The IEP Eligibility Evaluation
My last blog focused on defining and providing more information about an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The purpose of the next few blogs will be to provide a little more information about determining eligibility for an IEP. This blog will take a closer look at the evaluation process that the school district undergoes prior to the IEP eligibility meeting. The overall process is standardized across the country, although there are slight fluctuations across the different states. This blog will focus primarily on Massachusetts state laws and the Greater Boston area.
The first step in determining eligibility for an IEP is a referral. This referral can come from parents or personnel within the school (i.e. a child’s teacher, principal, etc.). Although certain school districts may have a protocol for determining which students would benefit from a special education evaluation (i.e. Child Study Team, Student Support Team), a parent can request an evaluation of IEP eligibility at any time. Schools will also employ the use of Response to Intervention (RTI) as a means of determining which children should be evaluated for special education services. Briefly, RTI is a tiered system for providing intervention to all students based on their level of need. All students begin with Tier One levels of instruction. If a student does not respond to this general education instruction, they are provided with more specialized, research-based interventions at a Tier Two level. If they continue to struggle, they are provided with increasingly intensive intervention until such point that it is determined that special education services may be needed and an evaluation is initiated. Even if a child is in the process of moving through the RTI tiers, a parent can initiate an evaluation at any time if they have concerns. For more information on RTI, please see www.rti4success.org. When a parent is referring their child, the request must be made in writing (i.e. not over the phone and not through e-mail). The referral should be addressed to the teacher, the principal or the school system’s director of education.
Once the referral is made for a special education evaluation, the child’s parent or legal guardian must sign a consent form prior to the evaluation being completed. All evaluations must be completed within 30 school days of receipt of the signed consent form and the meeting must be held within 45 school days. Keep in mind that “school days” do not include weekends, vacation, holidays, or snow days. For the majority of school districts, “school days” are also not held over the summer months. This is important to keep in mind when deciding when to initiate a school-based evaluation. It is also crucial for parents to return the consent form to the school as soon as you receive it as completion of that step is what starts the “clock”.
The actual evaluation contains multiple components and may include individual assessments, observations, and an interview with the child. The most common types of assessments include: psychological, academic, speech/language, occupational and physical therapy evaluations. Although these assessments are the most common, students can also undergo more specified testing, such as a functional behavioral assessment, assistive technology evaluation, or testing of needs for visual and/or hearing impairments. The types of evaluations provided are tailored to each child’s specific needs. Even if you have had a neuropsychological evaluation, the school may still complete some additional testing. Keep in mind that school-based psychological and academic evaluations are less comprehensive and do not take the place of a full neuropsychological testing. The goal of these types of school-based evaluations is primarily to provide information regarding IEP eligibility, making them more limited by nature.
After the IEP eligibility referral and evaluations are completed, the next step is to schedule an eligibility meeting with the child’s school team. My next blog will focus on the remainder of the eligibility process and the actual IEP meeting.