Eligibility, Identification, & Placement
So, you've read through the process of requesting help for your child, right?
Good. You should start there. I'll assume that you're ready to try something more intensive, like special education at this point. If you haven't read how to request help, please go back and do it!
What is special education? Kansas defines it as "specially designed instruction" that modifies the curriculum or method of presentation so that it is accessible by students with disabilities. But, how does a school determine which children need special education? Through a process called "identification."
A large part of my job as a school psychologist is to evaluate a student's eligibility for special education services under federal and state guidelines. There is criteria that a student must demonstrate in order to "meet the definition" (as the state refers to it) of a student with a disability. My role is to gather information, conduct some assessments, observe student behavior, and then present that to the IEP team who is ultimately responsible to determine if a child may receive special education programming.
However, just because a student can "meet the definition" of a student with an exceptionality, does not automatically mean that they are eligible for services. The second part of equation is to determine if that student needs special education in order to progress academically. Kansas refers to this as the "two-prong test of eligibility." The IEP team must agree that (1) the child "meets the definition" and that (2) special education is needed. When the IEP team agrees that your child meets these criteria, this is known as meeting "eligibility."
What happens if both parts of the two-prong test aren't met? Good question.
If a child is disabled, but it doesn't affect educational performance, see here.
If a child is not disabled, but does demonstrate poor educational performance, see here.
After the IEP determines that the two-prong test has been met, the work is far from over. The team must also determine what service(s) the child needs in order to accommodate for the disability. This second step is often referred to as "placement." Often, this decision is made at the same time that the child is determined to have met eligibility criteria. Other times, the IEP team will set up another meeting to determine what services may be provided for the child.
Both of these important IEP team decisions cannot be made without written parental consent. As a parent, you must agree to both the special education identification and placement of your child.
At the minimum, you will meet with your child's IEP team once per year to discuss changes in your child's IEP, goals for improvement, current educational performance and to make sure that your concerns are being addressed by the child's IEP.
In addition, every three years that your child receives special education services, a complete re-evaluation must take place. The process of re-evaluation is needed to determine if your child continues to meet the two-prong test of eligibility.