Special Education Eligibility/Development of IEP and Placement Decision

  • There are three parts to the process:

    1. Eligibility determination: The Team must first determine whether a child is eligible for special education services. This determination starts with the careful and thorough evaluation of the child in all areas of suspected disabilities.
    2. Development of the IEP: If the Team has found the student eligible for special education, the elements of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) must be discussed, planned and then captured in a written document. Input from parents, the student, general educators and special educators is necessary to complete this service contract that sets high expectations for a student and then guides that student’s special education services for the next year. 
    3. Placement Decision: Once all elements of the IEP are determined, including services and supports, a placement decision must be made. The first placement option considered for each student with a disability must be the general education classroom with the provision of needed aids and services. The law requires that students do not get placed outside of the general education classroom unless their disability requires another setting. The Team must always consider the unique needs of the student before making the final placement determination. 

    Special education determinations consist of a three-prong approach to eligibility that is detailed on the state eligibility flowchart (ED1). The steps in the process are as follows:

    • Determine that the student has an educational disability as defined by the state.
    • Determine if the student is making effective progress.
    • If the student is not making effective progress, determine whether or not the lack of progress is related to the disability.
    • On an initial evaluation, if the student has a disability and is not making effective progress and that lack of progress is related to the disability, determine whether or not there is a need for specially designed instruction (special education) and/or related services.  

    Specially designed instruction is defined within the federal special education law as a change in content, methodology, or delivery of instruction. Within Massachusetts regulations changes in performance criteria fall within the definition as well.

    Federal law states:

    Specially designed instruction means adapting, as appropriate to the needs of an eligible child under this part, the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction--

    (i) To address the unique needs of the child that result from the child's disability; and

    (ii) To ensure access of the child to the general curriculum, so that the child can meet the educational standards within the jurisdiction of the public agency that apply to all children.

    Under Federal regulations related services are defined as follows:

    (a) General. Related services means transportation and such developmental, corrective, and other supportive services as are required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education, and includes speech-language pathology and audiology services, interpreting services, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy, recreation, including therapeutic recreation, early identification and assessment of disabilities in children, counseling services, including rehabilitation counseling, orientation and mobility services, and medical services for diagnostic or evaluation purposes. Related services also include school health services and school nurse services, social work services in schools, and parent counseling and training.

    On a reevaluation, the team determines if the student continues to have a disability and is making effective progress with the current level of specially designed instruction and/or related services, and determines whether or not the student would continue to make effective progress without the provision of special education and/or related services. If the student has a disability and would make effective progress without the provision of special education and/or related services the student is not eligible.  If the student has a disability and would not continue to make effective progress without the provision of special education and/or related services then the student remains eligible.  

    If the team finds the student eligible for special education and develops a partial or full IEP and recommends further assessment an Extended Evaluation may be recommended.  If the team finds the student eligible but recommends further assessment before developing an IEP an Extended Evaluation can be recommended. State regulations detail that the Extended Evaluation should be used when evaluation information is inconclusive and should not be used to deny programs or services determined necessary by the team.  The extended evaluation may extend from one to eight school weeks but no longer.  Important points follow:

    • Extended evaluation may not be used to allow extra time to complete required assessments.
    • Extended evaluation is not a placement.
    • The team can write a partial or full IEP and utilize extended evaluation.
    • The team may meet at intervals during the extended evaluation period, not to exceed eight school weeks.
    • The team reconvenes promptly when the evaluation is complete and within the stated eight-week time frame to make any final decisions about IEP services.

    No Eligibility: A Team may also make a finding of no eligibility. If the student does not have a disability, if the student does not show a lack of progress, if the student does show a lack of progress but it is not due to a disability or ED 1 if the student does not require special education, then the team should make a finding of no eligibility. However, as a matter of good educational practice, the Team might reasonably discuss the appropriate next steps to ensure that any identified problem or concern is addressed by the school district. Most problems are best addressed as soon as possible and such early action may well be critical to the ultimate success of the student. If the student has a disability, one possible next step may be the development of a 504 Accommodation Plan. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. This law protects a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities include walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for self and performing manual tasks. Parents also have the right to appeal any eligibility determination to the Bureau of Special Education Appeals, including a finding of no eligibility. Parents may contact the Bureau directly or request district assistance in contacting this agency. 

