Many teachers and administrators are unclear as to the roles of the Child Study Team and the IEP process. As the state and the country move more and more forward with inclusion, student growth objectives and other data driven initiatives for all students, it is critical that all pertinent personnel understand the special education process.
In order to understand the special education process one first must gain clarity with regard to the roles and responsibilities of the Child Study Team itself. According to NJ Administrative Code Title 6A Chapter 14 (12/2010) the Child Study Team consists of 3 primary members. The primary members include the social worker, school psychologist and the learning disabilities teacher consultant. (p. 43) Secondary members may include the related service providers, the speech-language therapist, occupational therapist and the physical therapist. Each member has its own role and responsibility. In addition, the social worker, school psychologist and learning disability teacher consultant may also be case managers.
The function of the school social worker is to complete the social history and possibly adaptive functioning assessment, during an evaluation or re-evaluation. This includes a review of student records, parent interview and developmental history. In some districts, the social worker may also counsel students. The social worker on the child study team is usually a case manager and will coordinate services, create and manage the IEP. One important note is that it is not required for the social worker to have any classroom experience. Most often social workers have no classroom or educational experience.
The role of the school psychologist includes case management, cognitive assessment or intellectual functioning, administration of data collection for executive functioning and attention and adaptive functioning assessments. These measures commonly include the Wechsler Intelligence test (WISC), The Woodcock Johnson cognitive assessment, The Behavior Assessment System for Children (adaptive skills), and the Conner's Scale (attention). The school psychologist is also not required to have any classroom experience and most frequently does not.
The learning disabilities teacher consultant functions as a case manager and conducts the academic achievement testing. This testing identifies strengths, needs, learning styles and where the student academically performs compared to the same age or the same grade students. Some of these assessments include the Woodcock – Johnson academic battery, The Wechsler Individual Achievement Test, Gray oral reading, Key Math and the Brigance amongst many others. The Learning Disabilities Teacher Consultant also develops instructional strategies, goals and objectives. The important distinction with the role and responsibility of the LDT-C is that they must have at least 5 years of classroom experience. The LDT-C is the only member of the Child Study Team who must have classroom experience -usually the only who does have classroom / academic experience.
The three primary child study team members are also case managers. Each student who is classified for special education and related services has a case manager. According to NJ Administrative Code Title 6A Chapter 14 (12/2010) the case manager must:
1. Be knowledgeable about the student's educational needs and their educational program;
2. Be knowledgeable about special education procedures and procedural safeguards;
3. Have an apportioned amount of time for case management responsibilities; and
4. Be responsible for transition planning. (p.44)
Additionally, they coordinate the development of the IEP, monitor and evaluate its effectiveness, facilitate communication between school and home and coordinate the annual review and re-evaluation.
The special education process begins with a referral to the Child Study Team. A referral may come directly from the parents or other personnel. In order for a parent to refer a child for evaluation a letter must be written to the administration with the request. A teacher, administrator of state agency may also refer a student to the child study team. Most often the teacher first brings the student to the Intervention & Referral Services team so strategies may be devised and implemented within the general education setting. According to the Special Education Process Companion, "The staff of the general education program shall maintain written documentation, including data setting forth the type of interventions utilized, the frequency and duration of each intervention, and the effectiveness of each intervention." (p. 2) Once the Intervention & Referral Services team determines that an evaluation may be needed, a referral would be made. It must be noted that many parents confuse the Intervention & Referral Services meeting with a Child Study Team meeting. It is important to clearly define these meetings to the parents.
Once the referral is received, regardless of who makes the referral, a meeting must be held to determine whether an evaluation is needed. This meeting must be held within 20 calendar days of receipt of the referral (excluding holidays but not summer vacation). The participants of this meeting include the child study team, the speech and language therapist if indicated, the general education teacher and the parents. During this meeting the student's progress, interventions and needs are discussed. The team then determines whether an evaluation is needed and the scope of the evaluation. Should an evaluation not be warranted the code states that:
Within 15 calendar days of the meeting, the parent is provided with:
Written notice of the determination that the evaluation is not warranted and:
A copy of the short procedural safeguards statement; and
Copies of the special education rules (NJAC 6A: 14)
and the due process hearing rules (NJAC 1: 6A)
In addition, should the parent disagree with the determination not to evaluate they have the right to a due process hearing to dispute the determination. However, common practice is such that it is not prudent to spend the time and money to go to due process, and the student would tend to be evaluated as requested by the parent. If it has been been determined that an evaluation is warranted the procedure continues.
