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Is Special Education the Right Service? Special education should not be the only service. Schools should offer many options. Parents should have multiple ways to find out about those options. Parents should have information to help them identify if special education is the right service.

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Is Special Education the Right Service?

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special education should not be the only service
Special education should not be the only service.
  • Schools should offer many options.
  • Parents should have multiple ways to find out about those options.
  • Parents should have information to help them identify if special education is the right service.

ensure that the general education environment is a rich and responsive educational environment that deliberately seeks to have teachers prepared for the diverse student learners that they are encountering on a day to day basis

  • The Curriculum Accommodation Plan (DCAP) (could be one aspect of the District Improvement Plan)
if general education is responsive
If General Education is Responsive
  • More students will get the education they need.
  • More students will get the support they need.
  • More teachers will understand how to work effectively with more students.
  • Referrals to special education will be made for the right reasons.
  • Disabled students will get the help they need from both generaleducation and special education.
  • Use of instructional support should never be a reason to deny a referral for a special education evaluation.
  • Students with clear or probable indicators of a disability should be referred and evaluated promptly.
doing a good evaluation
Doing a good evaluation
  • Use qualified evaluators
  • Use formal and informal assessments
  • Use appropriate assessments
involve the parents
Involve the parents
  • Consulting on evaluations
  • Consulting on evaluators used
  • Set the stage for a positive relationship
  • Build trust & respect
  • Best practice
  • Best information about the student


  • Developmental Delay
  • Intellectual
  • Sensory: Hearing, Vision, Deaf-Blind
  • Neurological
  • Emotional
  • Communication
  • Physical
  • Health
  • Specific Learning

Required Assessment

Assessment in all areas related to the suspected Disability

  • Carefully review the charts on disability (from TA document)
  • Do not rule out multiple disabilities or effects of contributing disabilities that are not primary
  • Ensure sufficient assessment information to determine presence/absence and educational impact
A standard academic battery of tests
  • A standardized IQ test
  • A chat with teacher(s)
  • A review of educational record


every student deserves an individualized inquiry
Every student deserves an individualized inquiry
  • The law requires it.
  • It’s the right thing to do.
  • We get the best assessment results by not assuming every student is the same.
  • We can identify the “unique” needs of the student only if we see each student as unique.
concept an educational disability
Concept: an Educational Disability
  • Begins to connect the disability with the educational context.
  • Next required assessment is the educational assessment.
  • Not simply academics.
  • Not simply grades.
an educational assessment
An educational assessment

603 CMR 28.04(2)(a)(2) An educational assessment by a representative of the school district, including a history of the student’s educational progress in the general curriculum. Such assessment shall include information provided by a teacher(s) with current knowledge regarding the student’s specific abilities in relation to learning standards of the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks and the district curriculum, as well as an assessment of the student’s attention skills, participation behaviors, communication skills, memory, and social relations with groups, peers, and adults. The school district shall also thoroughly evaluate and provide a narrative description of the student’s educational and developmental potential.

information that may shape the learning experience
Information that may “shape” the learning experience
  • Class size
  • availability of support services
  • linguistic/cultural differences
  • curriculum expectations
  • types of instructional materials
  • consider Table 2 (Questions guiding assessment of student instructional needs)
narrative on educational and developmental potential
Narrative on educational and developmental potential
  • Factors inhibiting or assisting student to make effective progress
  • Performance consistent or inconsistent -- patterns?
  • Consistently
    • within typical range
    • better than typical
    • less well than typical
    • inconsistent performance
thinking about assessments
Thinking about Assessments
  • Use information you know about disabilities.
  • Don’t be quick to judge -- wait for assessment information and make sure you are confident in the assessor(s) and the assessment(s).
  • Consider buying assessment expertise in areas you don’t have it.
  • Don’t overtest or duplicate testing already done.
  • Look carefully at assessment considerations that cross disability areas.
disability definitions
Disability definitions
  • Table 3
  • includes definitions in state regulation
  • highlights key words that may be helpful
  • some terminology may be difficult to live with, may be considered out-of-date or overly prescriptive - remember it is in LAW.

