• Special Education Terms




    A formal evaluation for the presence of a disability is only one part of a school’s responsibility to evaluate students. Both formal and informal assessments should be an ongoing practice throughout the school year, providing current and accurate records of any challenge the child is facing or developing, and noting a child’s progress and success.


    Education Management Teams (EMTs) can serve an important and helpful role throughout the process of considering the presence of a disability, providing supports, and then, if appropriate, formally evaluating a child. These teams include parents, students, teachers, administrators, and educational specialists working together to assist students in general education who are not progressing satisfactorily. 


    When an assessment for special education is initiated, the law says a child must be assessed in all areas of suspected disability. If a child is to be assessed, the assessment should be given as thoroughly as possible, especially given the tremendous human cost over a lifetime if a school misses a key part of what is preventing a child from succeeding.


    An evaluation for a disability must include assessment in all areas that are a cause for concern. These can include:

    1. Physical skills

    2. Cognitive skills

    3. Communication skills

    4. Self-help or adaptive skills

    5. Social or emotional skills

    6. Sensory processing skills


    The evaluation may include tests, observations, interviews, response to intervention, and medical information, depending upon the specific concerns and the evidence that documents those concerns.


    Once a child initially qualifies for special education, regular follow-up assessments, occurring at least every three years, are required to make sure the child is still receiving appropriate supports and services. This gives educators a gauge for adjusting those services if the student’s needs, abilities, or challenges have changed since the initial assessment.



    Child Find


    Child Find is a responsibility of school districts to identify each child who may have a disability, and to evaluate the child for the presence of a disability. Child find is not a requirement, however, to find a disability.


    Some children start their lives with a diagnosed disability (children who are blind, for example). They typically enter school with their special education services and supports clearly identified and already in place. Other student with a recognized disability may require no special education services at all (a student with mild cerebral palsy, for example). Still others may make reasonable progress in the classroom until they reach a certain grade or subject and then only start to fall behind because of a late-developing or late-identified disability. This range of possibilities must be set within the context of human growth and development. The many possible challenges that any one child might face makes it all the more important for parents and educators to focus on the unique needs of each child, not on labels or categories, when considering the possible presence of a disability.


    Perris Elementary School District’s multitiered system of supports (MTSS) framework in schools helps facilitate Child Find practices. MTSS provides a coordinated and targeted “tier” of responses to students who need extra support, whether or not they have a disability, are suspected of having one or are just struggling. The intention of MTSS is to ensure students receive effective interventions at the first sign of an academic or behavioral problem and so that a student who has a disability is identified and served.



    Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)


    FAPE means that all children with disabilities “are educated with children who are nondisabled; and [that] special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only if the nature of severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achievement satisfactorily” (34 CFR §300.114). This ensures the student is involved and makes progress in the general education curriculum, and that each student receives reasonable educational benefit from his or her school.


    The individual needs of a student determine what FAPE looks like. FAPE is different for every student, with differences hinging on the word “appropriate.” As an example, the supports that are appropriate for a child with a speech and language disability may not be appropriate for a child who is blind, or a child who has an orthopedic impairment. Even within the same disability category, two students may have greatly different needs. What is “appropriate” is determined through evaluations, conversations between IEP team members, and the student’s response over time. Too, what is appropriate should be expected to change as the child grows and learns. This is why ongoing assessments, both formal and informal, remain important, as are IEP meetings where team members can consider goals, progress and necessary adjustments to a student’s services and supports.



    The Individual Education Plan (IEP)


    Each child with a disability possesses a unique set of strengths, challenges, and needs. As such, IEPs were created to reflect that individuality for each student.


    The IEP Team must be made up of the following people:

    • The parent or legal guardian of the student;

    • Where appropriate, the student;

    • The child’s general education teacher;

    • The child’s special education teacher;

    • Any service providers who works with the student;

    • A representative of the school district who can ensure the provision of special designated instruction and who knows the general education curriculum and resources of the school district;

    • Someone who can interpret the instructional implications of the evaluation results, if these are completed.


    The IEP team must meet at least once per year to revise the IEP according to the progress the student is making towards the specified goals. The IEP is to include a statement of measurable annual goals and objectives for the year, including academic and functional goals. It is also to specify the services, supports, and accommodations the school will provide, and where they will be provided.


    A number of important sources of information can inform the IEP. The assessments that qualified the student to receive special education services are important references and critical in establishing present levels of performance. Often students themselves should also participate in the development and focus of the IEP’s goals – specifically, highlighting what they do well, what their interest are, what motivates them, and what they want to do “when they grow up.” Few students, with or without disabilities, know the answers to these questions early in their school careers. But asking them early and continuing to ask them – and providing information and experiences that are appropriate – can help students grow into their own answers. The student’s parents are also a vital source of information and important partners in developing the IEP. They are a child’s first and most important teachers, and they know the child better than anyone. They are also in a position to echo and reinforce at home all the important school lessons that can contribute to the student’s success.


    Focusing IEP meetings on a student’s progress and strengths rather than solely on the disability is another way to capitalize on what is working and to generalize one success into other areas. A strengths-based approach also helps the student see him or herself in a positive light.



    Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)


    “Least Restrictive Environment” means students with disabilities must be educated “to the maximum extent appropriate” with students who do not have disabilities (34 CFR §300.114 [a][2][i]), and in a general education classroom. A school may not remove a student from the general education classroom unless he or she cannot realize educational benefit in that setting, “even with the use of supplementary aids and services” (34 CFR §300.114 [a][2][ii]). Therefore a school district must offer a continuum of alternative placements that range from least restrictive (the general education classroom) to increasingly more restrictive: a resource room, special day class, county placement, special school, or temporary homebound services.


    A placement decision for a child must be determined in an IEP meeting by a group of persons, including the parents, who are knowledgeable about the child. The team must consider each child’s unique strengths and needs, making every effort for a child with an IEP to receive his or her education in the general education environment with support. If this has been tried and the student is not able to make progress, alternative placements may be considered. However it is also important for IEP teams to revisit placement considerations at each IEP, and review the full continuum of placements and services, so that no single decision is a permanent placement.