Special education is specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parents, which meets the unique needs of a child with a disability. Specially designed instruction means that the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction is adapted to meet the needs of the child that result from the disability. The instruction helps the child access the general education curriculum, so that he or she can meet the educational standards that apply to all children.
Under Pennsylvania and federal law, a student with a disability has a right to special education and related services that are provided:
At public expense
Under public supervision and direction
Without charge to preschool, elementary or secondary school students, and
In conformity with an Individualized Education Program (IEP)
This means that students with disabilities who need special education must receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE). FAPE includes related services that help students get to school and benefit from the special education program, such as:
Physical or occupational therapy
Other services which help or support students as they grow and learn
As a parent, you know your child's learning strengths and weaknesses. If your child does need special education, school professionals need your knowledge to design his or her special education program. Your child may be eligible for special education if he or she meets both of the following criteria:
Has a physical, sensory, mental, or emotional disability, and
Needs specially designed instruction as determined by an evaluation team
Your child must meet both of these qualifications in order to be eligible for special education.
Some students may have disabilities that substantially limit their participation in, or access to, school programs, yet do not need special education. These students may qualify for reasonable accommodations in the regular classroom under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and other Pennsylvania education regulations. The rules, called Chapter 15, that apply to these students are different from those governing special education. Chapter 15 regulations and a guideline on Chapter 15 implementation are available.
The entire evaluation process must be completed within 60 calendar days, during the school year, from the date you give permission by signing the Permission to Evaluate - Consent Form given to you by your school district. A copy of the Evaluation Report must be given to you and a summary of the report will be communicated to you.
The Evaluation Report (ER) will include information about your child's skills, social behavior, learning problems, learning strengths, and educational needs. It will include a review of the testing and assessments performed, information from the parents, classroom observations, and the observations of teachers and related service personnel.
The ER determines if your child has one or more disabilities and if he or she needs special education. It may recommend specific programs and services based on his or her needs. The ER may also state that your child is not eligible and does not need special education services.
The ER will tell you what additions or changes are needed to help your child meet his or her education goals, and progress in the general education curriculum. (The general education curriculum is the skills and knowledge taught in your school district.) Your child's education goals are described in his or her Individualized Education Program (IEP).
Evaluations must take into account the student's English language skills and ethnic background, so that the testing and evaluation will be fair for students of differing races and cultures. Tests must be given in the student's native language or mode of communication, unless it is clearly not feasible to do so. To be reliable, evaluations must also take into account the student's disability. For example, a student with a severe visual impairment cannot be given a written test with small print.
The types of tests used in the evaluation process depend upon the educational challenges your child is experiencing. In most cases, he or she will receive several tests to help find strengths and needs. Someone other than your child's general classroom teacher may also observe your child in class. Information that you share about your child must also be included in the evaluation.