What the regulations say:

  • definitions --28.02(7) and Table 3 in TA document.
  • the process for consideration of eligibility -- 28.05(2)(a)(1)
  • identification of type of disability -- 28.05(2)(a)(1)(i)
remember the steps
Remember the steps:
  • Presence of a disability
  • Lack of progress caused by disability
  • Need for special education
the assessments are ready the team meets and considers the information
The assessments are ready, the Team meets and considers the information
  • Does the student have a disability?
  • What is the educational impact of the disability, if any?
  • The discussion on disability and educational impact may proceed simultaneously or sequentially -- either is okay.
a disability is characterized by
A disability is characterized by

Significant delays, impairments or limitations in the student’s capacities:

  • A pattern of difficulty that persists beyond age expectations
  • a pattern of difficulty across settings
  • a pattern of difficulty that is not solely the result of cultural, linguistic, or socioeconomic differences
  • a pattern of difficulty that persists despite instructional support activities
naming the type of disability
Naming the type of disability
  • Not a medical diagnosis
  • An assertion of an educationally disabling condition -- meeting certain general conditions (regulatory definition)
  • usually an agreement among the Team members
  • will always be connected to educational progress
what if we don t want that type of disability and prefer another
What if we don’t want that type of disability and prefer another?
  • Some disabilities are harder for people to accept naming.
  • Early education is the best preparation.
  • Have information on hand to illustrate why one choice may be the better choice.
  • Emphasize that disability naming will not limit any educational options or programs.
bottom line
Bottom Line:
  • Team must have confidence that the student does have a disability.
  • There are systemic advantages to accurate reporting.
  • Ultimately, naming is not worth long arguments.
one popular disability type sld
National concern about over-identification of Specific Learning Disabilities.

Data is used to target resources.

Over-identification of SLD may be mitigated by more responsive General Education use of Instructional Supports.

Massachusetts adoption of federal definition because of questions of over-identification.

Justification: SLD requires written report with ALL Team members signing on to agreement or disagreement of finding.

One popular disability type: SLD
written statement sld sections 300 540 300 543
Written statement - SLDSections 300.540-300.543
  • Does student have SLD?
  • Basis for determination
  • Relevant behavior from observations
  • relationship of behavior to academic functioning
  • educationally relevant medical findings, if any
  • severe discrepancy not correctable without special ed. and related services
  • Certification by each team member that finding reflects his/her own conclusions, if not, team member submits written statement of his/her own conclusions --
  • This written statement(s) becomes part of the student record and if requested must be provided to the parent
what if there is more than one disability
What if there is more than one disability?
  • That’s okay, we know disabilities don’t necessarily appear in a clearcut package.
  • Samples of how to document multiple disabilities when (a) more than one disability has primary impact and (b) when one disability is primary but other disabilities have contributing impact.
  • Don’t confuse reporting issues with eligibility issues.
more than one disability has primary impact
More than one disability has primary impact
  • Circle or name the disability types that have primary educational impact on ED1
  • Identify student as having “multiple disabilities” for federal data collection, and on PL2
one disability is primary but other disabilities have contributing impact
One disability is primary but other disabilities have contributing impact
  • Circle or name the disability type that has primary educational impact on ED1 and note with checkmarks or written notes others that are present.
  • for federal data collection, and on PL2 identify only the disability type with primary educational impact.
what about students already eligible
What about students already eligible?
  • Wait until the three year reevaluation.
  • For data purposes only, make a judgement (do not test). We understand the reporting data will not be fully reflective of Team determinations for two more years.
effective progress
Effective Progress
  • Not just passing grades
  • Failing grades -- one indicator of ineffective progress
  • Definitional language:
    • Documented growth in acquisition of knowledge and skills
    • including social/emotional development
    • according to age, development, potential, and learning standards
    • includes preschool, academic and non-academic offerings of the district, and vocational programs and activities
is lack of effective progress a result of the disability ies
Is lack of effective progress a result of the disability(ies)?
  • Good assessment information will play a role here.
  • Remember the concept “educational disability”

Disability + Educational Impact of Disability

  • If the student is not making effective progress, and there is no evidence that it is because of a disability in whole or in part, HAVE OPTIONS for the student other than special education.

Lack of progress



Need for special education

Because of disability

does the student require special education in order to make effective progress
Does the Student Require Special Education in order to make effective progress?
  • At this point, the Team has determined that the student has a disability.
  • And, that the disability does have a negative impact on effective progress.
  • Are there any circumstances when the Team might say that the student is INELIGIBLE?
special education
Special Education
  • Specially designed instruction


  • Related service(s) necessary to access the general curriculum
possible finding of no eligibility at this point few and far between
Possible Finding of No Eligibility at this point (few and far between)
  • Student is disabled
  • disability contributes to ineffective progress
  • Not eligible IF student does not need services (instructional or related) and only needs some kind of accommodation, or
  • Student needs accommodations to make progress but any service need is not instructional and is unrelated to access to the general curriculum.
  • See special considerations: Table 5B
  • Young Children
  • Different Linguistic/Cultural Background
  • Involvement with Social Services or the Courts
  • MCAS performance
  • social maladjustment
  • lack of instruction in reading or math
eligibility discussions and iep discussions are different
Eligibility Discussions and IEP Discussions are Different
  • Related but not synonymous.
  • 28.05(2)(a)(ii) “Once eligibility has been determined, the type of disability shall not be used to provide a basis for labeling or stigmatizing the student…shall not define the needs…and shall in no way limit the services, programs, or inclusion opportunities provided to the student.”
key points
Key points
  • Promote a strong, responsive, General Education Program
  • Provide information on OPTIONS and Special Ed.
  • Do good evaluations -- it is worth your while
  • Make careful determinations
  • Remember this is an EDUCATION process.
  • Don’t make reporting an issue.
introducing the information available to assist in making eligibility determinations

Introducing the Information Available to Assist in Making Eligibility Determinations

Using the technical assistance document:

Is Special Education

the Right Service?

