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Eligibility Considerations Under IDEA and 504

Eligibility Considerations Under IDEA and 504
Lissa Power-deFur, PhD, CCC-SLP
January 18, 2022

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Editor’s Note: This text is a transcript of the webinar, "Eligibility Considerations under IDEA and Section 504," presented by Dr. Lissa Power-deFur, PhD, CCC-SLP.

Learning Outcomes

After this course, participants will be able to:

  1. Explain the eligibility requirements of IDEA and Section 504.
  2. Identify clinical evaluation information that supports eligibility determination.
  3. Describe at least 2 approaches to reduce disproportionate identification of certain racial-ethnic groups.


Having spent so many years at the Virginia Department of Education, I have listened to parents, speech and language pathologists, special ed directors, special ed teachers, and general ed teachers about the eligibility situation and how it is different when you are in the schools compared to working outside of the schools. 

Let me set the scene. You are a qualified SLP who has evaluated a child and identified him/her with a language disorder. You think the child is eligible for special education, but you go to the eligibility meeting and they don't agree. Has this scenario ever happened to you? I have talked to SLPs around the country and I often hear the frustration of, “I see the speech and language impairment, but why doesn’t the team find them eligible?”

What is different about our work as SLPs and our work as members of the team that finds children eligible? Hopefully, I can provide you with some new ideas to approach your eligibility teams and be a bit more successful in getting young people eligible for services.


In this course, I am going to review special education eligibility and the evaluation process for eligibility. How do we identify academic impact, which is so important?  I will address dismissal, which is the conclusion of eligibility. Then, I will move on to discussing disproportionality under IDEA, and move into section 504 eligibility. As I was preparing this course, the US Department of Education came out with guidance on what to do about long-term COVID symptoms. What do we do with children who have long-term COVID symptoms? I will address that at the end of the presentation.

We are specialists in the clinical determination of speech and language impairment. We have masters degrees, doctorates, and some may even be board certified specialists in child language. We have the expertise.  But we need to figure out how to align that with the special education requirements. It's a little bit like trying to align things with insurance requirements. Those of us who have worked in a situation where we're billing insurance, it's not that insurance disagrees that there's a speech and language impairment. They just don't agree that insurance should pay for it. For example, we've seen developmental articulation disorders that most insurance companies won't cover.  Therefore, we have to figure out the rules of the insurance system in order to have the therapy covered by the family's insurance. Sometimes we recognize that it won't be covered.

The same idea applies in special education, special education funds, speech-language services, OT services, and all the other related services. We need to follow the rules of the IDEA system for special ed money to fund speech-language services under IDEA.  To be effective members of the special ed team, we need to conduct our evaluations with an understanding of the unique requirements for IDEA.  There are some things that we might do differently when presenting the information about the child, so that he or she will eligible for services under IDEA.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA)

I want to start with a refresher on IDEA. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, referred to it as IDEA, was first passed 46 years ago as the Education for all Handicapped Children Act, EHA, in 1975. The way it is set up is that if states and localities want federal money for their special education, they have to comply with the requirements.  Believe it or not, states could decide to not comply with IDEA, but then they're not going to receive any money.  Over the years, I have heard of states saying they're going to do that because they find the requirements onerous. However, I've not heard of any state that has actually followed through on that because who is going to walk away from federal money when we know how expensive it is to provide special ed services?

Every state must develop regulations, policies and procedures, or an administrative code. Meaning, they have to establish requirements to receive the special ed funds, and the US Department of Education has to approve those state policies and procedures. As a result, there is a lot of diversity across states. If you start out working in Virginia and then move to Idaho, the policies and procedures are going to be different because states have some flexibility to implement things differently.

However, states may not conflict with federal requirements. They can't change federal requirements. For example, IDEA states that an IEP must be developed in 30 days.  A state doesn’t have the right to say they want to do it in 60 days instead.  But there are places where IDEA is silent such as with evaluations.  IDEA discusses evaluations but they don't specify a timeline. So, timelines for evaluations will probably vary from state to state.

In order for the localities to get the money from the state, which is coming from the US Department of Education, the localities also have to develop policies and procedures.  Again, they may not conflict with any federal requirements. They may not limit or reduce them. But there are places where the federal law is silent, so the state requirements may add to that. If the state and federal laws are silent, then the localities may add to that. For example, many localities specify very clear procedures about how the evaluation reports are given to parents. That is a procedure that is not specified in the federal language nor in the Virginia regulations, where I reside. It may be in the state where you are.

One of the biggest challenges we have, as we talk about special education across the country, is that involvement at the state and local level results in different terminology and different requirements. The term “intellectual disability” may be used in one state while another state uses “intellectual impairment”.  “Deafness” might be used in one state and another state uses “hard of hearing”.  So, there is some variability across states. But, they all have to ultimately align with the federal law. You may have terms that are state-specific and some localities may come up with their own terminology, as long as when they report it to the state, who then reports it to the Feds, it aligns with the federal definition.

As I said earlier, timelines may vary. There are some aspects of IDEA where timelines are specific and there are some areas where they are not specific.  So, you'll see that variability.

Finally, evaluation procedures may vary.  Some districts are exceptionally detailed about how the eligibility teams quantify a significant discrepancy, whereas others are more fluid and allow for a lot more flexibility.