    Sudbury Public Schools Process

    Team meetings are chaired by Team Chairpersons for initial evaluations and reevaluations.   For annual reviews, special education liaisons function as Sudbury Team Chairpersons.

    For initial evaluations and reevaluations the three prong approach to special education determinations is followed utilizing the special education eligibility form (ED1).  If no determination of special education eligibility is found, a consideration of a Section 504 meeting to consider eligibility for an accommodation plan should be made.  

    Consideration is also given to general education supports and/or the development of an Individual Curriculum Accommodation Plan (ICAP) or an Individual Student Support Plan (ISSP).

    State Regulations-Disability Definitions

    Disability Categories:  Disability shall mean one or more of the following impairments:
    (a) Autism - A developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction. The term shall have the meaning given it in federal law at 34 CFR §300.8(c)(1).

    (b) Developmental Delay - The learning capacity of a young child (3-9 years old) is significantly limited, impaired, or delayed and is exhibited by difficulties in one or more of the following areas: receptive and/or expressive language; cognitive abilities; physical functioning; social, emotional, or adaptive functioning; and/or self-help skills.

    (c) Intellectual Impairment - The permanent capacity for performing cognitive tasks, functions, or problem solving is significantly limited or impaired and is exhibited by more than one of the following: a slower rate of learning; disorganized patterns of learning; difficulty with adaptive behavior; and/or difficulty understanding abstract concepts. Such term shall include students with mental retardation.

    (d) Sensory Impairment - The term shall include the following:

    • Hearing Impairment or Deaf - The capacity to hear, with amplification, is limited, impaired, or absent and results in one or more of the following: reduced performance in hearing acuity tasks; difficulty with oral communication; and/or difficulty in understanding auditorally-presented information in the education environment. The term includes students who are deaf and students who are hard-of-hearing.
    • Vision Impairment or Blind - The capacity to see, after correction, is limited, impaired, or absent and results in one or more of the following: reduced performance in visual acuity tasks; difficulty with written communication; and/or difficulty with understanding information presented visually in the education environment. The term includes students who are blind and students with limited vision.
    • Deaf/blind - Concomitant hearing and visual impairments, the combination of which causes severe communication and other developmental and educational needs.

    (e) Neurological Impairment - The capacity of the nervous system is limited or impaired with difficulties exhibited in one or more of the following areas: the use of memory, the control and use of cognitive functioning, sensory and motor skills, speech, language, organizational skills, information processing, affect, social skills, or basic life functions. The term includes students who have received a traumatic brain injury.

    (f) Emotional Impairment - As defined under federal law at 34 CFR §300.8(c)(4), the student exhibits one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects educational performance: an inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors; an inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers; inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances; a general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression; or a tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems. The determination of disability shall not be made solely because the student's behavior violates the school's discipline code, because the student is involved with a state court or social service agency, or because the student is socially maladjusted, unless the Team determines that the student has a serious emotional disturbance.

    (g) Communication Impairment - The capacity to use expressive and/or receptive language is significantly limited, impaired, or delayed and is exhibited by difficulties in one or more of the following areas: speech, such as articulation and/or voice; conveying, understanding, or using spoken, written, or symbolic language. The term may include a student with impaired articulation, stuttering, language impairment, or voice impairment if such impairment adversely affects the student's educational performance.

    (h) Physical Impairment - The physical capacity to move, coordinate actions, or perform physical activities is significantly limited, impaired, or delayed and is exhibited by difficulties in one or more of the following areas: physical and motor tasks; independent movement; performing basic life functions. The term shall include severe orthopedic impairments or impairments caused by congenital anomaly, cerebral palsy, amputations, and fractures, if such impairment adversely affects a student's educational performance.

