Welcome to the world of Special Education. If you are like most people, you didn’t plan to be here. Instead, you unexpectedly find yourself thrust into a new language and culture, and you are now trying to absorb as much knowledge as quickly as you can. Regardless of whether your child is 2 or 20 years old, I would like to try and explain the Public-School Special Education process using the analogy of my recent visit to the Orthopedist. Whether it is your first time visiting the Doctor (initial evaluation), or you are going back to the same Doctor to monitor an ongoing situation (re-evaluation), the Doctor’s visit has the following Four phases: initial evaluation; treatment; monitoring-response; and dismissal of services. In many ways, the Public-School Special Education process is designed to work the same way. Let me demonstrate the analogy in further detail below.

Doctor Visit – After hurting my foot exercising, I tried home remedies (ice, rest) for Two weeks with no success. Eventually, I had to admit that I needed to schedule an initial evaluation with an Orthopedist if I was going to see meaningful improvement.
Public School – A student is struggling in One or more areas at school. After trying multiple solutions and debating about what to do, someone (parent, teacher) suggests we seek out an initial educational evaluation if we are going to see meaningful improvement.

Phase One
Doctor Visit
– The Doctor conducts an initial evaluation that includes all of the following: written patient input (forms you fill out in the waiting area); verbal patient input (where does it hurt, how bad does it hurt on a scale of 1-10, how long has it hurt, what have you tried, etc.); physical exam (swelling, color of foot, pain to the touch, watch me walk on the foot); and medical exams (blood work, x-ray, etc.). If the evaluation concludes that the patient has a Medical Disability, the Doctor will prescribe treatment.
Public School – The parent and the school staff meet to discuss the existing evidence of an Educational Disability and possible solutions. If the team agrees that there is enough evidence to proceed, signed parental permission is needed to begin educational testing (Review of records, IQ and achievement testing, classroom observation, etc.). The school has 60 calendar days to complete the initial evaluation. If the evaluation concludes that the student has an Educational Disability, the team will move on to the treatment phase

Phase Two – Treatment
Doctor Visit
– If the results of the evaluation determine that medical intervention is warranted, the Doctor will prescribe a treatment plan, based solely upon the results of the Initial evaluation (i.e. the doctor won’t prescribe treatment for your hand if the evaluation only shows evidence of foot damage). The treatment plan is designed to treat what is wrong, get you back to full health, and eventually dismiss medical services.
Public School – If the results of the evaluation determine that educational intervention is warranted, the team will prescribe a treatment plan (IEP), based solely on the results of the evaluation (i.e. the team won’t prescribe treatment for ADHD if the school evaluation doesn’t show evidence of a need). This treatment plan is designed to remediate skills affected by the disability, get the student back to age/grade level expectations, and eventually dismiss them from Special Education services.

Phase Three – Monitoring and response
Doctor Visit
– At subsequent office visits, the Doctor evaluates physical evidence of progress (foot color, swelling, reported pain, observed me walking) to ensure that the treatment was working as planned. Based upon the progress monitoring results, the Doctor could say:
1. You appear to be healed. Let me conduct an x-ray to confirm.
2. The treatment is working, but it needs more time.
3. The treatment isn’t working as well as I had hoped. Let’s try something else.
Public School – At subsequent IEP meetings, the team will evaluate quantifiable progress monitoring data to ensure that the IEP is working. Depending upon the evidence presented and the conclusion reached, the team could say:
1. You appear to have met all your goals. Let’s conduct a re-evaluation to be sure you are ready to be dismissed from Special Education services.
2. You are making progress. Let’s continue what we are doing.
3. Let’s try something different to see if we get better progress results.

Phase Four – Re-evaluation/Dismissal
Doctor Visit
– The Doctor conducts a re-evaluation (blood work, x-ray, etc.) to see if you are completely healed. If you are, they dismiss you as a patient.
Public School – The school conducts a re-evaluation to see if you have closed all the gaps that exist between your current skills, and those skills expected of student’s your age. If they have, you no longer have an Educational Disability, and you are dismissed from Special Education services. If not, your IEP (treatment plan) is revised and updated.

Bottom line – If your child is not making the progress you hoped in school, ask yourself. Do we need to change the treatment (IEP), or, do we need to revisit the evaluation to diagnose a “hidden disability”?

Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments.

About speak45_wp

I graduated from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania in 1990 with a Bachelor’s in Special Education, and again in 1991 with a Master’s in Behavior Disorders. From 1991 to 2004, I worked as an Emotional Support Teacher in Southeast Pennsylvania. In July, 2004, upon graduation from Penn State University, I began working as a Pennsylvania Supervisor of Special Education until, shortly after my family and I moved to Maryland in October, 2013. In my 25 years of experience, I have: worked with students of varying ages and disabilities; participated in hundreds of IEP meetings; successfully implemented individualized services for thousands of students; and participated in dozens of due process cases. As a result, I am very familiar with the public education Special Education system policies, procedures, and services; as well as the potential road blocks parents may encounter in search for those services. In addition to my professional experience, I am also the father of two boys on the Autistic Spectrum. I know all too well what it feels like to: receive that diagnosis for the first time; work to learn all that you can about your child’s unique learning needs; try and educate and motivate school staff; passionately advocate for services (FAPE); get over emotional in IEP meetings; and fight vehemently with the school system to get the services you feel that your child deserves.