There are some additional terminology differences that you'll see from one state to another. Some places call it “state regulations,” some call it “administrative code rules,” “state rules,” or “state policy.” There can even be variability in disorder terminology such as “speech-language impairment,” “language impairment,” or “speech impairment.”  You might also see different terminology regarding eligibility.  Some states might refer to “entry” into special ed and when the child's services are concluding some states call it “exiting,” whereas others may call it “dismissal.”

Purpose of Education for the Handicapped Children Act

What was the point of the Education for the Handicapped Children Act back in 1975? What was going on then, just to refresh your memory, is that children with disabilities were not being served. We had large numbers of children who were not in school, and for those who were in school, the nature of their education was frequently quite inferior to that of the students in general education. That's where the concept of FAPE came from: Free Appropriate Public Education. Public education has to be free to the child with a disability in the same way it's free to the child without a disability.

For example, no parent in a public school pays for their child's reading instruction in second grade. Therefore, the child with the disability should also get reading instruction in second grade at no cost to the parent. There are some costs to the parent such as a band fee or something like that and those costs can be borne by children with disabilities and their families as well.

There is also the term, “appropriate.” There has been a lot of legislation over the past 45 years about what “appropriate” means. That's not the topic of this webinar, but it's certainly something that can frequently guide the decision-making and the discussions of your eligibility team.  What does the child need to access that free and appropriate public education? Many have said that it is not the Cadillac. Meaning, a child with a disability doesn't have to have a “Cadillac” education when that's not available to children in general education. That is something the courts often address. That is a larger issue than we can’t resolve today.

What is the Eligibility Process in IDEA?

Let’s do a quick refresher on the eligibility process in IDEA. There are three questions the eligibility team must answer:

  1. Does the child have one of the specified disabilities under IDEA?
  2. Does the disability have an adverse educational impact?
  3. As a result, does the child need special ed and related services?

For those who have moved from another setting into the schools, you have the first question down pat. We know how to identify a child that has speech and language impairment. However, we don't necessarily have experience with #2 or #3.  So, that's where those of us who are transitioning to work in public education need to understand what the law is saying about an adverse educational impact and the need for special education and related services.

Does the Child Have a Disability Identified by IDEA?

Below is a list of the disabilities found in the federal law:

  • Autism
  • Deafness
  • Deaf-blind
  • Developmental delay
  • Emotional disability
  • Intellectual disability
  • Multiple disabilities
  • Orthopedic impairment
  • Other health impairment
  • Specific learning disability
  • Speech or language impairment
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Visual impairment, including blindness

Many of these disabilities relate to what we do as speech-language pathologists.  But clearly, we may be involved in providing services to a number of children whose primary disability is not speech or language impairment. We probably touch every single one of these disabilities, some of them more clearly than others. I want to remind you that these are the federal terms, so the terms in your state might differ from that. For those of you who may be relatively new to IDEA, developmental delay is a term that is used for younger children. Each state is going to specify the upper age limit for that, but it is really trying to capture those young ages where it's too young to identify a specific disorder.  We don't want to be identifying a three-year-old with an emotional disability (no longer called a disturbance) or identify a young child with multiple disabilities at such a young age. 

Students may be identified with up to three disability categories, and they're often called primary, secondary or tertiary. But because we have so much flexibility, you might not hear those terms where you live. However, there is no limit to the number of disabilities that each child can be identified with according to federal law.  That's why we often see speech-language impairment as a secondary or related disability.

The federal definition of speech or language impairment was drafted in 1974 and is “a communication disorder such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment or voice impairment that adversely affects a child's educational performance.”   A couple of comments about this definition. First, 34 C.F.R. Section 300 (c) (11) stands for Code of Federal Regulations. Whenever you see C.F.R, you're looking at federal language. You could go to the US Department of Education website and type 34 C.F.R section 300 C 11, and this definition will come up.

Secondly, the phrase, “…adversely affects a child's educational performance…” can be a tough area for SLPs who've had a long history in the schools. I’ll talk about that a bit more shortly.  Additionally, this definition doesn't include swallowing, so it can become challenging for speech-language pathologists working with children with feeding and swallowing disorders in schools to find them eligible because people tend to use this definition quite literally. Many years ago, when IDEA was last reauthorized, ASHA wrote in to ask them to add swallowing to this definition. They declined, but their response was really quite interesting.  In the official document that goes with the revision to IDEA, they said they did not add it because they felt that this definition was comprehensive enough to include swallowing. It’s nice to know that there is the intention, but I think a lot of us find that folks look at the law and don't go to the commentary on the law when it last came out.

Is There an Adverse Educational Impact?

The second question is if there is an adverse educational impact? Whether or not a speech or language impairment affects a child's educational performance must be determined on a case-by-case basis, depending upon the unique needs of a particular child and not based only on discrepancies in age or grade performance and academic subject areas.

Catherine Clark, from ASHA, wrote to the US Department of Education and asked for a clarification of “adverse educational impact.” ASHA was hearing from large numbers of the members of the association that children with speech or language impairments were not being found eligible for services because they did not have a discrepancy between their age and their performance or their grade and performance. Many were being found ineligible because their grade performance was on target in that they were making the grades you might expect.