    (i) Health Impairment - A chronic or acute health problem such that the physiological capacity to function is significantly limited or impaired and results in one or more of the following: limited strength, vitality, or alertness including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli resulting in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment. The term shall include health impairments due to asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit with hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, and sickle cell anemia, if such health impairment adversely affects a student's educational performance.(j) Specific Learning Disability - The term means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations. Use of the term shall meet all federal requirements given in federal law at 34 CFR §§300.8(c)(10) and 300.309.

    Note:  The Team's responsibility is to identify an Educational Disability, as defined by law.  Eligibility for special education is based on educational disabilities not on a specific diagnosis.  Diagnosis is medical in nature; school teams do not diagnose. 

    Development of IEP:

    Parents and/or students need to give input into IEP development. Parent and/or student input becomes the first indicator for defining the IEP focus. The placement of this item as the first order of business is deliberate and in keeping with the importance given to parent input in IDEA-97. Parents need to be asked to share their biggest concerns and their hopes for their child’s accomplishments, as the parent perspective is unique and important to the Team’s work. Parents, without exception, have a view of the student that cannot be duplicated by even experienced evaluators.

    Present Levels of Educational Performance must be clearly written. The Team will also use the assessment information and their discussion of the student’s present levels of educational performance (PLEP) to focus the direction of the IEP goals and services. The PLEPs must be based on current, relevant information about the student obtained from a variety of sources. The Team first clarifies the educational needs that result from the student’s disability(ies). In other words, the Team describes the impact of the student’s disability(ies) on student’s participation in the general curriculum and the school. To keep the IEP focused, only areas affected by the disability should be described. Clear descriptions of how the disability(ies) impacts progress will better assist Teams in determining the most appropriate and individualized accommodations and special education services. 

    Accommodations: Some needs will be addressed through accommodations. Accommodations are modifications that are typically provided by general educators within the general education environment. Preferential seating, pencil grip use or cooperative learning strategies are some examples of these kinds of typical accommodations. Accommodations do not involve modifying the material content but do allow students to receive information in a more effective manner. 

    Not every student who is eligible for special education will require accommodations. The Team must reflect on the affect the disability(ies) has on educational progress and then identify accommodations, if any are needed, for the student to make effective progress. Some students with disabilities may require accommodations in only one curriculum or program area, others may require extensive accommodations, or none at all. The Team’s attention at this point should be on what the school district can do to help the student. 

    Specially designed instruction addresses more complex needs. Specially designed instruction addresses the unique needs of the student that result from the student’s disability. Specially designed instruction is a modification not regularly provided for students in the general education  program. Special education services will usually include “specially designed instruction unless the students only require a related service(s) to access the general curriculum. However, not all students will need specially designed instruction in all areas of educational need and not all students will require all types of specially designed instruction. Specially designed instruction includes modifications that affect content, delivery of instruction, methodology and/or performance criteria and are necessary to assist the student in participating and learning. This instruction is designed by or with an appropriately credentialed special education teacher or related service provider.

    Current Performance Connected to Measurable/Annual Goals:  Teams must connect current performance to measurable annual goals. The IEP should be written with a direct connection between the current performance levels and the measurable annual goals. The current performance levels state what the IEP 4 student can currently do and identify key stumbling blocks. The goals state what the student will accomplish by the end of the IEP period. The current performance levels become the starting points for determining the goals and the goals become the end points for student accomplishment for the IEP period. The Team now begins to shift their attention. The Team began by paying attention to how the student participates in the school and what the school district will do for the student. Now the Team members begin to pay attention to what the school district will expect the student to do and accomplish given the assistance the student will receive over the IEP period.

