The Five Steps of the Special Education Process

 In Blog

When it comes to teaching or tutoring, whether in the classroom or at home, there is no one-size-fits-all recipe that magically works for every child. We are all different, and we learn and evolve differently, and at DaVinci Collaborative, we know that this is part of what makes each of us unique. As a parent, noticing that you child is having difficulties at school, or that they tend to learn differently than other kids can be concerning and even frustrating. However, it’s important to know that education is flexible, and the only thing that matters is figuring out what can best help your child achieve their full potential.

When should you worry about your child’s learning progress?

We’re going to talk about the five main steps of the special education process, to help you understand what this term means, and why it shouldn’t be something to be concerned about. Let’s start with a few potential scenarios that you might find yourself in, scenarios that we’re very familiar with at DaVinciCollaborative.

Scenario 1: You feel frustrated and helpless because your child is failing in school and just can’t keep up with his or her peers. Homework is routinely a nightmare that is often met with tears and yelling. You have been told in the past by teachers that your child is just not trying and is choosing not to do their best. 

Scenario 2: Your child is a hardworking student and is eager to please. The teacher reports that they put forth a lot of effort and always want to participate in class. The teacher even mentions she wishes she had a class of students just like your child.  They complete their school work and never forget to hand in homework. Although this may be true, you also know that it takes your child a very long time to complete all assignments, and they needs a tremendous amount of assistance to do so. They often struggle to understand what the assignments require and need constant support. Your child works very hard and wants to please, but you can see how defeated and exhausted they feel. 

Scenario 3: You just learned that your child has a disability and will need special education services. You’re feeling lost because this isn’t something you anticipated when planning your child’s education journey. You know your child needs more school support and you just aren’t sure where to begin.

What is Special Education and how does it help?

Special Education includes a set of services that are provided to a student who requires a specialized program and instruction to meet their educational needs. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates every public school in the U.S. to identify and evaluate students suspected of having a disability and provide a free, appropriate public education to every eligible student until graduation or the year after the individual turns 21. These 5 steps will take you through the process of getting special education services for your child.  

 1. Initial Referral for Special Education

A referral for determining eligibility can be made by a parent or teacher. If a parent or guardian suspects that their child requires special education services, they may do so by sending a written request to the school’s Committee on Special Education (CSE). The written request should clarify that you are asking the district to evaluate your child to determine if special education services are warranted. The district has 60 days from receipt of the request to move forward with an evaluation. 

A referral may come from a child’s teacher or another professional in the school. A school professional may refer a student that they suspect needs a higher level of support than the general education setting. Student performance and test scores may prompt a referral in some cases. A parent will receive an explanation in writing, detailing the request for evaluation. The description should describe the evaluation procedure, assessment record, and how recommendations will be reported after the assessment has been completed. A parent or guardian must provide consent before the school can go forward with the evaluation.

2. Evaluation Process

Once consent is provided by the parent/guardian, the Committee (CSE) has 60 days to complete the evaluation process. Schools are required to use unbiased methods and multiple approaches in the evaluation process to ensure that there is no discrimination based on race, culture, or native language. Students can’t be identified or referred for placement based on one test score. The IDEA states, the school system must ensure that ‘the evaluation is sufficiently comprehensive to identify all the child’s special education and related services needs, whether or not commonly linked to the disability category in which the child has been classified.’ 

3. Determining Eligibility for Special Education

After the evaluation is completed, the parent/guardian will be invited to a CSE meeting to discuss the findings of the evaluation. If the parent is not available on the date of the proposed meeting, the CSE must reschedule for a date that the parent can be present. Based on the findings of the evaluation, the CSE decides if the child has a disability that impacts their learning. The members of the CSE include a parent/guardian and a person they choose to invite; the student, if it is appropriate; a special education teacher; a school psychologist; a teacher; an additional parent member; and a representative of the school district who is qualified to provide or supervise special education services. In some cases, the parents may not agree with the school’s decision and request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE). Parents can also present to the team private evaluations if they were completed.

4. Developing the Student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

If the student is eligible for special education services, then the CSE committee will develop an IEP. The IEP must provide a plan in the least restrictive environment appropriate for the student’s needs. The IEP should never be based on just one document or test. All aspects of the child’s education journey should be considered when developing the plan. It’s important to take into consideration the child’s strengths, test and assessment results, concerns that have been expressed by teachers and parents, as well as the specific needs of the student that are related to the disability. For example, if a student has been diagnosed with a learning disability, the team must consider how the disability impacts the student’s ability to learn in the classroom and provide a plan that will accommodate this so they may gain access to the curriculum. 

5. Implementation of Services and Annual Review

The services decided upon on the plan must be implemented without delay and within the timeline specified on the IEP. The school is responsible for writing the document and making sure the contents of the IEP are carried out. A copy of the document will be shared with the parents as well as any teachers and service providers for the student.  

Annual Review: At least once a year, the CSE will meet to review the IEP. It is decided at this meeting if changes need to be made to the IEP.  The data collection showing whether the student is making progress should be presented and shared at this meeting to help determine if the accommodations, modifications, and goals need to be adjusted.  

Reevaluation: Every three years, a student will be reevaluated, including a full battery of tests, which will be conducted by the special education teacher, speech pathologist, and school psychologist. Parent consent is required before these tests can be administered. Once the testing is complete, the CSE will discuss and decide if the current IEP is appropriate. 

The process for special education services may feel drawn out and frustrating to parents and teachers in the trenches of it and working on getting the appropriate services for a student who needs support. The good news for parents is that they are not alone in the process, and they have help along the way. It is essential to uncover the student’s strengths and weaknesses in all areas to accommodate his/her learning best.  


If your child requires an educational evaluation or academic support, DaVinciCollaborative is here to help you on your journey to helping your child reach their fullest potential. Feel free to reach out to our team for a consult, and find out all the ways in which we can help. 

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