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Eligibility Q&A

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Questions:

  1. Where can I find the eligibility criteria for the disability categories under IDEA?
  2. Is the 1.5 standard deviation (SD) discrepancy between ability and achievement required to show an adverse impact on educational performance?
  3. Are medical diagnoses or mental health diagnoses required for some of the disability categories? 
  4. When a parent provides documentation of a medical or mental health diagnoses, how should this information be handled by the eligibility team?
  5. What is required to make a determination that a student is not eligible for special education services?
  6. What happens if the eligibility team does not agree on the conclusion?
  7. What is the difference between diagnosing a student with a disability and determining eligibility for a disability category?
  8. Can professional judgment be used to make eligibility determinations?
  9. Does “adversely affect educational performance” just mean grades and test scores? 
  10. Does the Department consider it appropriate to use the eligibility category of Other Heath Impaired (OHI) for Asperger’s syndrome rather than educational autism?
 

Questions and Answers:

1. Where can I find the eligibility criteria for the disability categories under IDEA?

The definition and specific criteria required for each of the identified disability categories can be found in Section III. Identification and Evaluation of the Missouri State Plan for Special Education.    This document can be found at:   http://www.dese.mo.gov/schoollaw/rulesregs/Inc_By_Ref_Mat/documents/FinalReg-IIIIdentificationandEvaluation2010.pdf

Another good source for guidance on the specific criteria required for eligibility for each of the disability categories can be found in the Special Education Compliance:  Standards and Indicators Manual.  Each of the required criteria for each of the disability areas is described in detail along with descriptions of the components required for documenting each of the criteria in standards 600 - 2100.  This document can be found at:  http://www.dese.mo.gov/divspeced/Compliance/StandardsManual/

2. Is the 1.5 standard deviation (SD) discrepancy between ability and achievement required to show an adverse impact on educational performance?

For all disability categories, adverse educational impact should come from a convergence of the data collected and reviewed by the eligibility team.  This includes both formal and informal assessment as well as formal and informal observations made before and during the evaluation.  Decisions should never be made on the basis of performance on only one test.  There are only four disability categories that specifically reference a standard deviation (SD) discrepancy in their eligibility criteria: Intellectual Disability/Mental Retardation, Language Disorder, Specific Learning Disability and Young Child with a Developmental Delay.

3. Are medical diagnoses or mental health diagnoses required for some of the disability categories?

Yes.  Several of the disability categories refer to the necessity of medical or mental health diagnoses including:  Hearing Impairment/Deafness (a hearing impairment must be diagnosed by an audiologist), Orthopedic Impairment (an orthopedic impairment must be diagnosed by a licensed physician), Visual Impairment/Blindness (a visual impairment or a progressive vision loss has been diagnosed by an optometrist or ophthalmologist), Other Health Impaired (a health impairment has been diagnosed by a licensed physician, licensed psychologist, licensed professional counselor, licensed clinical social worker, or school psychologist), and Traumatic Brain Injury (a traumatic brain injury/head injury has been diagnosed by a licensed physician or through a neuropsychological assessment although his requirement can be met by professional judgment when the team determines that substantial data to document the medical basis for a head injury is present).

4. When a parent provides documentation of a medical or mental health diagnosis, how should this information be handled by the eligibility team?

The eligibility team has a duty to consider any information, including outside evaluations and a medical or mental health diagnosis, as it contributes to the process of determining if a student meets the eligibility criteria for a specific disability category.  This information should be referenced in the synthesis of information from the evaluation including all of the areas of functioning in the evaluation report.   It is important that the eligibility team take into consideration the credentials of the professional making the diagnosis as there are specific requirements in the eligibility criteria related to this.  Examples of this type of diagnosis would include Central Auditory Processing Disorder, ADD/ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, etc.

5. What is required to make a determination that a student is not eligible for special education services?

The eligibility team should consider all the possible disability categories that the student may be eligible for based upon a review of the existing data and any assessment data collected.  If there was reason to suspect a disability, state and federal guidelines require that the evaluation is sufficiently comprehensive to identify all of the child’s special education and related services needs, whether or not they are commonly linked to the disability category in which the child has been classified.  If after a careful review of the evaluation data and the eligibility criteria, the student is found not eligible for any disability category, this information should be included in the evaluation report as the basis for making the eligibility determination. 

