Special Education » Eligibility

Eligibility

A pupil qualifies as an individual with exceptional needs if the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team decides, based on assessment results, that the degree of the pupil’s impairment requires special education in one or more of the program options authorizedå by Education Code. The IEP team must take into account all relevant data that is available on the pupil. No single score or product of scores may be used as the sole criterion for the decision as to the pupil’s eligibility for special education. A child may not be determined to have a disability if the determinant factor is lack of instruction in reading or math, or limited English proficiency. 

Three primary factors are considered in determining eligibility for special education: 

1. Does the pupil meet the eligibility criteria as an individual with a disability?
2. Does the severity of the disability have an adverse effect on the pupil’s educational performance?
3. Does the pupil require special education and related services to access a free and appropriate public education?

Students who have been diagnosed with Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) may qualify for special education services if they also meet eligibility under one of the fourteen disability categories, such as Specific Learning Disability, Other Health Impaired, or Emotional Disturbance. 

According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), pupils may qualify for special education and related services under one or more of the following qualifying conditions: 
 
 
Autism

Autism means a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three, that adversely affects a child's educational performance. Other characteristics often associated with autism are engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences.

  • Autism does not apply if a child's educational performance is adversely affected primarily because the child has an emotional disturbance.
  • A child who manifests the characteristics of autism after age three could be identified as having autism if the criteria below are satisfied.

Eligibility Criteria

A. Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, as manifested by the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive):

1. Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, ranging, for example, from abnormal social approach and failure of normal back-and-forth conversation; to reduced sharing of interests, emotions, or affect; to failure to initiate or respond to social interactions.

2. Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction, ranging, for example, from poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication; to abnormalities in eye contact and body language or deficits in understanding and use of gestures; to a total lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communication.

3. Deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships, ranging, for example, from difficulties adjusting behavior to suit various social contexts; to difficulties in sharing imaginative play or in making friends; to absence of interest in peers.


B. Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities, as manifested by at least two of the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive):

1. Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech (e.g., simple motor stereotypes, lining up toys or flipping objects, echolalia, idiosyncratic phrases).

2. Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns or verbal nonverbal behavior (e.g., extreme distress at small changes, difficulties with transitions, rigid thinking patterns, greeting rituals, need to take same route or eat food every day).

3. Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus (e.g, strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects, excessively circumscribed or perseverative interest).

4. Hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusual interests in sensory aspects of the environment (e.g., apparent indifference to pain/temperature, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, visual fascination with lights or movement).


C. Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities, or may be masked by learned strategies in later life).

D. Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning.

E. These disturbances are not better explained by intellectual disability (intellectual developmental disorder) or global developmental delay. Intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder frequently co-occur; to make comorbid diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability, social communication should be below that expected for general developmental level.

Deaf-Blindness

Concomitant hearing and visual impairment, the combination of which causes severe communication, developmental, and educational challenges.

Eligibility Criteria
Students identified as deaf/blind have concomitant hearing and visual impairments, the combination of which causes such severe communication and other developmental and educational problems that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for deaf or blind students.

Deafness

A severe to profound hearing loss resulting in auditory language and speech delays, adversely affecting educational performance. 

Eligibility Criteria
Students are identified as deaf when they have a documented hearing impairment, whether permanent or fluctuating, which impairs the processing of linguistic information through hearing, even with amplification. Processing linguistic information includes speech and language reception and speech and language discrimination. The hearing impairment must be documented by a current audiological assessment.

Hearing Impairment

A mild to moderate hearing loss resulting in auditory language and speech delays, adversely affecting educational performance.

Eligibility Criteria
Students are identified as hearing impaired when they have a documented hearing impairment, whether permanent or fluctuating, which impairs the processing of linguistic information through hearing, even with amplification. Processing linguistic information includes speech and language reception and speech and language discrimination. The hearing impairment must be documented by a current audiological assessment.

Emotional Disturbance

An emotional disturbance that adversely affects educational performance that is not caused by any other factor.

Eligibility Criteria
Students who are identified as Emotionally Disturbed (ED) may be considered eligible for special education and related services as defined in 34 CFR, Sec. 300.8(c)(4)(i) as follows:

1. The term means a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree, which adversely affects educational performance:

a. An inability to learn which cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, and health factors;
b. An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers;
c. Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances exhibited in several situations;
d. A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression;
e. A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.

2. The term includes children who are schizophrenic. The term does not include children who are socially maladjusted, unless the child exhibits at least one of the characteristics listed above.