But you see also that there was a case-by-case basis component included. Meaning, we cannot decide that all children with /r/ errors are ineligible for special education.  We cannot identify that all children with difficulty with morphology are ineligible, and this should be addressed in the language arts classroom. We cannot say that all children who stutter are ineligible, all children with voice problems are ineligible. Each decision needs to be made on a case-by-case basis. That's the key to IDEA. Remember, the first word in IEP is “individuals”. It is very much focused on the unique needs of the individual child.

Does the Child Need Special Education and Related Services?

Finally, we have to ask if the child needs special education and related services? This is where we need to understand what the Feds say special education is and what do they say related services are. Special education is specially-designed instruction. It's designed to meet the unique needs of the child with a disability. That means that we are adapting the content, method, or delivery of instruction to address the unique needs of the child with a disability. The goal is to ensure access to the general curriculum and to ensure the child with the disability has access to the education standards that all children must meet. 

Remember, the point of the special education law, in the beginning, was to ensure that students with disabilities in public education had the same access to the education that students without disabilities have. The whole focus of special education is what is needed to support that student to help them be successful, as well as meet the education standards and the general curriculum. It might mean changing the method of teaching, or changing how it's delivered.  It might need to be one-on-one instruction, in the special education classroom, or in small groups. In some cases, it is changing the content. For students with more severe disabilities or intellectual disabilities, algebra is probably not going to be a success for them. So, we have some guidance on how to approach that content.

The education standards movement makes us all crazy. I just had a conversation with a teacher who left the classroom after 27 years because of the data she was having to keep based on the education standards. She felt that she was losing her ability to connect with children.

The standards are not all bad. Like any idea, there are good and bad to them. I remember back when there were no standards, I was at the Department of Education when the standards movement began.  We had situations where you would get fractions in second grade in one school and fractions in third grade in a different school. US history would be taught in sixth grade in one school and taught in 8th grade at another school.  It would vary sometimes by the school within the same district, from district to district in the same state, or from state to state.  Since we have a very mobile society, standards became very important to ensure that all students had access to the same information. That is very logical.  

There is another reason for the standards movement. A dear friend of mine has a fabulous lesson on medieval life and did a medieval renaissance fair every year.  But I noticed that she'd talk about doing the medieval life lesson and the renaissance fair regardless of the grade she was assigned to between grades three and eight.  It's a great activity, but perhaps she should have passed the lesson on to the teacher from the grade level she left because there might've been some content she wasn't teaching as she moved to a different grade level. So that's part of what's behind the standards movement.

For many teachers, it also provided guidance on what they needed to cover during that year. We need to have a sense of what students must be able to cover. There is an advantage to the standards for SLPs, as we make the case that there is an impact of the speech and/or language impairment on the child's academic success. 

How are Eligibility Decisions Made?

How are eligibility decisions made? Everything is decided by a team, which is the whole focus of special education. It starts out with the team reviewing all of the existing evaluation data and then making a decision about eligibility. The parents are part of that team and those of you working in schools have seen the gamut of parents from those who are classic helicopter parents and Uber involved in everything, to parents for whom it's very challenging to come to the meetings.

IDEA prohibits any single teammate member from determining eligibility for IDEA. The decision is only made at a team meeting and the parents have to be part of that meeting.

Friend and colleague, Perry Flynn in North Carolina, has this fabulous statement, “The eligibility and IEP teams should not abdicate decision-making to the SLP and the SLP should not seize it. Perry and I have seen both over the years. We see eligibility in IEP teams that say, “You decide. You're the speech-language pathologist.” Well, that leaves out the input we can get from them about other aspects of the child's life. On the other hand, we need to be collaborative team members and be connecting what we do with everybody else.

Team’s First Steps

The team's first steps include looking at existing data for intervention results, district-level data (e.g., K assessments), and outside data (e.g., early intervention, medical, private providers). Intervention results may not be available for a three-year-old child who’s been referred to early childhood special education services. But most students will have some intervention after the first few weeks of school and kindergarten. You have some information about what's going on in the classroom.

You will also have some district-level data. In Virginia, we use the PALS (Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening) for all students, K-3.  That might be a valuable tool or a comparable assessment. The close relationship between phonological awareness that students need to have for reading relates very well to language disorders and speech sound disorders.

We have a lot of young people coming to school with outside data. That's a blessing when the parents bring that to us. We may have reports from the child who received early intervention services. The child might have received private speech-language services, private OT or PT, or private ABA services, for example. We may have some excellent reports from neurology or from developmental pediatricians.

After the team reviews those data, they decide if an evaluation is needed by the district to make a decision.

In general, schools want to reach out and touch the child and gather current data. On the other hand, there are times when using previous data can be exceptionally valuable. Based on the early intervention transition to the early childhood special ed program, you might be able to take the very current data from the EI program. If a child that is moving into the district in February, clearly has a disability, then you're going to use some of the data that came from the previous district to enter that child into services. But, typically, the districts will do their own data gathering.

