I spend most days of my life working with various students who are at different parts in the sped referral process. I attend Child Study Meetings where we decide if we are going to evaluate a student. I observe and screen children and talk with parents and teachers to help the committee make a good decision about whether we should do a special education evaluation. I evaluate those students (this includes Psychological testing, observations, talking with student/teacher/parent, doing rating scales, etc.). I attend eligibility meetings where we determine if the student is eligible for for special education services. All of this is second nature to me and sometimes I need to stop and remember when a parent comes in, that this is NEW.
When I talk to parents, I find that many parents do not fully understand the special education referral process, even when they nod and act like they do. We as school staff need to do a better job of helping the parents understand the process. Parents also need to speak up and ask questions when there is not understanding.
This is a guide for parents to understand the process of special education testing, the testing components, and some of the test data. It is important to note that schools systems and states will vary to some degree. If you have any questions about the process in your school system, ask your school psychologist, teacher, or principal. Parents have every right to ask questions and usually school personnel are happy to help make this process less anxiety-provoking for you. It is important for parents to understand their rights during the special education process.
Special Education Process
After data shows that interventions have been attempted and if a student is suspected of having a disability, a referral is made to evaluate him or her for special education testing. Once the parents sign the Permission for Testing Forms, timelines begin and the schools have 65 business days to complete the assessments and hold the eligibility meeting. Some states may have a different timeline.
During these 65 days, several testing components will be completed with you and your child. The evaluators will write reports and a copy will be given to parents at the eligibility meeting. However, schools are required to have a copy available for parents to pick up two days before the eligibility meeting. It is advised, that parents take advantage of this and read reports before the meeting to help get familiar with the information and to formulate questions. The reports hold a lot of information that can be overwhelming if you are not familiar with this type of testing. Read Understanding Test Scores to understand the types of tests used and what the scores mean.
Additionally, the meeting is likely to bring forth strong emotions as your child’s difficulties are discussed openly. It can be overwhelming for parents, especially when not prepared. When parents do not read the reports prior to the eligibility meeting, they are the only people at the table who come to the meeting not knowing what to expect.
What if My Child is Found ELIGIBLE for Special Education Services?
Once a child is eligible for special education services, the schools have 30 days to develop an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for the student. This will consist of accommodations, goals, and describe the services offered. Parents are part of a committee to help create this document. Once it is signed, schools are legally required to follow it. It is reviewed once a year, unless parents or teachers feel that changes are necessary. Every three years, the committee will determine if the student should be reevaluated. This is called a triennial evaluation. Sometimes another full evaluation will be conducted, other times a review of records and updated teacher information is used.
What if My Child is Found INELIGIBLE for Special Education Services?
If your child was found ineligible for special education services and you agree with the eligibility findings, then your child will not receive special education. He or she was evaluated because of a problem that still needs to be addressed within regular education. Ask for a separate meeting with your teacher or a team to determine what accommodations or strategies can be used to help.
If you believe that your child requires special education services and has a disability, but was found ineligible for services, make an appointment to meet with the special education director. If an agreement cannot be reached, you may be able to have an Independent Evaluation at the expense of the school. The results of that testing will be brought back to an eligibility meeting. A child MUST have 2 things before they can receive special education services: They must have a disability and there must be a documented educational impact that the student requires special education services to be successful.