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6 Principles of IDEA: Evaluations


Many children with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) enter the public school system with special education structures already in place. For other children, concerns about learning, behavior or development may not appear until the child is in school.  In this case, either the parents or the school can request an evaluation to determine whether the student meets the eligibility requirements for special education. For more on eligibility, view the 6 Principles of IDEA: Eligibility. 

Regardless of who initiates the request for evaluation, the request should be in writing, requires parental consent, and must adhere to timelines designated in IDEA. The evaluation process will include an analysis of various data sources and may include formal assessments. Please note that the school is not obligated to perform assessments if all parties are in agreement about the child's educational needs. 

The first evaluation is called an initial evaluation. If the child is found eligible for special education services, they will be required to have a reevaluation at least once every three years.  A reevaluation may also be conducted any time the school or the parent believes the needs of the student should be reevaluated.  Just like with the initial evaluation, the school must have the parent’s written consent.

If your child is determined eligible for special education, the next step is to draft an individualized education program (IEP). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) gives the school district 30 days from the documentation of the disability to complete an IEP. Parents must give permission for placement as a part of the initial IEP.  

Evaluations & Child Find

What exactly is Child Find?

IDEA mandates that each state has a process for identifying and evaluating children with disabilities from birth through age 21, including evaluating children who are homeschooled or attend private school.  This process is called Child Find. Evaluations by Child Find teams are at no cost to parents.

In Colorado, the Child Find process is implemented differently for children under five years of age and those aged five to 21.

Child Find (Birth to 5)

There are specific Child Find teams that evaluate how a child plays, learns, speaks, behaves, and moves to determine if there’s a significant delay or if there is a need for early intervention (Birth - 3) or special education services (3-5).

If a child is three or under, Child Find teams partner with local Early Intervention Colorado programs who will determine eligibility for and coordinate various services. Children aged three to five are evaluated as a part of the preschool special education process.

In Jefferson County, the local school district has established a single number to reach Child Find for all children up to age five. Simply call (303) 982-7247 and the Child Find team will evaluate the child, determine eligibility, and create the initial plan. For children three and under, this plan is called an Individual Family Support Plan (IFSP). Children aged three to five will have an Individual Education Plan (IEP).

Child Find (5-21)

After preschool age, there is not a specific Child Find team and school staff typically don’t use the term “Child Find.” Instead, this federally mandated process is integrated into the school experience. The identification of students with additional support begins with interventions in the general education classrooms at the student’s home school.

Locally, Jeffco Public Schools and the state of Colorado use the Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) model for all students, regardless of eligibility for special education. MTSS is a framework of academic and behavioral interventions that are provided to any student whose instructional data demonstrates a need.

When a student is identified as needing additional support, a team meeting is held and an intervention plan is developed. In this initial phase, all interventions take place in the general education classroom. The interventions are then documented and monitored for progress.

If the progress monitoring doesn’t show sufficient progress (the child isn’t responding to the interventions), the team refers the student for an initial special education evaluation.

Students with Learning Disabilities

While specific learning disability (SLD) is one of the fourteen special education eligibility categories written into IDEA, the law requires the school to take additional steps prior to the evaluation for special education. These additional steps are a common source of confusion for parents.

Before a student with learning disabilities can be considered for special education services such as an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), the school must first provide a series of scientific, research-based interventions. These interventions are typically referred to as Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) or Response-to-Intervention (RtI). Although these terms are often used interchangeably, they are distinct concepts: MTSS is a framework for addressing the needs of struggling students, while RtI is a specific approach that is often used within the MTSS framework.

Regardless of what terminology your school uses, the ultimate goal of MTSS/RtI is to help all students make educational progress. These interventions are provided within your school’s general education program, and the intensity of the interventions can be increased to improve the student’s learning. Because MTSS and RtI are intended to provide both education and behavior supports to all students, your student does not need to be receiving special education services to access these supports.  

An important piece of MTSS/RtI is progress monitoring to determine if the student is making progress that is adequate for their age. If progress monitoring shows the student isn’t making progress, it may be appropriate to pursue an evaluation for special education under the SLD eligibility category. The special education evaluation will then be informed by the body of evidence collected through the MTSS/RtI interventions.

In addition, before a student can receive special education services under the SLD category, the team must determine that the lack of academic progress is not being caused or influenced by the following factors:

  • visual, hearing, or motor disability
  • intellectual disability
  • emotional disability
  • cultural factors
  • environmental or economic disadvantage
  • limited English proficiency
  • lack of appropriate instruction in reading and math by qualified personnel

Once these factors have been ruled out, the evaluation process has to consider these questions:

  • Does the disability adversely impact the child’s educational progress?
  • Does the child need specially designed instruction?

When considering whether a student meets the SLD criteria, it’s important to remember that the existence of a learning disability is not enough to prove eligibility for special education, even if that learning disability was diagnosed by a medical practitioner. It’s commonplace for a student to have a learning disability diagnosis, while not requiring special education to benefit from instruction.

Related Resources

Child Find
General Resources
Specific Learning Disability (SLD)


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