How Teams Use Reports and Recommendations from Outside Sources

What do we do with this information from outside sources? The law says that the teams must consider it. Note that verb, consider. The outside reports from SLPs, OTs, PT, psychology, early intervention have to be read, looked at, and considered by the team. The team notes from the meeting should reflect that they did indeed consider it. The district doesn't want to be caught in any sort of due process hearing because there's no evidence that the team did not do that. However, the decision is solely that of the eligibility team. I've heard many examples of parents coming in with a prescription from the doctor ordering the child to be found eligible for special ed and receive “X” amount of services per week.  That is contrary to the law. The district has to consider the doctor's opinion, but the doctor cannot order special ed services or any other related services. The doctor’s position is just like that of the early intervention providers. He/she is an outside provider who has valuable information that must be considered, but it is not a directive. The special ed team is autonomous from medical orders.

However, if you're billing Medicaid, that's a completely different situation, but that's not the topic of this course. Just know that if you are serving children in your school who are eligible for Medicaid services, you must follow your state's Medicaid requirements of eligibility for Medicaid.  Some of those do require doctor's orders. Again, Medicaid is a federal program with state-to-state implementation. So, you will find some variability from one state to the next. You will also often find that the Medicaid services in schools have slightly different rules systems than the Medicaid services in healthcare settings or in private clinics.

Related Services

The law is very clear about related services.  We only get a related service if the child needs it to benefit from special education. Do you see that tie back? We have to go back to that specially-designed instruction, the alteration of content, method or delivery to enable the child's success. If the child needs OT, PT, speech, nursing, psychology, or counseling to benefit from special ed then it's added as a related service.

Transportation is a related service that a lot of people question.  If we can't get the child to school, how are they going to benefit from special education? For example, in my neighborhood, there was a young lady in an electric wheelchair who clearly needed the specialized school bus in order to get to school and access services there.

The IEP team makes the decision if related services are needed.  In your district or state, those decisions might be made by the eligibility team. So, be sure to refer back to those policies and procedures to clarify what you should be using. But basically, it's an IEP team decision that they find the student eligible for special ed, and then the related services are identified by the IEP team.

The best way to do this for the IEP team is to look at the information about the child that's been gathered through the evaluation and eligibility process. Then they write goals that identify what we need to do, what the child needs to do to progress during the year, and what our goal is for the year. Then the team should say, “Do we need related services to help us meet these goals? Can these goals be met solely through special ed with the use of a special ed teacher or do these goals need the support of counseling, speech, OT, PT, nursing, and so forth?

One example is handwriting.  Looking at the handwriting of some of the youngsters in my family, I would say a lot of them would benefit from the support of an OT. However, that is not necessary for any of them to be successful in school. None of them need OT as part of their education program. But, if we have a student with an orthopedic impairment and we need to have OT support for the child to handle a writing device, that's completely different.  All the writing that's being done needs to be supported and the OT might be involved in writing in that case.

It’s important to know that speech and language services can be a special ed service or a related service.  Also, depending on your state, it may be identified as a secondary disability or tertiary disability. But it can be both, and that's where we hear that term “speech only”. That is indicative of a child whose eligibility for special ed is only based on the presence of a speech and language impairment, there is no other disability. Typically, about half our caseloads are speech-only students, and about half of them are speech as a related service or, perhaps in your state, speech as a secondary disability.  For about half of our students, we are supporting what's going on in general ed, and for about half of them, we are the only special ed provider.

Our goal is to connect students directly to general education. Therefore, it's important to go back to the point that the purpose of special ed is to enable the child to be successful and progress in general education, and meet the education standards.

Evaluation for Eligibility

Evaluation versus Assessment

First, I want to talk about terms. IDEA uses the terms “assessment” and “evaluation” differently.  Evaluations are those “procedures used by qualified personnel to determine a child's initial and continuing eligibility.” Let’s discuss some of those terms.

A section of IDEA law talks about what it takes to be qualified and it differs from the state licensure requirements. It will differ depending on what each state education agency sets up as the standards to be a teacher of students with learning disabilities, an SLP, an OT, et cetera.

Evaluation is what we do at the very first eligibility meeting and then again for continuing eligibility.  We must continue to find the children eligible at least every three years, but the team may do so more often than that.

The law differentiates evaluation from assessment. Assessment is “ongoing procedures, that the qualified personnel use to identify the child's unique strengths and needs throughout the period of the child's eligibility.”  That's reminding us that it's not just one and done. We don't assess once and then stop.  We're constantly gathering data, constantly doing assessment. It doesn't necessarily mean a standardized assessment. Don't we do assessment all the time? We've got our data we keep about the child's performance to see if the child has met the goals. That's part of that assessment.  We are continually assessing the abilities of the students we're serving.

IDEA Expectations About Evaluations

What are some of the expectations in the law about evaluations? We need to be creating a picture of the child's skills in relationship to the academic, vocational and functional program and the child's progress in the educational setting.

One of my colleagues who was a special ed director in Richmond City public schools used to describe it as being like a book. The first chapter of the book is the evaluation, and all of the information gathered in the evaluation should be giving us a foundation that explains what's in the following chapters. Each of the following chapters is one of the goals and the services used to support those goals. We should be able to see that direct relationship between what we are finding in the evaluation and what we end up providing as services. Ask yourself, “Are the evaluations that I’m doing for schools giving me a picture of the child's skills with relation to their academic program?”

