Special Education Eligibility

Once the evaluation results have been compiled, a meeting will be held to determine if the student is eligible for special education programs. This eligibility meeting will be attended by various school officials and the student’s parent(s). As a team, they will determine the student’s eligibility. Know that the school district cannot determine your child’s eligibility without you. The IDEA law requires that you, as the child’s parent, are a member of the group which makes the final decision.

A student has to meet two eligibility requirements before he will be considered for special education programs: 1) he or she must have one or more of the disabilities listed in the IDEA and, 2) as a result of the disability, must require special educational attention in order to make acceptable academic progress. If your child is determined to have a disability he still may not be considered eligible for special educational attention if his disability does not significantly hinder him academically.

Though “Specific Learning Disabilities" is one of the categories listed in IDEA regulations, the requirements for confirming this type of disability are different than the rest. If your child is believed to have a Specific Learning Disability (SLD), then according to the updated IDEA 2004 federal requirements, the SLD must be confirmed by considering whether or not a student is achieving or progressing academically, in one or more specific areas:

  • Oral listening
  • Listening comprehension
  • Written expression
  • Basic reading skill
  • Reading fluency skills
  • Reading comprehension
  • Mathematics calculation
  • Mathematics problem solving

in proportion with his age group or state-approved standards, has received appropriate instruction in these areas, and is not hindered by other factors such as visual or hearing impairment, emotional problems or cultural differences. A determination must also be made as to whether or not the student received adequate instruction from a qualified teacher.

Every state has its own eligibility criteria for general learning disabilities and SLDs. So it’s important to familiarize yourself with the criteria in your particular state. One of the requirements of the IDEA is that each state have at least one Parent Training and Information Center at which parents can get state-specific information which pertains to people with disabilities. You can find the Parent Training and Information Center nearest you by going to the Education Resource Organizations Directory on the U.S. Department of Education’s website.

A student doesn’t have to have a Specific Learning Disability in order to qualify for special education support. There are 13 different disabilities, including SLDs, listed in the IDEA. A student needs to have just one of those to be considered eligible. Because there are so many eligible disabilities, parents need to be prepared to “make a case" for their child’s need for academic help. Get a copy of your child’s evaluation before you meet with people from the school. Review it carefully so that you can participate more fully in the discussion.

The final step in the evaluation process is for the team to agree on its eligibility findings. Each team member, including the parent, makes a written declaration as to whether or not he or she agrees with the final written report. If a team member disagrees, he or she is required to prepare a separate written statement outlining his or her own conclusions.

Parents also have the right to conduct private evaluations at their own expense. Some parents exercise this right if they don’t agree with the evaluation team’s final conclusions. A private evaluation can be included in a parent’s request for a dispute resolution. A dispute resolution request can be filed if a parent disagrees with the school’s assessment of her child or if she or the child feel the child’s rights (under the IDEA regulations) have been violated. Dispute resolutions can take the form of mediation, a due process complaint, a resolution session, a due process hearing, or – the worst-case scenario – a civil suit. Fortunately few parents have to resort to dispute resolutions as the school districts are usually willing to work with parents and students to the best of their abilities.