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IDEA 2004 Close Up: Evaluation and Eligibility for Specific Learning Disabilities

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By Candace Cortiella, The Advocacy Institute

Determination and Documentation of Eligibility for Special Education Services

It's important to remember that eligibility is a two-pronged decision. Those involved must decide (1) does the student have a disability, in this case SLD, and (2) because of the impact of that disability, does the student need special education in order to benefit from instruction? It is possible that a student might be found to have a disability, such as SLD, but not to need special education to benefit from instruction.

Drawing upon all of the information provided by the evaluations and other forms of information, the group (the student's parents and qualified professionals) must develop written documentation of their determination of the presence of SLD and eligibility for special education. The documentation must contain statements explaining the group's findings with regard to Steps 1-4. Documentation must also show that the student's parents were fully notified about the policies, strategies, and services provided as part of an intervention process, such as RTI, including the parent's right to request a formal evaluation as prescribed by IDEA at any point during an intervention process.

Each member participating in the determination must provide written certification that the documentation reflects the member's conclusion. If any member(s) disagree with the conclusion, a statement of that member(s) conclusion must also be included in the documentation.

Parents must be given a copy of the evaluation report and the documentation of determination at no cost. If parents disagree with the determination, they may seek resolution through the dispute resolution provisions of IDEA. These provisions are part of the Notice of Procedural Safeguards that must be provided to parents prior to the evaluation of a student suspected of having a disability.

States Develop Their Own Criteria for SLD Determination

IDEA 2004 federal regulations instruct every state to develop criteria to be used throughout the state for determining whether a student has a specific learning disability. While much of the detail of such criteria is left up to each individual state, the criteria:

  • must not require a school to use a "severe discrepancy" between intellectual ability and achievement for LD determination
  • must allow the use of a process designed to determine if a student responds to scientific, research-based intervention (such as RTI) or other alternative research-based procedures
  • must align with the criteria established by IDEA 2004 federal regulations, as stated above

Beyond these requirements, states are free to establish criteria that might, in fact, prohibit the use of an ability-achievement discrepancy. Given this state-level flexibility, parents will need to closely follow their state's policies for SLD identification. For more information about your state's policies and procedures, parents are urged to communicate with:

Updated January 2010

Candace Cortiella's work as Director of the nonprofit The Advocacy Institute focuses on improving the lives of people with learning disabilities, through public policy and other initiatives. The mother of a young adult with learning disabilities, she lives in the Washington, D.C., area.

Comments from readers

"Part of the problem of this definition is that when measuring children for developmental delays or intervention requirements, it does not take into account the choice of the dominant caretaker or parent to preference non-English rather than English - which necessarily produces impairment in oral expression or language understanding. Forcing the system to make up for parental negligence in school preparation by failing to teach basic language skills in English misuses the educational law to become guarantor of parental failure to plan and carry out necessary skills a child will need in English speaking schools."
"i am a mother of a 4 year old that has special needs in learning , i am looking to move to Fernandina beach , FL but i am not sure if my son would have the same education as the one he has here ...can someone help me !?"
"You have described the changes in the federal definition of SLD clearly and I would like to link your information on my new website Is that okay with you?"
"Excellent, succinct summary, making a usable, easy to follow set of guidelines, spelling out exceptions and using appropriate emphases - especially with regards to the role and place of parents in the team"