The evaluations would be vocational for our students who are in high school, and they are our functional programs for our young people with more significant disabilities. Then, it all goes back to making sure that there is progress in the educational setting.  Additionally, the evaluation must be done by a team and there must be a variety of assessments.

SLP Components

What do SLPs have to do? We have to get information from the parents. It is a requirement of the law that parent input must be elicited. A lot of clinicians send home a checklist to parents, but best practice is to have an interview with parents if possible.

We conduct formal assessments. Be sure to check your state’s requirements and your district's requirements.  Some of them are very precise about which assessments are approved and which ones you need to be using.

We need to consider how the child is doing in the classroom. This is our observation component. It can be so challenging to get observations in when we are so busy with our caseload, but they are so valuable. I have found that the times I've been in the classroom, it's eye-opening to see how the student functions, when surrounded by a large group of students with noise to the left, noise behind them, the projector is on, having to do work independently, listening to the teacher, noticing how the teacher and the assistant in the classroom are providing instruction, etc. All of this can be exceptionally valuable.

Most districts and localities have observation guides. If you don't have one, you might look at your state education agency's website for a template on how to conduct those observations.

We also need intervention data. That data can come from the teacher, possibly.  We have tier one, tier two, and tier three systems in our schools with Response to Intervention (RtI) or multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) depending on what your district and state call it. The data from those are very valuable as part of the evaluation.

It’s important to include a hearing screening. I've been in this field a long time and it's just second nature to me to check the child’s hearing before we complete a speech and language evaluation.  We know the relationship between mild hearing loss and speech or language impairment. I am stunned to hear about how many people in 2020, 2021 are doing speech and language evaluations without checking hearing.  We absolutely need to make sure hearing is within normal limits. We know that mild hearing loss has an impact on speech sound acquisition and language skills.

There's a lot we can learn informally. Assessments such as calculating MLU are more informal, probe data is more informal. Check your state requirements to make sure you are adhering to the state requirements for how to do informal assessments and report them.

A lot of times, we don't have the time to look at the classroom performance. But I really recommend gathering some information from the classroom. Get teacher input. There are great checklists available for teachers to give us input.  They are available on a host of different websites and those are fabulous. I highly recommend them.   See if you can also talk to the teacher because that helps you unpack what the teacher means when he or she checks “sometimes” or “always” on certain checklist items. 

I find it interesting to look at artifacts. If you've got an older student who's doing spelling, reading, and writing, take a look at their spelling tests. There's an interesting connection that I've noticed over the years between performance in spelling with the /r/, /r/ vowels and their production of /r/.

If a student has a continuing /r/ error and spelling errors with R, it's easier to make that connection to the educational impact. Keep in mind though, that's not something that's going to jump out at the classroom teacher. I noticed that my daughter in third grade was having difficulty spelling words, and when I talked to her teacher about it, she said, “Well, she gets 100% on her spelling test.” She's a good teacher, one of the best teachers she had in elementary school. I said, “Well, we are really the typical family where we go over the spelling words each night and do the assignment each night of the week.  We do the spelling test check on Thursday night before the test on Friday, so of course she gets 100% on the spelling test. We've drilled it into her. But when you look at her free writing, she wasn't maintaining that. She had a disconnect between the phoneme and the grapheme. She was a great teacher who missed that connection. The fact that we can look at the artifact of what the teacher gives us, something might come to us that doesn't come to the teacher.

Also, take a look at the student record. Take a look at attendance.  With COVID, we have so many students out and, certainly, some of the students' performance can be due to the fact that they just haven't been in school.

Observations.  When we do these observations, what can we learn? How does a child comprehend conversations with peers or directions from adults and peers? How does a child ask for clarification? What does he do when he’s called upon? Does he hesitate or avoid? Is there teasing going on and what are the circumstances?

Standardized assessments. Remember that IDEA states we cannot use a single measure as the sole criterion. We must make sure that the assessment we’re using is valid for identifying speech-language impairment and the potential effect on academic and vocational performance.  Read the manual to see the accuracy of the assessment for identifying a child with an impairment and without an impairment.  Be sure to read the norm section and make sure it matches your community. If you happen to be in a rural, very low-income community, the assessment probably doesn’t have a very large population of students that reflect that community. You may need to dig a little deeper to find an assessment that's more appropriate.

The same thing could be true for a very urban community. A lot of our tests are developed in very suburban environments, despite the best efforts of our assessment colleagues. Marie Ireland at the Virginia Department of Education created an excellent analysis of assessments. You can review them here: http://www.doe.virginia.gov/special_ed/disabilities/speech_language_impairment/index.shtml

Discrepancy requirement. Many districts require a discrepancy between intelligence and performance for the child to be eligible for services. It's often called cognitive referencing. This assumes that language functioning can never surpass cognitive levels. It also assumes that IQ and language instruments have been validated against one another. Neither of those assumptions is true. If your district relies on cognitive referencing, and that requires the discrepancy between intelligence and performance to be eligible for services, then there are some good resources addressing this on the ASHA website (https://www.asha.org/SLP/schools/prof-consult/Cognitive-Referencing/).

