chosen for my child to participate in?

  • Is this intervention research-based?

  • Will my child receive this intervention one-on-one or in a group?

    • If in a group, what is the group size?

  • How frequently and for how long will my child receive this intervention?

  • Who will be implementing the intervention?

  • How is my child’s need being specifically met by the chosen intervention?

  • What tool is being used to measure my child’s progress?

  • How often will my child’s progress be measured?

  • How is the progress monitoring tool directly linked to my child’s need and the chosen intervention?

  • What goal has been set for my child to reach as a result of the implemented intervention?

  • When is the team meeting again to discuss your child’s progress?

Follow-Up

At the follow-up team meetings, which are typically held anywhere from 6-12 weeks apart in order to allow the team to implement the intervention and collect progress monitoring information, the team will work to determine the effectiveness of the intervention. At this meeting you should have an answer to the following questions:

  • Was the intervention implemented and progress monitored the way that it was designed in the previous meeting?

  • Did my child show positive progress to the intervention?

  • Did my child meet the intervention goal?

  • What was my child’s rate of improvement compared to the expected rate of improvement?

  • As a result of the progress monitoring data, what, if any, changes will be made?

    • Will a new research-based intervention be implemented?

    • Will there be changes in the frequency, intensity or duration of the current intervention?

This process and team meetings will likely occur multiple times before team can determine the most appropriate intervention for your child. While participating with your child in the intervention process, you have the right to request that your child be evaluated to determine the presence of an educational disability at any time. You may also wish to seek a private evaluation in order to determine the presence of a disability at any time.

We will cover more regarding the evaluation process in our next blog, so tune in!

 

Welcome

Hello, and welcome to our new blog! 

We are Greer and Jen, Directors and School Psychologists at Achievement Advantage Assessment & Services. 

We are excited for the opportunity to bring an additional resource to parents, clients, and educators by providing blogs related to education and learning exceptionalities, including information about special education law, the evaluation process, instructional practices to best meet the needs of students with learning differences, and much more!

Additionally, we will be inviting guest bloggers who work in the education, mental health, and medical fields to share about their areas of expertise.

Our goal is to provide information that you will find beneficial.  Do you have a topic you would like to learn more about?  Please let us know by contacting us via email at achieve@achievement-advantage.org.  We welcome your input!