Students shall be eligible for special education services on the basis of an emotional disturbance when this disabling condition adversely affects their educational performance. The following descriptions are provided to clarify these criteria:
An inability to learn which cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, and health factors
  • Content of thought (delusional thinking)
  • Form of thought
  • Marked loosening of association (idea shift from one subject to another unrelated subject with no awareness that topics have changed)
  • Incoherence
  • Hallucinations, bizarre delusions 
An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers
  • Intensive withdrawal or avoidance of large numbers of persons or circumstances
  • Regressive behavior that was previously abandoned such as thumb sucking, crying readily, baby talk, temper tantrums, and/or enuresis
  • Marked avoidance of communication with teachers and peers
  • Does not play, socialize or engage in recreation with others 
Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances exhibited in several situations
  • Lack of appropriate fear reactions
  • Flat, blunt, distorted or excessive affect
  • Bizarre behaviors
  • Self-mutilation
  • Unexplained rage reactions and/or explosive acting out behaviors, such as physical violence or verbal abuse, which occurs in different settings
  • Delusions and/or hallucinations
  • Laughs or cries inappropriately in common social or academic situations in a non-manipulative fashion
  • Emotions vacillate unpredictably from one extreme to another, showing no ability to control oneself
  • Lack of contact with reality
  • Obsessive thoughts and/or compulsive behavior 
General pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression
  • Lack of interest or pleasure in almost all activities
  • Poor appetite or significant weight loss or increased appetite or significant weight gain
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of energy
  • Recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal ideation, wishes to be dead, suicide attempt
  • Excessive guilt causing severe depression
  • Socially withdrawn, isolating oneself
  • Feeling of worthlessness 
A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems
  • Phobias, such as:
  • Persistent and irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that results in compulsive avoidance behavior
  • Intense, disabling anxiety, often reaching panic proportions when the object, situation, or activity is approached
  • Separation Anxiety Disorder may be intense and pervasive enough to qualify
  • Somatoform Disorders (Physical symptoms suggesting physical disorders for which there are no demonstrable organic findings or known physiological mechanisms). 
In addition to having an emotional condition that is manifested as one of these five characteristics, there are also three limiting criteria. These limiting criteria must be a direct result of the identified emotional condition. These are:

1. Over a Period of Time: This requirement rules out temporary adjustment reactions and provides the LEA staff with the opportunity to utilize behavioral interventions. Generally, these characteristics should be exhibited over a period of at least six months. 

2. To a Marked Degree: This addresses both the pervasiveness (demonstrated in a variety of settings - home, school, community) and the intensity of the maladaptive behaviors. The demonstrated behaviors must produce significant distress, either to the individual or to the child’s environment, and must be primarily related to the ED condition.

3. Adversely Affects Educational Performance: Most importantly, the maladaptive behaviors of the child must be demonstrated to occur in the school setting and to result in an impairment of the child’s ability to benefit from that setting. If the child is able to demonstrate progress in the regular educational program or in a “less restrictive” special educational setting, then classification of that child as ED is neither necessary nor appropriate.

There are a number of ways to determine whether behavior has an adverse effect upon educational performance. Adverse educational performance can be defined as achievement that is significantly lower than one would reasonably expect for that child’s level of cognitive functioning. Impact upon learning can also be demonstrated by the child’s quality and degree of task completion, group participation, and peer-teacher interactions. An adverse effect upon educational performance may be assumed when a child is actively dangerous to self or to others in the educational setting and the actions are not due to a behavioral disorder (e.g. violent crime, gang activity, drug usage, etc.). 

Throughout assessment of the child in this area, the ED condition must be the primary disabling factor in the student’s inability to benefit from the educational environment. If it is not, then the child is not an appropriate ED candidate, and other special educational classifications should be considered.
 

Established Medical Disability

A disabling medical condition or congenital syndrome that the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team determines has a high likelihood of requiring special education and services after the age of 5 years.

 

Eligibility Criteria

The 3-5 year old child has a disabling medical condition or congenital syndrome that the IEP Team determines has a high probability of requiring intensive special education and services. 

 

Intellectual Disability

Significantly below average general intellectual functioning existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period, adversely affecting educational performance.

Eligibility Criteria
Students are eligible for special education services if they have been identified as being intellectually disabled and/or as having significantly below average general intellectual functioning. The following definitions will be used when determining eligibility for students:
Significantly below average refers to performance that is two or more standard deviations below the population mean. 