Language differences and language disorders. The federal law requires that we include social and cultural background.  We all know how important it is to look at the tool we are using and ensure it is appropriate for a student who is not a native English speaker. We need to look for valid assessments in other languages. Unfortunately, they're not many. We need to look for bilingual SLPs. Again, there are not many. We want to look for qualified interpreters, and for many languages in the US there are not many. We are required by federal law to consider the influence of the child's dialect or first language on the child's communication or academic performance.  If you are using an English-only assessment that is translated or interpreted, it is no longer valid. You need to report it very differently and refer back to the manual to see how to use it and how to describe it.

Can we use informal and non-standardized assessments? Absolutely, IDEA says we can. Check your state to make sure that they permit it. If you do a nonstandard administration of an assessment, you may only use it descriptively. You can't use the standard scores. Read the manual because there is a lot of variability in how different assessment tools view using them in a non-standard manner.

Think of all the things we do as SLPs.  There are evidence-based informal approaches on language sample analysis, calculating MLU, T-units, type-token ratio, comparing those to norms, and doing narrative assessments. There is new research in this area to assist us. We can get a phonetic inventory to determine what phonemes have emerged in the child's repertoire and calculate percent of consonants correct. Again, those are valuable adjuncts to standardize assessments.

Using Your State’s Education Standards

Be sure to take some time to read your education standards. That is the best way we can make the case that a speech or language impairment impacts a child's academic performance.

I've had the good fortune of spending a lot of time with the common core state standards for a book I wrote. I read the common core in language arts, oral communication and literacy, and math areas. I've taken a look at the standards in other states, and I know Virginia’s standards of learning.  They are absolutely rich with information on expectations for oral communication. There are standards regarding the expectation for the child to produce phonemes clearly, to speak at a reasonable rate, to provide eye contact. We don't test those because we don't have assessments for "oral communication". But oral communication is throughout our standards.

There's a lot included about oral language being a fundamental foundation for written language. There's information on vocabulary, syntax, morphology, and how we adjust for the audience. So, the education standards speak to pragmatics.

My recommendation is to read through the standards for the grade below the student you are assessing or working with (e.g., if the child is a first grader, read the kindergarten standards). You might be able to say to yourself, after reading those, “Joe is not going to be able to meet kindergarten standard 1.3 in the area of oral communication.  He's not meeting it now.”  Do the same for all of the oral communication and language standards.  You might even do this at the upper levels.  Look at the math standards. Look at the presentation standards for students with voice and fluency. Can they do a presentation? Is that going to be something that this student with a voice or fluency disorder will be able to do?

I also recommend looking at the standards for the grade the child is currently in. It’s also a good idea to review the upcoming standards to say that this child is not going to have the foundation. For example, if you're doing your assessment in April, you want to start looking at the standards the student's going to be going into in the next grade level as well.

Dynamic and Curriculum-based Assessments

IDEA clearly permits dynamic and curriculum-based assessments and there are many available that provide good information when probing for phonemes, vocabulary, morphological awareness, etc. 

For curriculum-based assessments, teachers have to gather these data, so talk to them to see what you can get in regards to spelling, phonological awareness, vocabulary, grammar tests, and so forth.

Also look at response data, not just the student’s scores. Take note of the delays the child has, how many times the directions are repeated, if the child self-corrects, and if there are no responses from the child.


When does the child's eligibility as a student with a disability conclude? There are no clear federal criteria, they are just viewed as “no longer eligible” so be sure to check your state requirements.

My friend, Perry Flynn, suggests thinking about dismissal from the beginning. We want to present to the family and the team that the speech-language services will be addressed and improved, and the child will be able to exit from speech and language services.  Talk about dismissal every year.  We all have situations where teams want to keep the child on and I'll talk about that a little bit later.

Keep data. Identify what your goal is. Where was the child when we began the year? Where is the child now? If the child has met the goals and if there are no additional goals, that makes a better case for dismissal.

Special Education Disproportionality

Special education disproportionality is the over-representation of students of color in special ed, especially in certain categories.  Has your district developed initiatives to address disproportionality in identifying children with disabilities? This issue has been around for a few decades. I first began learning about it 15-20 years ago as we became concerned about the over-identification of students in certain disability categories. IDEA urged states to take a look at it and states did that to varying degrees of success. The US Department of Education changed the requirements for states about the reporting by having states do a deeper dive. Localities now must have plans to address disproportionality if it exceeds a certain level.

USDE Analysis  (2021)

Here is some data that the US Department of Education published in August, 2021. This is their most recent analysis of the disproportionality in identifying students. Asian students with disabilities are more likely to be identified with autism or hearing impairment. They are less likely to drop out and more likely to graduate with a regular high school diploma than all students with disabilities.  That's disproportionate.

That was compared to all students with disabilities and to the number of students in public education or in a district are Asian? If you have 5% of the population that is Asian, then the number of children with disabilities that are Asian shouldn't be greater than that. Again, we have Asian students more likely to be identified with autism.

The Black or African-American population is where we've been hearing about disproportionality the longest. These students are more likely to be identified with an intellectual disability or emotional disability, and they are more likely to receive disciplinary removal from school. Again, take a look at the data for your state.  The vast difference is pretty alarming.  We have a much higher incidence of young people who are Black or African-American removed from school and a much higher ratio of them being identified as having an intellectual disability or emotional disability.

