1. The School District Does not have to evaluate your child just because you submit a signed request to evaluate.
When you submit a written and signed request for an evaluation, the school district has 15 days to meet as a team, discuss your child’s educational needs, and provide a written response with an indication of a game-plan to meet your child’s needs. That “game-plan” does not necessarily need to include a referral to the school psychologist for an educational evaluation. It may, rather, include any number of other options including modifications to how the classwork is assigned. However, you can appeal their feedback and request due process in that regard.
2. To determine eligibility for special education services, most Districts still use the 15 point discrepancy guideline.
If your child is evaluated by the school psychologist, various tests are administered (IQ, Academic…). The scores are listed as “Standard Scores” with an average of 100 (average runs from 90 to 109). There generally needs to be a 15 point “discrepancy” or the difference between the IQ score and the academic scores (reading, math…) for a child to be deemed eligible for special education (Specific Learning Disability). For example, if the child obtains an IQ of 100, then it’s expected the reading and math scores will also be about 100 (it’s expected that the child will achieve at the same level as their IQ). However, if the reading or math scores are 85, that’s a 15 point difference and would qualify the child for special education (under the classification of a Specific Learning Disability). Less than a 15 point difference would preclude qualification. Other factors are also considered including PSSA scores, grades, work effort, a prior opportunity for being appropriately educated, and English language proficiency. However, the 15 point rule is often primary.
3. The 15 point discrepancy model is why many kids who may need special education don’t qualify.
It can be quite challenging to obtain a 15 point discrepancy, especially in the lower grades, and even more so if a child has a lower IQ, say in the low average range. For example, if a child has an IQ Standard Score of 82 (low in the low average range), then the reading and math standard scores would have to be as low as 67, which is quite deficient and unlikely except in the most severe of situations. So, kids who have a lower IQ, and who are often in most need for special education, are often excluded. Keep in mind that, in this scenario, a child with a Standard Score of 70 in Reading is clearly struggling, but does not qualify because there is less than a 15 point discrepancy. This is a situation that most school districts acknowledge as a problem and try to provide alternative options such as Title I and similar programs.
4. The benefit of using grade-equivalents in addition to standard scores.
A child may have a Standard Score of 87 in reading comprehension, which is at the upper end of the “low average” range and, on the surface, does not appear significantly deficient and often would not lead to a child meeting criteria for special education (under the classification of a specific learning disability). However, despite the low average score, the grade-equivalent (the grade-level on which the child is working) for that child may be two grades behind, truly revealing the degree to which the child is struggling. Most often, grade-equivalents are not listed in the report, and their importance tends to be downplayed for various reasons I won’t bore you with today. However, I’ve found that grade-equivalents are important and need to be reviewed, discussed, and taken seriously during team meetings.
5. A classification of “specific learning disability” or “learning disability” used by the school district is essentially synonymous with “dyslexia”.
The terminology used by school districts (Specific Learning Disability, Other Health Impairment) comes straight from the Pennsylvania Department of Education in Harrisburg. This Department tells the Districts what terms they must use to receive funding. Consequently, school districts use the term “specific learning disability (SLD)”. It is important to know that well over 90% of all kids who fall under the classification of SLD, have dyslexia (or dysgraphia, or dyscalculia…). In that regard, the reason they have a specific learning disability is because they have dyslexia. I’ve written at length about dyslexia, so feel free to read my prior posts about that disorder on the cpcwecare.com blog.
What does this mean for you?
In summary, there are lots of accommodation options besides directly referring to the school psychologist for an evaluation. In fact, you may find the process faster and smoother to receive feedback from the team regarding simple and efficient things they can do, now, in the classroom to help your child, and things you can do at home rather than waiting 60 days for the school psychologist to complete and present evaluation results. This is especially true given that a 15 point discrepancy is often needed for eligibility to receive special education services, and the chances are not great your child will have that discrepancy; especially in the lower grades. A 504 Plan may be more than sufficient and is much faster to develop. A 504 Plan is used for children who have a diagnosis for which various modifications can be used to ensure they have the same opportunity for an appropriate education as everyone else. It’s often used, for example, with kids who are diagnosed with ADHD. Ultimately, however, it’s vital to obtain information about what you can do at home to help your child learn.