The requirements to be eligible an IEP are actually very simple. A student who:
(a) has one of the listed medical problems
(b) that causes them to need
(c) specialized education
is eligible for an IEP and all the procedural and substantive rights that go with that eligibility.1 The list of eligibility categories includes all the other categories one might expect, including blindness, deafness, severe brain injury, and autism. Further, “other health impairment” is specifically listed as a potential category.
Today’s focus is on one specific condition that school districts are sometimes resistant to acknowledging with an IEP: dyslexia. Technically speaking, no child is eligible under IEP laws specifically for being diagnosed with dyslexia. Instead, most such children would be eligible for an IEP under the category of specific learning disability. Under federal law, a specific learning disability is a “disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language.”2
The most prominent legal difficulty in getting an IEP for a dyslexic child arises from two additional eligibility criteria found in the Georgia eligibility rules defining specific learning disability. These criteria are in addition to the federal definition, and for some students, can have the effect of excluding or delaying special education services. The additional criteria in the Georgia eligibility rule beyond the definition under federal law are an academic deficiency requirement and a data collection requirement.3
Under the rule issued by the Georgia Department of Education, a student does not qualify for an IEP under specific learning disability unless the student has serious academic deficiencies and does not meet grade level standards. Further, the student’s need for additional academic support is not a reason to give the student an IEP.
This requirement may have arisen from conceptual borrowing from other types of disability, in which a student mostly functioning on grade level is a cause for celebration. But that does not make the standard appropriate when a student is barely passing a course because of difficulty reading. Particularly because failure to develop a robust reading skills early can lead to total breakdown later, but can be disguised by barely passing grades.
Mandatory Data Collection
The Georgia Department of Education rule also prohibits granting a student an IEP under specific learning disability unless multiple sources of data are considered. Possible sources of data include below grade level results on standardized tests, or results from supplementary instruction being insufficient. A particularly frustrating part of the data collection requirement is the need to collect at least twelve weeks of data on supplementary instruction before IEP eligibility is considered. This is another example of how school district policies delay federal rights and delay implementation of appropriate interventions to improve a student’s academic deficits.
The requirement for a significant period of supplementary instruction is particularly confounding because supplementary instruction (to address a medical or psychological condition) is the definition of what generally must be shown to get an IEP. I understand the need to avoid over-inclusion, which has an unfortunate practical history. Nonetheless, the supplementary instruction for a child with a psychological difficulty learning ought to be treated as special education, which inherently makes a student eligible for an IEP with all the legal protection for a student that goes with that legal conclusion. Otherwise, the school district can minimize its own accountability to address the particular needs of particular students.
1 20 U.S.C. § 1401(3). Special education is simply “specially designed instruction” that “meets the unique needs” of the student. 20 U.S.C. § 1401(29).
2 34 C.F.R. § 300.8(c)(10).
3 Ga. Comp. R. & Regs. r. 160-4-7-.05, Appendix (i)
The next meeting of Decoding Dyslexia Georgia will be December 2, 2013.
The 6th Annual Conference of the Georgia Association for Positive Behavior Support is December 4 & 5, 2013.
The IDA-GA Dimensions of Dyslexia Conference is February 1, 2014.
The Across the Spectrum conference will be March 13 & 14, 2014.