You Asked! – Question 23

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Q23:  Must my student have a “severe discrepancy” in order to be found eligible for special education under the category of specific learning disability?

A:  Under CA law, the use of a “severe discrepancy” model may be considered but must not be required [34 CFR 300.307(a)(1) and 5 CCR 3030(b)(10)(B)].

California has regulations that guide the process for determining whether a student has a specific learning disability. Dyslexia is specifically listed as an example of a qualifying condition under Specific Learning Disability [5 CCR 3030(b)(10)].  In general, three alternatives are permitted:

  1. The student has a severe discrepancy between intellectual ability and achievement in oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skill, reading comprehension, mathematical calculation, or mathematical reasoning. The decision as to whether or not a severe discrepancy exists shall take into account all relevant material which is available on the pupil [5 CCR 3030(b)(10)(B)].

OR

  1. The student does not achieve adequately for his age or to meet state-approved grade-level standards in one or more specified areas when provided with learning experiences and instruction appropriate for the student’s age or state-approved grade-level standards, even when educators use processes based on the student’s response to scientific, research-based intervention [5 CCR 3030(b)(10)(C)(1) and 5 CCR 3030(b)(10)(C)(2)(i)], such as RtI2 or MTSS.

OR

  1. The student exhibits a pattern of strengths or weaknesses in performance, achievement, or both, relative to age, state-approved grade-level standards, or intellectual development, that is determined by the group to be relevant to the identification of a specific learning disability, using appropriate assessments…” [5 CCR 3030(b)(10)(C)(2)(ii)].

Ask the IEP team which of the above alternatives were considered in determining a student’s eligibility for special education.

Use of severe discrepancy models has been highly criticized by the US Department of Education (USDOE).  The USDOE states that there are many reasons why the use of the “severe discrepancy” model “should be abandoned” stating that using it is “potentially harmful to students as it results in delaying intervention until the student’s achievement is sufficiently low so that the discrepancy is achieved.”  USDOE referred to the use of the severe discrepancy model as a flawed “wait to fail” model [USDOE Commentary and Explanation About Proposed Regulations for IDEA 2004].

As a side note, according to dyslexia expert, Dr. Louisa Moats, “since the 1980s scientists have debunked the practice of using IQ tests in reading disability diagnoses and relying on discrepancy formulas to identify students who are eligible for special instruction in reading (Siegel, 1989; Stanovich, 1991; Fletcher et al., 2007). Compulsory IQ testing in child evaluations leads to under-identification of reading disabled students in the lower half of the IQ continuum. These students in the lower half of the IQ distribution are often those from less advantaged life circumstances, but their reading difficulties are not distinguishable in cause or remedy from students with higher IQs. The use of IQ-achievement discrepancy as a classification tool or gateway to remedial instruction is prejudicial, unnecessary, and invalid and should have been abandoned decades ago.” [Source: “Can Prevailing Approaches to Reading Instruction Accomplish the Goals of RTI?” IDA Perspectives on Language and Literacy, Summer Edition, Volume 43, pgs. 15-22].

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You Asked! Question 24

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Q24:  My student is not performing at grade-level in certain areas.  I’m being told by the IEP team that IEP goals have to be aligned with grade-level Common Core State Standards.  Is this correct?

A:  A standards-based IEP is one in which the IEP team has aligned grade level Common Core State Standards (CCSS)1 in its development of the IEP and IEP goals.1

In November 2015, the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) released a guidance letter that included the following:

To help make certain that children with disabilities are held to high expectations and have meaningful access to a State’s academic content standards, we write to clarify that an individualized education program (IEP) for an eligible child with a disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) must be aligned with the State’s academic content standards for the grade in which the child is enrolled. 2

In a situation where a child is performing significantly below the level of the grade in which the child is enrolled, an IEP Team should determine annual goals that are ambitious but achievable. In other words, the annual goals need not necessarily result in the child’s reaching grade-level within the year covered by the IEP, but the goals should be sufficiently ambitious to help close the gap. The IEP must also include the specialized instruction to address the unique needs of the child that result from the child’s disability necessary to ensure access of the child to the general curriculum, so that the child can meet the state academic content standards that apply to all children in the State.3

What does this mean?

Whenever it is reasonable to do so, goals should reflect grade level CCSS. However, if the child’s present level of performance in a certain area is well below their grade level, then the IEP team can write goals at the grade level that would be appropriate. That is, goals can also be written to align with CCSS at a level below the grade level in which the child is enrolled.4

Click HERE for sample goals.

1 Common Core State Standards Educational standards describe what students should know and be able to do in each subject in each grade. In California, the State Board of Education decides on the standards for all students, from kindergarten through high school. http://www.cde.ca.gov/re/cc/

2 OSEP’s Dear Colleague Letter on Free Appropriate Public Education, p.1, released November 16, 2015.

 3 Ibid., p5.

4 “Such a practice flies in the face of the purpose and goals of the IDEA, which require the district to develop an individualized program with measurable goals. While some children attending 9th grade and requiring special education are capable of meeting the state 9th grade goals with help, others, like M.S., are so far below grade reading level that expecting them to reach the state goals, even with help, is unrealistic.” E.g., Jefferson County Board of Educ. v. Lolita S., 581 Fed Appx. 760 (11th Cir. 2014)

*Students that have below grade level IEP goals may still participate in the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP). Only eligible students may participate in the administration of the California Alternate Assessments (CAAs). Any student identified for alternate testing takes the alternate versions of all tests. Individualized education program (IEP) teams “shall determine when a child with a significant cognitive disability shall participate in an alternate assessment aligned with the alternate academic achievement standards.” (Title 1, Part A, Subpart 1, Sec. 1111(b)(2)(D)(ii)(I)—Every Student Succeeds Act, 2015) https://www.calstat.org/publications/pdfs/2014winterSpringedge.pdf

Local educational agencies (LEAs) are required to notify the California Department of Education if they believe that they will exceed 1 percent of its total assessed student population taking California Alternate Assessments; however, there are no repercussions to LEAs for exceeding this threshold. The 1 Percent Threshold on Alternate Assessments

Authored by: Lori Chang, Parent Advocate/non-attorney advocate

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