Hispanic or Latin X students with disabilities are more likely to be identified with hearing impairment or specific learning disability which would suggest some health issues might be occurring.

Again, all of these facts are from the US Department of Education Fast Facts, Race and Ethnicity of Children with Disability Served under IDEA Part B. Part B is the section that relates to children three to 21, the school-age years. Part C is the section that relates to children zero to three of age, the early intervention years. Part D pertains to grants for professional development to prepare future special educators.  The statistics can be viewed by disability, racial-ethnic status, and state.

Initiatives to Address Disproportionality

Have you been involved in any of the initiatives to try to address disproportionality?  For example, have you been invited to sit on committees? Did you participate in trainings to try to reduce disproportionality? As I said, districts are required to do something. One of the challenges is low numbers. If you're in a rural area, then you don't report the numbers. For example, if you only have five students that are Asian, those numbers aren’t reported because then you are revealing information about the identity of those children. So, the disproportionality issue is much more difficult to address in smaller districts than in larger districts.

I am a huge proponent of SLPs getting involved. Don't just go in and do the work of serving the students with speech or language impairment, do the work of your school. We have such amazing abilities to serve on committees and help them address academic achievement, disproportionality, school environment, behavioral issues, and social issues. Take the opportunity to get involved in those committees.

Reasons for the Disparity

Why do we have disparity in identification of certain racial ethnic groups? Why has it been around for such a long time? We can look at what some of the policy makers say. The following list comes from the National Center for Learning Disabilities. But there is also one from the Center for Behavioral and Emotional Disabilities that is pretty similar.

  • Poverty – low SES and impact on health
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)
  • Over reliance on standardized assessments
  • Implicit biases
  • Incomplete cultural responsiveness
  • Lack of culturally responsive instruction
  • Deference to professionals in comparison with information from parents
  • Failure to attend to the data

Poverty clearly has an impact on the child having a disability and that is a larger issue than the school addressing disproportionality. That is a community issue of developing health systems and getting health systems into areas of poverty. Adverse childhood experiences are experiences that young children have during their formative years such as abuse, fighting, poverty. The data tells us pretty clearly that the more adverse childhood experiences a child has, the poorer the academic outcome, the poorer the health outcome, and the more likely the child is going to have health issues, academic issues, discipline issues, crime issues, substance abuse issues.  The training I've had on ACEs has been fascinating. I certainly haven't had enough, but I urge you to take advantage of learning about ACEs especially if you're working with young children.

All professionals, not just SLPs, over rely on standardized assessments. They're easy, we've become familiar with them, they give us norms, etc. But as I alluded to earlier, they are not well normed on all of the populations we're serving. If we are comparing a child to a population that has students in suburban mid-Atlantic states and we are living in rural Texas, that's a very different experience. There's a really good article in the ASHA Leader this year about some of the biases that exist, even in the picture plates on tests.  I'm sure you would agree that they do not reflect the lifestyle of all the children that we are in contact with. They are trying to update them, but there are still items that are just not within the experience base of some of the children we serve. Then, of course, the child's going to get it wrong or take a guess and might get it right. So, we tend to over rely on standardized assessments. That's why we see IDEA clearly stating we can use informal assessments as long as they're evidence-based.

Our colleagues in psychology tell us that we all have biases, they're not really a bad thing, they're just who we are.  There are 100 different biases that have been identified, and we all tend to have some sort of bias that can influence our decision-making. If you haven't seen the Harvard Implicit Bias Test, I urge you to take it. It's been taken by millions of people. You can Google it and take it in the privacy of your own home and see you have some biases that you weren't aware of.   It's an excellent self-reflective tool.

I mentioned incomplete cultural responsiveness earlier in terms of standardized assessments. Take a look at the materials you're using. Do your materials reflect the population that you're providing services to? Is the student going to be responsive to materials that are based on middle-class white persons? It takes a little bit more work to get items that are responsive to South Asian colleagues, Native American colleagues, African-American colleagues, but we need to do that so that we are appropriately responsive to them in our therapies.

This past year and a half, we have really been inundated with training on culturally-responsive practices.  If you haven't had the opportunity to pursue those, I urge you to do so. It's something we all need a refresher on from time to time, as we do on every topic in our field.

Another area that NCLD identified is that eligibility teams defer to the professionals and don't listen enough to parents. That was a humbling thing for me to read, but once I reflected, I realized that we are probably not giving enough time to listen to the parent and to dive deep into conversation with them about what's going on in the child's life.

We don't attend to data. That ties back to the third bullet of over relying on standardized assessments. We're not looking at growth data or performance data like hesitancy and self-correction. We aren't capturing when the child is beginning to make improvements, for example.

I mentioned an ASHA article by Bernstein-Ellis, Higby and Gravier, “Responding to Culturally Insensitive Test Items.” This article is a call to all of us to take a look at our test materials and our therapy materials.

Section 504

Think about what proportion of your caseload is comprised of students eligible under section 504? Is it 5%, 10%, 25%?  I know it’s not 100% because I have never spoken to an SLP in the schools who has more than a fraction of the caseload comprised of students eligible under 504. 504 in most states is pretty much run like IDEA, but the rules are a little bit different.

