The "special education process" in 5 steps for parents
First you wondered if it was necessary, you told yourself to wait it out and not overthink it. Then you began doing research, and maybe even talked to your child's pediatrician or teacher. At some point, you came to terms with the fact that your child may have learning delays and/or disabilities. You might have gone through a period of denial, anger, grief and a number of emotions! Eventually, you began to accept it and appreciate all the things that make your child unique.
Now however, you have to figure out how to get your child all the special education services you can get in order to help him or her succeed academically, socially and emotionally. Navigating the special education process can be a very overwhelming and emotional time for parents. So, where do you begin?
Below is an overview of the 5 stages of the special education process. For more in-depth guidance including parental rights throughout the process, book a one-on-one session with me here!
1. The Initial Referral
For children under age 3, you can call your state’s early intervention program and request an evaluation. You can say, "I have concerns about my child’s development and would like to have him/her evaluated to find out if he/she is eligible for early intervention services." You will be given a list of agencies approved by your state to provide special education evaluations.
For children age 3-5, call your school district’s Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE) to request a free evaluation.
For children above age 5, talk to your child’s teacher about a Response to Intervention (RTI) which are additional supports that can be used in the classroom without officially classifying the child. If you and your child’s teacher still feel he/she requires an evaluation, refer your child to the school's Committee on Special Education (CSE). You can also skip directly to this step.
After you select an agency and consent to having your child evaluated, a team of educators and a psychologist use various assessment tools to determine whether or not your child requires special educations services. A copy of the evaluation report, including a summary of the evaluation will be provided to you as well as to the other members of the CPSE or CSE.
This comprehensive evaluation should include:
- a physical examination
- a social history
- parent/caregiver interviews
- a psychological evaluation
- an observation in current setting
- other tests deemed appropriate
3. Determining Eligibility
Once the evaluations are completed, a report is written and the CSE (including parent) meets to discuss the the results. If the child has one or more of the disabilities listed in IDEA and it is determined that it would keep him/her from learning adequately in the general education classroom, they are eligible to receive special education programs and/or services.
If a parent disagrees with the decision made by the CSE, he/she can request the district pay for an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE).
4. Individualized Education Plan (IEP)
The CPSE or CSE develops an individualized education plan to help meet the child’s unique needs. The IEP describes the evaluation results, the child’s disability classification, the child’s abilities, strengths, and needs, educational goals, accommodations and modifications required, programs and services to be provided, how and when progress will be assessed, and where the services will be provided.
5. Implementation and Annual Reviews/Reevaluation
After the IEP is written and the parent(s) receive a copy, all educators and service providers become responsible for implementing it immediately.
Annual reviews are to be held every year. The CSE (including parent) meets to discuss progress towards the student's IEP goals and make any necessary changes.
Reevaluations are to be held every 3 years. The school district reevaluates the child's need for special education services. Reevaluations can also occur in other conditions outside of the 3 year mark such as when a functional behavior assessment and behavior intervention plan is required.
Do you have a child or student who has been determined to require special education services? Book a one-on-one coaching session here.
For parents, this session will alleviate your stress and confusion regarding your child's special education evaluation process. You will feel ready to attend your child's IEP meetings, confident about the services you can (and should) be getting for your child, and know your rights during the entire process.
For educators, this session will leave you feeling confident about the IEP writing process, creating behavior intervention plans, collecting meaningful data, differentiating instruction, and implementing instructional and behavioral supports in your classroom.
With a dual degree in early childhood education and special education from Columbia University paired with my decade of experience teaching special education, I consider myself an expert on advocating for and empowering young children. Much too often I have witnessed children fall through the cracks as they were denied the services they truly needed. I am here to help you make sure that does not happen to your child/student and that he/she gets everything they deserve and more!
*Please note that some of these procedures may vary on a state-to-state basis.