According to federal regulations, “Each public agency [this includes school districts] shall ensure that a full and individual evaluation is conducted for each child being considered for special education and related services.”
The evaluation is two-fold: first, to determine if the child does have a “disability,” and second, to determine the educational needs of the child.
Once a parent has consented to have their child tested, usually based on referral from a teacher, the school has 15 days to prepare an assessment plan. Once the parents consent to the elements of that plan, the evaluation(s) must be conducted within 60 days.
Assuming the child is diagnosed with a learning disability, the next step in the process is the development of what is called in most states the Individualized Educational Plan, or IEP.
The IEP identifies the needs of the individual child, develops a plan to delivery the necessary instructional supports and services consistent to support progress, and provides procedural safeguards to ensure that the plan is implemented and its effectiveness maintained.
The IEP is a written document that has the following components.
- Identifies the child’s disability and how it affects their involvement and progress in general education curriculum;
- Lists measurable academic and functional goals;
- A description of how those goals will be measured and when periodic reports and/or reassessments will be provided;
- A statement of special education services including supplementary aids that are needed to meet the goals;
- A statement of individual appropriate accommodations necessary to measure achievement (such as extra time needed to take state-mandated tests);
- The projected date when services will begin;
- What services will be necessary to help the child transition to secondary education
The IEP is developed by a team usually consisting of at least four people: the child’s current teacher, the child’s parent(s) or a designated representative, a second school representative that has observed the student’s educational performance, and a special education specialist. Others may be added to the team, as appropriate, such as assessment professionals or other experts specializing in the child’s particular learning disability or disorder.
Reviews of the IEP occur yearly and evaluations are based on periodic and annual reports. At least every three years, a re-evaluation is done to determine whether the child is still in need of special education services, and to make any additions or modifications if so.
Parental involvement in the IEP process, including monitoring performance and responding to requests from teachers or school personnel, is the key to its success.