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What is Special Education?

California Education Code (section 56031) defines special education as:

Specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of individuals with exceptional needs, whose educational needs cannot be met with modification of the general instruction program; and Related services that help individuals with special needs to benefit from specially designed instruction. Special education is an integral part of the total public education system. Other features of special education are:

  1. It is provided in a way that promotes maximum interaction between students with and without disabilities in a manner which is appropriate to the needs of both;
  2. Services are provided at no cost to parents;
  3. It provides a full range of program options to meet the educational and service requirements of individuals with exceptional needs in the least restrictive environment (LRE). The LRE is generally the setting that is most similar to those attended by general education students.
It provides a full range of program options to meet the educational and service requirements of individuals with exceptional needs in the least restrictive environment (LRE). The LRE is generally the setting that is most similar to those attended by general education students.

Who is eligible for Special Education services?

A student, ages 3 through 22, having one or more of the following thirteen Federally defined disabling conditions that adversely affect his or her educational performance, may be eligible to receive special education services.

  • Autism
  • Deaf-blindness
  • Deafness
  • Hearing impairment,(Hard of Hearing)
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Multiple disabilities
  • Orthopedic impairment
  • Other health impairment
  • Serious emotional disturbance
  • Specific learning disability
  • Speech or language impairment
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Visual impairment

Eligibility is determined through an assessment process that identifies one or more impairments that prevent a student from achieving at his/her potential. A student may be performing significantly below the districts standards and additional interventions may be necessary for the student to maximize access to the educational program.

How is eligibility for Special Education determined?
The Assessment Plan


The primary assessment provider (e.g. school psychologist, speech therapist, occupational therapist, etc.) will complete an assessment plan. The parent/guardian must sign an assessment plan before the school can begin an individual assessment of a student. Parents must be informed about the assessments purpose, the methods or techniques which will be used, and the people (by title) who will be conducting the assessment. The purpose of the assessment is to answer one or more questions identified on the assessment plan. The assessment questions are designed to identify the type of services and level of support that will assist the student in attaining the district standards. If a parent does not approve an assessment plan when the district believes an assessment is needed, the district or parent may request an Alternative Dispute Resolution panel or proceed to due process.

The Assessment Process

The assessment of a student is conducted to determine whether or not the student has special needs that qualify him or her for special education services and to assist in instructional planning. Testing should result in identification of the students present skill levels and interventions that are likely to be successful. The final step in the process is a team meeting where the separate components of the assessment are brought together.

The assessment involves collecting important information from parents/guardians and from qualified district personnel. These people may include some or all of those listed in the table on the next page.

  1. Formal/informal test(s) administered in a one-on-one setting.
  2. Review of school records and district assessments.
  3. Parent interview.
  4. Teacher interview.
  5. Observation of the student in the classroom and possibly other setting, such as the playground.
  6. Health and developmental history.

In addition, the assessment will include reviewing any outside evaluations that have been obtained and made available to the school district.

Data gathered during the assessment process will be summarized in written assessment reports.

How does a student get Special Education services?

Several procedural steps are required for a student to be identified for special education services and for reviewing the ongoing need for these services. These steps are:

  1. Student Success Team (SST) Meeting
  2. Assessment Plan
  3. Assessment Period
  4. Individualized Education Program (IEP) Team Meeting for Determination of Eligibility and Creation of IEP
  5. IEP Implementation
  6. Annual Review IEP
  7. Triennial Assessment

What is a Student Success Team (SST)?

Sometimes a child does not make sufficient progress in the general school program, even with modifications and remedial instruction. Under current federal and state law, anyone can refer a child when he or she suspects a child has special needs. The child can be referred to the schools Student Success Team (SST). The SST, which typically includes the parent/guardian, develops a plan of modifications and/or interventions to be implemented in the general education classroom over a period of time. If these modifications/ interventions are not successful, the SST may ultimately refer a child for consideration of special education eligibility.

The SST process is not meant to delay a necessary special education assessment. Rather, the SST meeting provides a forum for discussing identified concerns. Once concerns are identified, it is a time for problem-solving. Typically, an intervention is designed, implemented, and monitored for 4 to 8 weeks. The purpose of this process is to identify the level of support and types of educational conditions that improve a students progress toward the district standards.

One outcome of the SST process may be a special education assessment. However, many students are successful after the SST process and do not require special education services. Parent participation in the SST is particularly valuable. Parents bring important information to the SST and also receive important information from school personnel. Parent participation helps ensure that a full discussion of a child's educational performance takes place.
How does the SST meeting process work? Where do we begin?

Consultation: First, the parent/guardian and the teacher discuss the student, identifying strengths and weakness and possible interventions. The school psychologist, counselor and/or administrator are welcome to participate in this consultation.

Referral: If the interventions that have been developed and implemented are unsuccessful, the parent/guardian, or the teacher makes a referral to the SST. If a parent requests a SST meeting or an evaluation for special education services, the meeting will be held within two weeks of receipt of the written referral.

Initial SST Meeting: School staff schedules and invites the parent/guardian to a SST meeting. The team members may include the parent, psychologist, teacher(s), counselor, and school principal. The SST commonly adheres to the following six steps and approximate time requirements. Its important to note, however, that SSTs may vary from school to school and from case to case:

Step 1: Overview-- The team reviews information about students strengths and areas of need, preferences, interests, and general health and well being. All relevant information is examined and discussed, including any outside evaluations the parent/guardian may have gathered. Information is collected through team discussions, review of records, work samples, observations, and interviews.