One element which it is critical to follow is obtaining signed consent by the parent when needed. Once it has been been determined that an evaluation is needed and the elements of the evaluation delineated, signed parental consent must be obtained. This is the first of many times throughout the special education process that consent must be obtained. According to the administrative code 6A: 14 -2.3, "Consent shall be obtained prior to implementation of the initial IEP, prior to conducting a reevaluation, prior to the release of student records, each time a board of education seeks to access private insurance, whenever a child study team member is excused from a meeting, whenever an IEP is amended and whenever a waiver for reevaluation is obtained. " (p.13)
The next step in the process is the evaluation. According to the Administrative Code, "students must be administered a multidisciplinary evaluation consisting of at least 2 evaluations from child study team members and be evaluated in any area of suspected disability." (p.50) In addition it must be, "sufficiently comprehensive to identify all of the child's special education and related service needs, whether or not commonly linked to the suspected eligibility category." (p.24)
At this point the Child Study Team has 90 days to evaluate, determine eligibility and create the program if needed. However, should a parent fail to produce a child numerous times this timeline does not need to be followed. During the evaluation period it is customary that the student is given some type of cognitive evaluation which determines cognitive strengths, weaknesses and overall potential. Usually a full scale intelligence quotient (FSIQ) is determined. An academic achievement evaluation is conducted as well. This determines the level of learning achieved by the student based on comparison to the same age or grade peers and achievement strengths and weaknesses. Most districts also conduct a social history, which is conducted by parent questionnaire or interview. The social history gives valuable information regarding prenatal and birth history, milestones and emotional / social issues or concerns. Once the evaluations are completed they are sent to the parents at least 10 days in advance of the eligibility meeting.
According to the NJ Administrative Code, "Any eligibility meeting for students classified shall include the following participants:
1. The parent;
2. A teacher who is knowledgeable about the student's educational performance:
3. The student, where appropriate:
4. At least one child study team member who participated in the evaluation:
5. The case manager:
6. Other appropriate individuals at the discretion of the parent or school district:
7. For an initial eligibility meeting, certified school personnel referring the student for services or the principal. "(P. 17)
This team is known as the IEP team. It is called upon to convene many times throughout the special education process.
In New Jersey a student may be found eligible for special education and related services in different ways depending upon the disability category. The most common category is specific learning disability, "which is comprised of;
1. Oral expression;
2. Listening comprehension;
3. Written expression;
4. Basic reading skills;
5. Reading fluency;
6. Reading comprehension;
7. Mathematics calculation;
8. Mathematics problem solving. "(P.53)
The two methods used to determine eligibility for this category include the discrepancy method and response to intervention. When using the discrepancy method, "a severe discrepancy between ability and achievement that is not correctable without special education and related services" is needed. (p.52) Common practice dictates that a "severe discrepancy" is present if there is a 1.5 or 1 standard deviation between the two areas. This translates to a 15-22 point discrepancy when using standard scores. The second method that may be used is response to intervention. According to the Administrative code 6A: 14.-3.4, 6
"When a response to scientifically based intervention methodology is utilized to make the determination of whether the student has a specific learning disability, the district board of education shall:
i. Ensure that such methodology includes scientifically based instruction by highly qualified instructors, and that multiple assessments of students progress are included in the evaluation of the student;
ii. Not be required to include more than one assessment conducted pursuant to the district's response to scientifically based intervention methodology in the evaluation of the student; and
iii. If the parent consents in writing extend as necessary, the time to complete an evaluation. "(P. 53)
"Other disability categories include:
1. Auditorily impaired, which means an inability to hear within normal limits due to physical impairment or dysfunction. An audiological evaluation and a speech and language evaluation are required.