General intellectual functioning refers to performance on standardized intelligence tests that measure, as far as possible, general cognitive ability rather than one limited facet of ability such as receptive vocabulary or spatial analytic skills. 

Adaptive behavior refers to the effectiveness with which individuals meet the standards of personal independence and social responsibility expected of individuals of their age and cultural group. Deficits in adaptive behavior are evaluated according to developmental age. During infancy and early childhood, adaptive behavior deficits are evaluated in relationship to sensory motor skills, communications skills, self-help skills, and socialization skills. During childhood and early adolescence, the focus is on the application of: (a) basic academic skills and daily life activities, (b) appropriate reasoning and judgment in interacting with the environment, and (c) social skills. During late adolescence and adult life, adaptive behavior centers on vocational and social responsibilities and performance. 

The developmental period is regarded as the period between birth and about 18 years of age.

Multiple Disabilities

Concomitant impairments, the combination of which causes such severe educational problems that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for one of the impairments.

Eligibility Criteria
Students identified with multiple disabilities have two or more identifiable disabling conditions, such as autism and intellectual disability or orthopedic impairment and mental retardation, which in combination cannot be served in a program with emphasis on a single disabling condition.

Students in this category:

1. Have two or more identifiable conditions
OR
2. Are unable to succeed in classes geared to only one of the handicapping conditions
OR
3. Have one handicapping condition that appears to be of a severely handicapping nature in conjunction with additional involvements that require a diagnostic placement.

Orthopedic Impairment 

Severe disorder(s) of the skeletal system and associated muscles, joints, and ligaments, which adversely affects educational performance.

Eligibility Criteria
Students identified as orthopedically impaired have a severe orthopedic impairment that adversely affects their educational performance. The term includes impairments caused by congenital anomaly, e.g., club foot, absence of some member, etc.; impairments caused by disease, e.g., polio, bone tuberculosis, etc.; and impairments from other causes, e.g., cerebral palsy, amputations, fractures or burns which cause contractures.

Other Health Impairment

Severe health disorder that adversely affects educational performance.

Eligibility Criteria
A student identified as Other Health Impaired (OHI) has limited strength, vitality or alertness, due to chronic or acute health problems, which adversely affects educational performance. Conditions include, but are not limited to: a heart condition, attention deficit disorder (ADD), attention deficit/hyperactive disorder (ADHD), leukemia, rheumatic fever, chronic kidney disease, cystic fibrosis, asthma, epilepsy, lead poisoning, diabetes, tuberculosis, and other communicable infectious diseases and hematological disorders such as sickle cell anemia and hemophilia.
 

Specific Learning Disability

Students are identified as having specific learning disabilities and may be eligible for special education consideration when they have a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written.  This disorder may manifest itself in an impaired ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or perform mathematical calculations.  The students must also have a severe discrepancy between intellectual ability and achievement in one or more of the following academic areas: oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skills, reading fluency, reading comprehension, mathematics calculation, and mathematics reasoning.

Prior to referral for special education services, each student should receive an intense alternate curriculum in the general education classroom.  This alternate curriculum must be research-based and conducted over a minimum of three months to determine the student’s Response to Intervention (RtI). If the student does not demonstrate appropriate progress in the RtI program, s/he is then referred to the special education team for further assessment.

  1. The following definitions are used when determining eligibility for students:
    1. Basic psychological processes include attention, visual processing, auditory processing, sensory-motor skills, cognitive abilities including association, conceptualization, and expression.
    2. Intellectual ability includes both acquired learning and learning potential and is determined by a systematic assessment of intellectual functioning, utilizing alternative assessment as needed.
    3. The level of achievement includes the student’s level of competence in materials and subject matter explicitly taught in school, and is measured by standardized achievement tests and corroborated by other assessment data to include additional tests, scales, instruments, observations, or work samples as applicable. 

  2. The following identification procedures are used when determining eligibility for students demonstrating evidence of a specific learning disability:
    1. When standardized tests are considered to be valid for a specific student, a severe discrepancy is demonstrated by the following:
      1. Convert raw scores into common standard scores using a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 1.5
      2. Compare the achievement test score and the ability test score
      3. Compute the difference between these common standard scores
      4. Compare these scores to document a minimum 22 points difference
3.  During the development of the Evaluation Plan, the team may determine that standardized tests would be considered invalid for a student. Reasons must be documented in one of the written reports. Reasons may include the following:
      1. Primary language other than English
      2. Sensory or physical disability which would make reception of stimuli or production of responses difficult
      3. Student is African-American

A severe discrepancy shall then be measured by alternative means:

      1. Criterion referenced tests
      2. Adaptive behavior rating scales
      3. Developmental history
4.  In determining whether a pupil has a specific learning disability, a local educational agency may use a process that determines if the pupil responds to scientific, research-based intervention (RtI) as a part of the assessment procedures.  The report shall contain information considered by the team which shall include, but not be limited to the following:
      1. Data obtained from standardized assessment instruments
      2. Information provided by the parent
      3. Information provided by the student’s present teacher(s)
      4. Evidence of the student’s performance in the general and/or special education classroom obtained from observations, work samples, and group test scores
      5. Consideration of the student’s age, particularly for young children
      6. Any additional relevant information

The discrepancy shall not be primarily the result of limited school experience, poor school attendance, or social cultural factors.

The statement on the IEP for rationales for eligibility should read as follows:

Although standardized testing does not indicate a severe discrepancy exists, the IEP team believes that achievement is significantly discrepant from expectation with a continued need for special education and related services under Education Code Section 3030(c).

 

Speech and Language Impairment

Difficulty understanding or using spoken language to such an extent that it adversely affects educational performance. Such difficulty results from an articulation disorder, abnormal voice, fluency difficulties, inappropriate or inadequate acquisition, comprehension, or expression of spoken language or hearing loss.

Eligibility Criteria
Students are identified as having a language/speech disorder when it is determined that the pupil’s disorder meets one or more of the following criteria:

  1. Articulation disorder:
    1. The pupil displays reduced intelligibility or an inability to use the speech mechanism, which significantly interferes with communication and attracts adverse attention. Significant interference in communication occurs when the pupil’s production of single or multiple speech sounds on a developmental scale of articulation competency is below that expected for his or her chronological age or developmental level, and which adversely affects educational performance.
    2. A pupil does not meet the criteria for an articulation disorder if the sole assessed disability is an abnormal swallowing pattern. 

  2. Abnormal voice:  A pupil has an abnormal voice, which is characterized by persistent, defective voice quality, pitch, or loudness.  An appropriate medical examination is conducted, as appropriate.

  3. Fluency difficulties:  A pupil has a fluency disorder when the flow of verbal expression, including rate and rhythm, adversely affects communication between the pupil and listener. 

  4. Language disorder:  Inappropriate or inadequate acquisition, comprehension, or expression of spoken language such that the pupil’s language performance level is found to be significantly below the language performance level of his or her peers.  
    1. The pupil scores at least 1.5 standard deviations below the mean, or below the 7th percentile, for his or her chronological age or developmental level on two or more standardized tests in one or more of the following areas of language development: morphology, syntax, semantics, or pragmatics.  When standardized tests are considered to be invalid for the specific pupil, the expected language performance level shall be determined by alternative means as specified on the assessment plan,

OR

    1. The pupil scores at least 1.5 standard deviations below the mean or the score is below the 7th percentile for his or her chronological age or development level on one or more standardized tests in one of the areas listed in subsection (a) and displays inappropriate or inadequate usage of expressive or receptive language as measured by a representative spontaneous or elicited language sample of a minimum of fifty utterances. The language sample must be recorded or transcribed and analyzed, and the results included in the assessment report. If the pupil is unable to produce this sample, the language, speech, and hearing specialist shall document why a fifty-utterance sample was not obtainable and the contexts in which attempts were made to elicit the sample. When standardized tests are       considered to be invalid for the specific pupil, the expected language performance level shall be determined by alternative means as specified in the assessment plan.
5.  Hearing loss:  Language or speech disorder stemming from a hearing loss that significantly affects educational performance.

Traumatic Brain Injury

Injury to the brain caused by an external physical force or by an internal occurrence resulting in total or partial functional disability that adversely affects educational performance.

Eligibility Criteria
The term applies to open or closed head injuries resulting in impairments in one or more areas such as cognition, language, memory, attention, reasoning, abstract thinking, judgment, problem-solving, sensory, perceptual and motor abilities, psychosocial behavior, physical functions, information processing, and speech. The term does not apply to brain injuries that are congenital or degenerative, or brain injuries induced by birth trauma.

Visual Impairment

A visual impairment, which, even with correction, adversely affects educational performance.

Eligibility Criteria
Students are identified as Visually Impaired when they have a documented visual impairment, whether permanent, progressive, or fluctuating, which adversely affects educational performance even with correction. The visual impairment must be documented by a current vision examination and eye report by an ophthalmologist or optometrist, then by a functional vision evaluation by a Teacher of the Visually Impaired.