Step 2: Problem Identification-- The team lists instructional and/or behavioral concerns, prioritizes them, and defines the concerns in terms of one or two measurable behavioral goals. The goals may be based on district content standards, peer performance, or developmental standards.

Step 3: Define Intervention -- The team brainstorms possible interventions to meet the behavioral goal(s) identified in Step 2. Interventions are then selected based on their feasibility and likelihood of success. Creative uses of both community and district resources (e.g. the reading specialist, after school tutoring, counseling, etc.) are considered in determining the feasibility of each intervention. Next, the duration and intensity of the intervention are established. The individuals accountable for providing the interventions are identified. In addition, a liaison (i.e., someone to assist the interventionist(s) in fine-tuning the intervention) should be selected.

Step 4: Identification of Monitoring System-- The team establishes a continuous monitoring technique. Information on the students progress toward the identified goal(s) will be collected and recorded frequently. Adjustments to the interventions are made based on this information. Progress may be charted. The responsibility of monitoring student progress is assigned to one or more team members.

Step 5: Schedule a Follow-up Meeting -- A date is selected for reconvening the SST team. Most interventions take from 4 to 8 weeks to see an effect.

Step 6: Hold the Follow-up Meeting-- The follow-up meeting will be held to determine the success of the intervention. The team will decide whether to:


  1. discontinue the intervention because the goals have been achieved;
  2. modify the interventions;
  3. develop an additional intervention or consider other options.

In making such decisions, the team will consider:


  1. the discrepancy between actual and targeted behaviors before and after the intervention;
  2. progress towards district content standards and performance indicators;
  3. the intensity, duration, and effectiveness (e.g. whether it was implemented as planned) of the intervention; and
  4. the amount of resources required to implement the intervention.

Assessment for special education is probably not warranted in cases where the intervention results and other information reviewed by the SST suggest that the student does not have a disability of such severity that the identified needs cannot be met in general education, with or without accommodations

What is an IEP?

The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is a legal document that must be written for each child who is eligible for special education services. The IEP helps ensure that special education services are provided as planned, and that their appropriateness is evaluated regularly.


The IEP specifies services to be provided by the school district. It describes anticipated long-term goals and short-term objectives for a student, and serves as a `blueprint` for instruction in the school environment. It is not, however, a daily lesson plan.

The IEP must be reviewed and updated annually. However, parents and/or teacher(s) can request a review more frequently.

Who should attend an IEP team meeting?

Current law stipulates that, at a minimum, the following persons must attend an IEP team:the parent(s) or guardian(s);

  • a teacher knowledgeable about the student (a students general education teacher participates to the extent appropriate);
  • an administrator, or designee;
  • the student, when appropriate, (usually middle and high school students attend); and
  • special education teacher.
Who else may be members of an IEP Team?
  • advocates from organizations or agencies, such as a Regional Center counselor;
  • non-school therapists or specialists who work with a child; and
  • a friend or relative who will provide moral support and take notes for the family.
How does a `team approach` to an IEP team meeting work?


The team approach to developing an IEP involves communication and cooperation among parents, teacher(s), and other specialists with different kinds of skills who may work for the school district or outside agencies. Together, the team prepares an IEP that best suits the students present educational needs. The team develops the IEP at a meeting that is held at a time and place that is convenient for parents and the school personnel.

What must the IEP document contain?


In addition to eligibility information, the IEP document always includes the following components:

1. A statement of the students present levels of educational performance

Statements about what the student can and cannot do are based on assessment information. These may include information about academic, social, language, motor, self-help, and pre-vocational skills. Statements should describe the students classroom performance and how the disability affects his or her participation and progress in the general curriculum. They should not list only test scores.

2.A statement of the students annual goals and short-term instructional objectives

Based on the students identified learning needs, the IEP specifies skills the student will work on. The IEP must specify annual goals (i.e., what the student can reasonably be expected to accomplish within one year). Short-term objectives are measurable, intermediate steps between where the student is now (i.e., present levels of performance) and the annual goals. The objectives are developed based on a logical breakdown of the skills necessary to achieve the goal. The objectives serve as a guide for planning and implementing instructional activities in the classroom and as milestones for measuring progress. The IEP identifies a few learning goals in each area, however, these goals are not the only skills the student will learn during the year. The student will receive instruction in many other skills beyond those identified by his/her IEP. Progress toward attaining the annual goals will be reported to parents at least three times a year. For children who are limited English proficient (LEP), the goals and objectives must address English language development.

3.A statement of specific education and related services to be provided to the student. Some services may include when appropriate:

  • assistive technology,
  • extended school year services,
  • shortened day services,
  • adaptive physical education,
  • transition services,
  • community experience,
  • employment and post-school living, and
  • acquisition of daily living skills and a functional vocational evaluation, if appropriate.

4.A description of the extent to which the child will participate in the general education program or natural preschool environment and a description of the program to be provided.

5.Participation in State or District-wide Assessments, with accommodations where necessary.

6.Projected dates for initiation of services and the anticipated duration of services.

7.Annual and Triennial Dates

The IEP will be reviewed at least once per year. The annual review date indicates the date that the IEP must be reviewed. A triennial review, which closely examines the appropriateness of the students program, is conducted every three years. This three-year review may entail an informal consultation between the parent(s), the teacher and the school psychologist or a more formal assessment. The IEP should include objective criteria, evaluation procedures, and schedule for determining whether short-term and long-term educational objectives are being achieved.

8.Signatures and Parent/Guardian Approval

Persons attending an IEP team meeting are asked to sign the IEP to indicate their participation; however, only the parent/ guardian is asked to approve the IEP. This is because an IEP cannot be implemented without parent approval.