When is a child’s eligibility
for special education and related services determined?
The eligibility of a child for special education and related services
is considered upon completion of the administration of tests and
other evaluation materials.
Who makes the decision about whether a child is
eligible for special education and related services?
The parent of the child and a team of qualified professionals must
determine whether the child is a child with a disability and in
need of special education and related services.
(The determination of whether a child suspected of having a specific
learning disability is a child with a disability, must be made by
the child’s parents and a team of qualified professionals
which must include the child’s regular teacher; or a regular
classroom teacher qualified to teach a child of his or her age if
the child does not have a regular teacher; or, for a child of less
than school age, an individual qualified by the SEA to teach a child
of his or her age; and at least one person qualified to conduct
individual diagnostic examinations of children, such as a school
psychologist, speech-language pathologist, or remedial reading teacher.)
What must the team consider in determining eligibility?
In interpreting evaluation data for the purpose of determining
if a child is a child with a disability and in need of special education,
each public agency is to draw upon information from a variety of
sources, including aptitude and achievement tests, parent input,
teacher recommendations, physical condition, social or cultural
background, and adaptive behavior.
Are there additional procedures for evaluating
children and determining the existence of a specific learning disability?
Yes. IDEA includes the following additional procedures when evaluating
and determining the existence of a specific learning disability:
- A team may determine that a child has a specific learning disability
- The child does not achieve commensurate with his or her age
and ability levels in one or more of the areas listed below, if
provided with learning experiences appropriate for the child’s
age and ability levels; and
- The child has a severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual
ability in one or more of the following areas: Oral expression;
listening comprehension; written expression; basic reading skill;
reading comprehension; mathematics calculation; mathematics reasoning.
- The team may not identify a child as having a specific learning
disability if the severe discrepancy between ability and achievement
is primarily the result of:
- A visual, hearing, or motor impairment;
- Mental retardation;
- Emotional disturbance; or
- Environmental, cultural or economic disadvantage.
- At least one team member other than the child’s regular
teacher shall observe the child’s academic performance in
the regular classroom setting.
- In the case of a child of less than school age or out of school,
a team member shall observe the child in an environment appropriate
for a child of that age.
- Written report — For a child suspected of having a specific
learning disability, the documentation of the team’s determination
of eligibility must include a statement of:
- Whether the child has a specific learning disability.
- The basis for making the determination.
- The relevant behavior noted during the observation of the child.
- The relationship of that behavior to the child’s academic
- The educationally relevant medical findings, if any.
- Whether there is a severe discrepancy between achievement and
ability that is not correctable without special education and
- The determination of the team concerning the effects of environmental,
cultural, or economic disadvantage.
Each team member shall certify in writing whether the report reflects
his or her conclusion. If it does not reflect his or her conclusion,
the team member must submit a separate statement presenting his
or her conclusions.
What are the two components that must be present
in order for a child to be eligible for special education and related
In order for a child to be declared eligible for special education
and related services it must be determined that the child is
a “child with a disability” and is in need of
special education and related services.
How does the law define a “child with a disability?”
The term “a child with a disability” means:
- A child evaluated according to IDEA as having mental retardation,
a hearing impairment including deafness, a speech or language
impairment, a visual impairment including blindness, serious emotional
disturbance (referred to in IDEA as emotional disturbance), an
orthopedic impairment, autism, traumatic brain injury, an other
health impairment, a specific learning disability, deaf-blindness,
or multiple disabilities, and
- Who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related
Is there a non-categorical designation of a child
with a disability in addition to the above categories?
At the discretion of the State and Local Education Agencies, a
“child with a disability,” aged three through nine,
may include a child who is experiencing developmental delays,
as defined by the State and as measured by appropriate diagnostic
instruments and procedures, in one or more of the following areas:
physical development, cognitive development, communication development,
social or emotional development, or adaptive development, and who,
by reason thereof, needs special education and related services.
What does IDEA require when determining eligibility
for special education and related services based on “developmental
When determining eligibility for special education and related
services based on “developmental delay” rather than
a specific category, IDEA requires the following:
- If the state decides to allow eligibility based on developmental
delay, local districts will be able to choose whether or not they
wish to follow suit. If the state does not adopt the developmental
delay category, local districts may not use the category for establishing
eligibility for special education and related services.
- States may not require local districts to adopt and use the
term “developmental delay” for any of its students.
- States that adopt the developmental delay category may apply
it to children aged three through nine or a subset of that age
range, e.g. aged three through five
- States and local districts who choose to use the developmental
delay category may also use one or more of the specific categories.
- States may adopt a common definition of developmental delay
for its programs under IDEA, Parts B and C.
- If a local district uses the developmental delay category, it
must conform to the state’s definition of developmental
delay and the age range adopted by the state.
What are possible implications for students with
learning disabilities when they are identified as having a developmental
The use of a “developmental delay” category to determine
whether a child is eligible for special education and related services
could make it possible to identify some children early before they
experience failure in school and fall behind their peers. Many children
with learning disabilities show delays in one or more of the areas
specified. There is, however, some concern that children with learning
disabilities will be included in the “developmental delay”
category without identifying the specific processing disorder/s
present and, thus the specific intervention strategies needed will
not be provided. Parents should ensure that:
- Assessment tools and strategies used gather relevant functional
and developmental information.
- Tests and other evaluation materials used include those tailored
to assess specific areas of educational need.
- Assessment tools and strategies provide relevant information
that directly assists persons in determining the education needs
of the child.
Since States and Local Education Agencies are not mandated to follow
a certain course, but can make a choice regarding whether to use
“developmental delay” for children aged three to nine,
parents need to determine the eligibility criteria used by their
State and Local Education Agencies. Contact special education administrators
at the State Department of Education or the local school district
for this information.
Are there other non-categorical designations?
Some states have expanded the non-categorical age past the “developmental
delay” age span (3 through 9 years) to include students birth
through twenty-one years of age. If states use a designation instead
of categorical disabilities, certain guidelines must be followed.
While the state determines the criteria for eligibility, the team
must provide a comprehensive evaluation of the child that could
determine a disability as defined by IDEA.
Excerpted from the LDA ADVOCACY HANDBOOK: A Parent’s Guide
for Special Education available to LDA members for free downloading in the Members Only section or available for $12.00 from LDA.