6. What happens if the eligibility team does not agree on the conclusion?

State and federal law requires that upon completing the administration of tests and other evaluation materials, a group of qualified professionals and the parent of the child must determine whether the child is a child with a disability and the educational needs of the child.  If the team is not able to agree on the conclusion, it is the responsibility of the Local Education Authority (LEA) to make the final decision and to provide appropriate Notice of Action to the parent.  The parent then has the option to pursue due process if he/she disagrees with the decision of the LEA.  It is important to note that the  eligibility criteria requirements for the disability category of Specific Learning Disability also includes a requirement  that each team member, with the exception of the parent, must certify in writing whether the report reflects her/his conclusions.  If it does not, that team member must submit a separate statement presenting the member’s conclusions.

7. What is the difference between diagnosing a student with a disability and determining eligibility for a disability category?

This is based on the difference between a medical model and an educational model.  Simply having a medical diagnosis does not mean that a student will be eligible for a disability category under IDEA. 

In a medical model, a physician, psychiatrist, or other properly credentialed medical provider evaluates and diagnoses a child based on an array of symptoms which results in a medical diagnosis such as cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome, Bipolar Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, etc.  Based on the diagnosis, a course of treatment is developed that could include medications, physical therapy, counseling, etc.

In an educational model, a group of individuals meeting the requirements of an IEP team conducts a review of existing data to determine the areas of concern that need to be evaluated and then additional assessments are conducted.  The same group of individuals meets again to review the results of the assessments and determines if the student meets the eligibility criteria for one of the disability categories under IDEA.  One of the main requirements for eligibility for special education under IDEA is that there must be an adverse educational impact for the student.  If there is no adverse educational impact, the student may not qualify for special education.  For example, the student may have a medical diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder,  but the disorder is being managed well and the student is able to maintain good grades and attend school regularly.  Because there is no adverse educational impact, the student would not qualify for special education. 

It is important that school district staff are clear that they are determining eligibility for special education services under IDEA and not diagnosing a disability.

8. Can professional judgment be used to make eligibility determinations?

Only certain eligibility categories allow for professional judgment in making eligibility determinations.  These categories are: Specific Learning Disability, Language Disorder, Sound System Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Young Child with a Developmental Delay.  No other categories permit eligibility determination through the use of professional judgment.

There are specific guidelines that must be followed to use professional judgment in determining eligibility for each of these disability categories.  It is important that the basis for the decision should be data based and that the basis for the decision is articulated through a clear summary in the evaluation report describing the rationale for the professional judgment.

9. Does “adversely affect educational performance” just mean grades and test scores? 

The regulations under IDEA have made it clear that, when conducting evaluations, a variety of assessments tools and strategies must be used to gather relevant functional, developmental, and academic information.  It is OSEP’s stance that IDEA and the regulations clearly establish that the determination about whether a child is a child with a disability is not limited to information about the child’s academic performance.  Furthermore,  CFR 300.101(c) states that each state must ensure that FAPE is available to any individual child with a disability who needs special education and related services, even though the child has not failed or been retained in a course or grade and is advancing from grade to grade.  For example, some students on the higher end of the autism spectrum  get good grades or score well on tests but have significant concerns with social skills that may impact their success in life.  These students may have no friends, be inadvertently rude to teachers, not have the skills to interview for or keep a job, or lack functional skills that are necessary for life.  Adverse educational impact must be considered in the broad sense for a student’s educational career.

10. Does the Department consider it appropriate to use the eligibility category of Other Heath Impaired (OHI) for Asperger’s syndrome rather than educational autism?

Children with Asperger’s  syndrome would typically be found eligible for special education under the category of Autism as long as the child meets the eligibility requirements for that disability category.  While it is possible that a child with Asperger’s syndrome may also meet the criteria under an eligibility category other than Autism (for example, Language Impaired) it is unlikely that Asperger’s syndrome would truly fit under the description of Other Health Impaired which is a chronic or acute health problem that results in limited strength, vitality, or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli – like diabetes, epilepsy, rheumatic fever, asthma, ADD/ADHD, lead poisoning, etc.

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