2. Autistic which means a pervasive developmental disability which significantly impacts verbal, nonverbal and social interaction that adversely affects a student's educational performance. An assessment by a speech and language therapist and a physician trained in Neuro-develomental assessment are required.
3. Cognitively impaired which means a disability that is characterized by significantly below average general cognitive functioning existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior. This category is broken into three areas including mild, moderate and severe.
4. Communication impaired which means a language disorder in the areas of morphology, syntax, semantics, and / or pragmatics which adversely affects a student's educational performance. The problem shall be demonstrated through functional assessment of language in other than a testing situation and performance below 1.5 standards deviations, or the 10th percentile on at least two standardized language tests, where such tests are appropriate one of which shall be a comprehensive test of both receptive and expressive language.
5. Emotionally disturbed which means a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects and student's educational performance due to:
i. An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory or health factors;
ii. An inability to maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers;
iii. In appropriate types of behaviors or feelings under normal circumstances;
iv. A general pervasive mood or unhappiness or depression; or
v. A tendency to develop physical symptoms of fears associated with personal or school problems.
6. Multiply disabled which means the presence of two or more disabling
conditions, the combination of which causes severe educational needs.
7.Deaf / Blindness which means concomitant hearing and visual impairments.
8 Orthopedically impaired which means a disability characterized by a severe orthopedic impairment that adversely affects a student's educational performance. A medical assessment documenting the orthopedic condition is required.
9 Other Health Impaired which means a disability characterized by having limited strength, vitality or alertness, included heightened alertness with respect to the educational environment, due to chronic or acute health problems, such as attention deficit disorder, heart condition or tuberculosis. A medical assessment documenting the health problem is required.
10 Preschool child with a disability means a child between the ages of 3 and 5 experiencing developmental delay as measured by appropriate diagnostic instruments and procedures, in one or more areas and requires special education and related services.
11 Social maladjustment means a consistent inability to conform to the standards of behavior established by the school.
12 Specific learning disabled as described above.
13 Traumatic brain injury which means an acquired injury to the brain caused by external force or insult to the brain resulting in total or partial functional disability or psychosocial impairment.
14 Visual impairment means impairment in vision that, even with correction, adversely affects the student's educational performance. An assessment by a specialist qualified to determine visual disability is required. Students with visual impairments shall be reported to the Commission for the Blind and Visually impaired. (p. 54-60)
Once eligibility has been determined and the parent has signed consent an Individualized Education Program may be written. The case manager comes to the meeting with a draft document and the specifics are discussed and created with the IEP team. The parent may sign consent at this point or wait up to 15 days to sign consent or disagree with the IEP. Signed consent is needed to implement the first IEP after eligibility is determined.
Once the IEP is created and consent is obtained the program may begin. The modifications, accommodations, program, goals and objectives must be adhered to by all personnel who interact with the student. The IEP is a legal binding document. However, it may be amended as needed.
Other points within the special education process include the annual review and triennial reevaluation. It is mandated that each IEP is reviewed annual. Progress is determined and changes are made as needed. Additionally, every three years a student is reevaluated to determine continued elgibility. If eligibility is clear or no further information is needed then the reevaluation may be waived.
In summary, the special education process in New Jersey is a very specific process as mandated by legal code. The entire process is spelled out in the New Jersey Administrative Code Title 6A, Chapter 14. All districts must be in compliance with this code. Non-public schools have specific requirements to follow as well. Timelines, signed consent, the specific elements found within the IEP and program adherence are critical features of the special education process. Failure to follow these provisions will render a district, "out of compliance," which comes with sanctions by the department of education.
New Jersey Department of Education. New Jersey Administrative Code Title 6A Chapter
14 . NP: New Jersey Department of Education, 2010. Print.
New Jersey Office of Special Education. Special Education Process: From Child-Find, Referral, Evaluation, and Eligibility to IEP Development, Annual Review and Reevaluation . NP: New Jersey Office of Special Education, 2007. Print.