Steps in the Special Education Process

Steps in the Special Education ProcessThe special education process under IDEA is designed to ensure that each individual child's needs are carefully considered and addressed. Learn the steps in the special education process, from evaluation to reviewing student progress.

  1. The child is identified as possibly needing special education and related services.
    There are two common ways a child can be identified as possibly needing special education and related services.
    • "Child Find" - The state must identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities in the state who need special education and related services. To do so, states conduct "Child Find" activities. A child may be identified by "Child Find," and parents may be asked if the "Child Find" system can evaluate their child. Parents can also call the "Child Find" system and ask that their child be evaluated.
    • Referral or request for evaluation - A school professional may ask that a child be evaluated to see if he or she has a disability. Parents may also contact the child's teacher or other school professional to ask that their child be evaluated. This request may be verbal or in writing. Parental consent is needed before the child may be evaluated. Evaluation needs to be completed within a reasonable time after the parent gives consent.
  2. The child is evaluated.
    The evaluation must assess the child in all areas related to the child's suspected disability. The evaluation results will be used to decide the child's eligibility for special education and related services and to make decisions about an appropriate educational program for the child. Should the parents disagree with the evaluation, they have the right to take their child for an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE). 

    They can ask that the school system pay for this IEE.
  3. Eligibility is decided. 
    A group of qualified professionals and the parents look at the child's evaluation results. Together, they decide if the child is a "child with a disability," as defined by IDEA. Parents may ask for a hearing to challenge the eligibility decision.
  4. The child is found eligible for services. 
    When the child is found to be a "child with a disability," as defined by IDEA, he or she is eligible for special education and related services. 

    Within 30 calendar days after a child is determined eligible, the IEP team must meet to write an IEP for the child. Once the student has been found eligible for services, the IEP must be written. 
  5. An IEP meeting is scheduled. 
    The school system schedules and conducts the IEP meeting. School staff must:
    • contact the participants, including the parents
    • notify parents early enough to make sure they have an opportunity to attend
    • schedule the meeting at a time and place agreeable to parents and the school
    • tell the parents the purpose, time, and location of the meeting
    • tell the parents who will be attending
    • tell the parents that they may invite people to the meeting who have knowledge or special expertise about the child.
  6. The IEP meeting is held and the IEP is written. 
    The IEP team gathers to talk about the child's needs and write the student's IEP. 

    Parents and the student (when appropriate) are part of the team. Should the child's placement be decided by a different group, the parents must be part of that group as well. Before the school system may provide special education and related services to the child for the first time, the parents must give consent.

    The child begins to receive services as soon as possible after the meeting.

    Should the parents not agree with the IEP and placement, they may discuss their concerns with other members of the IEP team and work out an agreement.

    Should they still disagree, parents can ask for mediation, or the school may offer mediation. Parents may file a complaint with the state education agency and may request a due process hearing, at which time mediation must be available.
  7. Services are provided.
    The school makes sure that the child's IEP is being carried out as it was written. 

    Parents are given a copy of the IEP. Each of the child's teachers and service providers has access to the IEP and knows his or her specific responsibilities for carrying out the IEP. This includes the accommodations, modifications, and supports that must be provided to the child, in keeping with the IEP.

    Progress is measured and reported to parents. The child's progress toward the annual goals is measured, as stated in the IEP. 

    His or her parents are regularly informed of their child's progress and whether that progress is enough for the child to achieve the goals by the end of the year. 

    These progress reports must be given to parents at least as often as parents are informed of their nondisabled children's progress.
  8. The IEP is reviewed.
    The child's IEP is reviewed by the IEP team at least once a year, or more often when the parents or school ask for a review. When necessary, the IEP is revised. 

    Parents, as team members, must be invited to attend these meetings.

    Parents can make suggestions for changes, can agree or disagree with the IEP goals, and agree or disagree with the placement. 

    Should parents not agree with the IEP and placement, they may discuss their concerns with other members of the IEP team and work out an agreement. 

    There are several options, including additional testing, an independent evaluation, or asking for mediation (when available) or a due process hearing. 

    They may also file a complaint with the state education agency.
  9. The child is reevaluated.
    At least every three years the child must be reevaluated. This evaluation is often called a "triennial." 

    Its purpose is to find out if the child continues to be a "child with a disability," as defined by IDEA, and what the child's educational needs are. However, the child must be reevaluated more often when conditions warrant or when the child's parent or teacher asks for a reevaluation.

You may be thinking about hiring a special education advocate or attorney to help your child get the services they need in school.

An Advocate guides you through the special education process. An advocate may have legal training yet is not required to.

A Special Education Attorney professional with a law degree may represent you when you’re considering dispute resolution or legal action against a school.

Special education advocates and attorneys can help your child in different ways.

Find a Special Education Advocate/Attorney >