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Process of Placement

In many cases children with an intellectual or developmental disability are identified as having a disability prior to attending elementary school. In such cases it is important to coordinate the transfer of any records such as prior assessments or evaluations and prior eligibility determinations from early intervention providers or pediatricians to the school. Once the school receives these records, they will initiate an Individualized Education Program (IEP) team meeting to determine the child’s initial eligibility and services. Parents or caregivers must be invited to participate in this meeting and any determination of services.

If your child does not already have a diagnosed disability, the school district must begin a process of determining eligibility. This process is outlined in the table below and will begin with an initial concern for your child’s school performance. This concern may come from the student’s teacher or someone else at the school.

Once an initial concern is discussed with the parent, Step 2 is that the student will be referred to a school-based problem solving team, sometimes called Pre-referral Intervention Team (PIT) or Intervention Assistance Team (IAT). This team usually includes a special education teacher, one or more general education teachers, a school psychologist, and an administrator. Parents or Caregivers should also be invited to participate on this team.

The goals of this team are to attempt to address whatever challenges the student may be facing prior to initiating a formal evaluation for special education. For example, the team may recommend changes in classroom seating arrangements, changes in the amount of time the student will spend on certain activities, a peer-buddy system, or some other type(s) of instructional aids or supports that are relatively easy to implement.

The goal here is to get the student back on track prior to a formal evaluation for special education. Therefore, there should be a systematic process in place for gathering data on the student’s performance, and there should also be clear time limits for how long this process will last. If the implemented changes resolve the problems the student is having, the process of evaluating him/her should be stopped and the initiated supports should be continued. However, if the problem persists (usually for 3 months) the student should be moved to Step 3 in the process, initial evaluation.

The initial evaluation process (Step 3) generally will include a series of educational, psychological, behavioral, and health tests. Many of these tests will be administered by a school psychologist (e.g. IQ, achievement, functional or adaptive behavior), some will be administered by a school-based health professional (e.g. hearing, sight), and some may be administered by other professionals in the school such as special education teachers, speech-language pathologists, or physical therapist. During this process, parents or caregivers are often asked to complete assessments such as ratings of their child’s functional skills or behavior. Once this testing has been completed, the multidisciplinary team (including parent/caregiver) meets to determine whether or not the child is eligible for special education services. If the team determines that the student is eligible, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is developed.

All public schools are required to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to students with diagnosed disabilities through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA). This federal law provides basic protections and requirements to ensure that students with disabilities receive an appropriate education. The IEP is the document that is used to coordinate these services and supports.

The IEP contains information on each student’s current or present levels of performance including academic performance along with performance in any other concern areas such as behavior, functional skills, speech-language skills, physical skills, etc. Accurate assessment of student present levels of performance is critical because this is what is used as the basis for determining the student’s annual goals.

Annual Goals drive the IEP and can include goals for any educational need. For example, a student may have one or more academic goals (reading, writing, and mathematics), social, emotional, or behavioral goals. Many students also have goals pertaining to functional skills, speech language needs, and/or goals to address physical needs. Each goal should specify the student’s present level of performance, the anticipated performance in a year, and an explicit strategy for measuring whether or not the student has achieved his/her goal(s). It is important to have a system for monitoring student progress toward achieving each goal so that each year student progress can be evaluated prior to determining the continued need for services and/or new annual goals.

Within the context of special education, services are most often direct supports from special education teachers, speech language professionals, physical therapist, or educational assistants. The ‘minutes’ or amount of services a student receives from each professional along with the location or where the services will be delivered should be specified on the IEP. Minutes of service are most often provided in a weekly format. For example, if a student should receive 200 minutes of service per week, that would equate to approximately 40 minutes per day. Alternatively, 800 minutes of service per week equates to approximately 160 minutes of service per day. The IEP should clearly state how many minutes of service per week the student should be receiving to successfully achieve his/her goals, who will be providing the service and where those services will be delivered.

Area(s) of Concern (Goals) Minutes Per Week Person Responsible Location
Self-Care Skills 200 Sped Teacher Resource / Pull-Out
Reading 200 Sped Teacher General Education
Communication 100 Speech Language Pull-Out
Total 500

The last point about where services should be delivered is an important one because all students with disabilities should be receiving supports in the Least Restrictive Environment. This means that to the maximum extent possible, students with disabilities should be educated with their non-disabled peers and they should only be removed from the general education environment when services and supports delivered in that environment are not effective. That means that supports should be provided to students with disabilities in the general education as much as possible and students with disabilities should only be removed from that setting if the services and supports provided in that setting are not considered to be effective and a more intensive service or support is required to help the child meet his/her goals.

In addition to specific services from qualified professionals, other accommodations to support the child may also be included on the IEP. For example, the student may be given preferential seating (e.g., front of the classroom), they may be provided additional time to complete an assignment or test, they may be provided a technology tool to assist them with communication or learning, the teacher(s) may be asked to provide instructions verbally and in writing. There are many types of accommodations that can be provided in the classroom to support student learning. The important point to remember is that these accommodations should be directly aligned to each student’s individual needs and to helping that student achieve their annual goals.