  • to introduce the six tables within the technical assistance document
  • to illustrate how the tables can be used to compare, contrast and find common themes across disability types
  • to initiate dialog about district capacity for appropriate special education evaluations
  • to assist in training Team members to make more informed disability decisions and eligibility determinations
the 6 tables
The 6 tables. . .
  • Table 1: Instructional Support Intervention Process
  • Table 2: Questions That May Help Guide the Assessment of Student Instructional Needs
  • Table 3: Disability Definitions
  • Table 4: Assessment Factors Related to Type of Disability
  • Table 5A: Special Considerations Related to Disability in Determining Eligibility
  • Table 5B: Special Considerations Related to Students with Certain Characteristics
table 1 instructional support intervention process
Table 1: Instructional Support Intervention Process


  • talks about general education practices
  • describes a recommended instructional support intervention system


  • help identify possible changes in educational environment that will promote learning and success in general education
table 2 questions that may help guide the assessment of student instructional needs
Table 2: Questions that May Help Guide the Assessment of Student Instructional Needs


  • provide a list of possible assessment questions and strategies


  • to assist in determining appropriate instructional support services
support strategies
Supportstrategies. . .
  • Should be tried, documented and analyzed
  • Should, when a referral has been made, be considered by a Team in making an eligibility determination
table 3 disability definitions
Table 3: Disability Definitions


  • provides full disability definitions found in Massachusetts special education regulation
  • includes federal definitions as necessary
  • identifies key words taken from state and/or federal regulations


  • to develop greater awareness and understanding of regulatory definitions of disability
other noteworthy items
Other noteworthy items. . .
  • Massachusetts definition for Neurological Impairment is broader than the Federal definition which is limited to Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
  • State law requires the term “emotional impairment” be considered synonymous with “serious emotional disturbance” (the Federal disability category)
about specific learning disability
About Specific Learning Disability
  • “an imperfect ability” may be considered to mean “seriously compromised”
  • look for “severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability”
notice the overlap in disability definitions
Notice the Overlapin disability definitions

For example: if communication is a presenting issue

  • Autism - significantly affecting verbal and non-verbal communication
  • Developmental Delay - difficulties in… receptive and/or expressive language
  • Sensory Impairment -Hearing - difficulty with oral communication
  • Sensory Impairment - Vision - difficulty with written communication
communication as a presenting issue
Communication as a presenting issue
  • Sensory Impairment - Deaf-Blind - severe communication… needs
  • Neurological Impairment - difficulties exhibited … speech, language
  • Communication Impairment - capacity to use expressive and/or receptive language is significantly limited, impaired, or delayed …
  • Specific Learning Disability - disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes … using language spoken or written ...
table 4 assessment factors related to type of disability
Table 4: Assessment Factors Related to Type of Disability


  • indicates the types of assessments that may be helpful in making a determination of disability(ies)


  • to assist districts in completing appropriate special education evaluations
assessment factors
Assessment factors. . .

Selected assessments must match the needs of the individual student who requires evaluation.

The Team must have comprehensive information in order to make informed decisions.

table 5a special considerations related to disability in determining eligibility
Table 5A: Special Considerations Related to Disability in Determining Eligibility


  • identifies special considerations unique to making an eligibility determination for each disability type
  • highlights co-existing considerations among the disability types


  • guides the individual inquiry process for each student
table 5b special considerations related to students with certain characteristics
Table 5B: Special Considerations Related to Students with Certain Characteristics


  • highlights factors that make the eligibility discussion more complex


  • to assist Teams in making appropriate eligibility determinations
students with certain characteristics
Students with certain characteristics. . .
  • Young Children
  • Different Linguistic or Cultural Backgrounds
  • Involved with Social Services or the Courts
  • Multiple Impairments
  • Social Maladjustment
  • Poor Performance on MCAS
  • Lack of Reading or Math Instruction
what should you do next
What Should You Do Next?
  • Share the technical assistance document with colleagues
  • Plan training activities on disability related topics for members of the entire school community - staff, parents and students
  • Ensure district capacity to complete comprehensive special education evaluations