    IEP goals are written to make the greatest difference for students. Goals must be measurable and must specify the expected knowledge, skill, behavior or attitude to be achieved within the IEP period, typically one school year. Goal statements address priority needs and focus the instruction over the next year. The Team will have to make choices as to what can reasonably be accomplished in a single year’s time. The Team must ensure the selected goals are the ones that matter to the parent, to the future of the student and in making the biggest difference for the student in the school. Most IEPs should include only three to four direction-setting goals. However, the Team is responsible for making the final determination of the number and types of goals that are included in the IEP. Remember, though, an IEP is not a daily, weekly or monthly lesson plan but rather is a guide that supports the development of these other plans. Goals must be challenging to ensure that students with disabilities are being held to high standards and are being adequately prepared for independence and productive Massachusetts Department of Education / June 2001. Yet, they must also be measurable and attainable. If a goal is being repeated year after year, there is something wrong. Most likely, the goal is not an annual goal and is not written in measurable terms. If the same goal is being repeated year after year, the goal is too vague or too broad and, in reality, becomes meaningless to judging a student’s progress. 

    Goals need not address areas that are not affected by the disability(ies). Nor should the goals clutter the IEP with specific details for each content standard. Rather the goals should focus on the strategies the student needs for making progress in the general curriculum and other areas of need. Goals must be individualized. Goals must be based on the student’s past experience, current performance, rate of learning and educational needs, which rules out simply paraphrasing curricular content areas. For example, if a student is not making progress across the curriculum due to a reading disability then a measurable, annual goal should be written for reading. However, if another student has sound reading skills but is not making progress across the curriculum due to a writing disability, then a reading goal should not be added to the IEP but a goal addressing the less well developed writing skills should be included. 
    Measurable goals are the key to identifying progress. Fewer goals make it more possible to see the changes in a student and to determine whether the student is really making the hoped for progress. Goals, then, can be used to measure student progress but can also be used to evaluate the effectiveness of aids and services. Therefore, well-written goals will help the Team more effectively consider how to adjust services and aids to prompt better results. Progress reports reflect steps taken towards annual goals. Progress reports must be sent to parents at least as often as parents are informed of their nondisabled children’s progress. By Federal regulation, progress reports must answer the following two questions for each goal: · What is the student’s progress toward the annual goal? · Is the progress sufficient to enable the student to achieve the annual goal by the end of the IEP period? 


     Placement is decided after the IEP is written. The IEP forms the basis for the placement decision. Once the Team has decided on the student’s needs and required services, the Team decides which placement is required to implement the IEP. The placement should be chosen individually for each student from a full continuum of placement options based on the most appropriate placement to provide the services on the student’s IEP. A placement in the general education environment is presumed. IDEA-97 presumes the first placement option considered for all eligible students will be the general education classroom with the use of supplemental aids and services. Students may not be denied education in age-appropriate general education classrooms solely because the students’ education requires modification to the general curriculum. Teams must first consider if the eligible student may be served in the school and classroom the student would attend if not disabled. Other options should be considered only when the nature and severity of the disability would prevent satisfactory achievement within the general education environment. An in-district placement should always be considered and recommended before an out-of-district placement is considered. If the Team determines that an out-of-district placement is necessary, the Team must be mindful of the requirement to give preference to approved programs located in Massachusetts. It is worth noting that if the Team determines an out-of-district placement is required, most such programs are not within the jurisdiction of the public school district and specific program locations cannot be guaranteed. In such cases, the public school district must work cooperatively with the Team to implement the placement determination, and may have to consider referrals to multiple program locations. In most cases, the Team who wrote the IEP will decide the placement immediately after the IEP is developed. If the student’s needs and corresponding services are complex and the Team is considering an initial out-of-district program or a different setting for a student currently in an out-of-district placement, a subsequent meeting might be scheduled to finalize the placement decision. In all cases, the parent continues to be an equal participant in the Team process. 

    Quoted and Adapted from the Massachusetts Department of Education / June 2001 IEP Process Guide