Section 504 preceded IDEA.  It was part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It's a civil rights statute and it prohibits disability discrimination. The purpose of it was to ensure students with disabilities have equal access to educational opportunities. Of course, it was broader than education, but it applies to education.  However, it has no funding. It is like the Americans with Disabilities Act. It has standards to prohibit discrimination, but no funding to provide the services.

Qualifying for 504

According to 29 U.S.C., Section 705(9)(B), meaning United States Code,  a person qualifies if they (1) have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, (2) has a record of such impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment.  Points 2 and 3 are so interesting to me. Under #2, a record implies the impairment is not present now and #3 implies that everybody thinks there's an impairment, but it may not be true.

In 504, a physical or mental impairment is defined as “a physical disorder or condition…” It’s an “anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological, musculoskeletal (e.g., cerebral palsy), special sense organs (e.g., hearing loss), respiratory (e.g., voice), including speech organs…” In 1973, it was referred to as “speech organs”.

The law provides some illustrative major life activities: caring for oneself, walking, hearing, learning, speaking, thinking, and working.  These come from the regulations that explained Section 504.

Section 504 Eligibility

To determine eligibility, the team must consider “only how an impairment affects the student's ability to learn… and, assess what is needed to ensure the students have an equal opportunity to participate in schools programs.”  Equal opportunity, meaning, giving access in the same way IDEA was there to ensure access. But, 504 talks about programs. So, in many places, 504 is applying to extracurricular activities, sports, clubs, things of that nature.

“Having a record of a disability means a person has either a history of a disability or has been misclassified…” We have had folks misclassified. The disproportionality data indicates that it wasn't too long ago that a child, who was in a school for children with autism, at age 14, the school discovered that the child is deaf. Could it be that the behavior identified as autism was actually due to the child moving multiple times at a very young child, the lack of having stability in his/her life, the presence of deafness, and the lack of identification of that?

When making a decision about eligibility for 504, the US Department of Education makes it very clear that “a school cannot consider ameliorative effects of mitigating measures when determining how the impairment impacts major life activities under consideration.”  In other words, you can't say, “But we're taking care of it.” The child needs to get what the child needs to have that equal access.

Section 504 and Grades

US Department of Education also notes that the child might be eligible for services under Section 504, including modifications, even if the child earns good grades. This is the same thing that we saw in that US Department of Education letter to Catherine Clark at ASHA so many years ago. Eligibility is not based on grades.

“In the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), a component of the US Department of Education, investigative experience, school districts sometimes rely on a student's average, or better than average, classroom grades or grade point average, and as a result, make inappropriate decisions (2016).”  That's a pretty serious indictment about how folks were making decisions for 504 eligibility.  Clearly, districts should not be focusing on grades.

Requirements for Evaluations Under 504

If your district is doing a lot under 504, what is required for evaluations? The evaluation needs to be completed in a timely manner. The law doesn't state what “timely” means, but it's for any student who needs or is believed to need services because of a disability. This gets at the idea of a physician requesting an evaluation. That suggests a child may need services so that becomes a referral.

The evaluation has to be at no cost to the parents and districts may use IDEA procedures. In my experience that's the norm. It's easier to have one set of procedures for IDEA and 504.  That is not, of course, universal because we have a lot of variability in how we do things in the US.

FAPE Under 504

Free And Public Education (FAPE) under 504 is regular or special ed services as well as related aids and services designed to meet the individual needs of a student with disabilities as adequately as the needs of non-disabled students (USDOE, 2016).

You have to have a written 504 plan. Again, following IDEA requirements meets the 504 requirements. So, districts may end up using their IEP format for the 504 plan. But, ultimately, you need to meet the child's needs so that they have the same opportunity for success as students without disabilities.

Below is a flowchart I borrowed from deBettencourt.  

IDEA versus 504 flowchart

Figure 1. IDEA versus 504 flowchart.

The initial question is, “Does the child have a disability under IDEA?” If yes, then ask, “Does that disability have an adverse educational effect on educational performance?” If yes, then the student is eligible under IDEA and you can develop an IEP. If the answer to the question is no, then you can develop recommendations for the general ed teacher and parents.

Going back to the top of the flowchart, and asking the initial question, “Does the child have a disability under IDEA?” Generally, if we say no, the next question is, “Does the child have a mental or physical impairment that affects a major life function?” If the answer is yes, then we have to develop a 504 plan because the child is eligible under 504.  If the answer is no, then you can develop recommendations for the general ed teacher and parents. With this recommendation, keep in mind that this child was referred because somebody was concerned. To not do anything really devalues the concern somebody had about the child's needs. At that point, it really behooves us as professionals to provide some sort of guidance to the classroom teacher and to the parent about what might be done to help support that child.

When a Child is Not Eligible Under IDEA

If the child is not eligible under IDEA, they may be eligible for 504 services.  If they're eligible for special ed, but not for speech-language as a related service, we can provide speech and language services as supplementary aid and support for school personnel. For example, we can work with teachers in environmental modifications, rubrics, scaffolding, and coaching.

What else can we do if the child is not eligible? We might look at our multi-tiered systems of support and RTI as well as provide information to parents and general education teachers.

Children with Long-term COVID

COVID is such a new phenomenon that I thought it was very valuable that the US Department of Education identified that we should be recognizing children with long-term COVID as potentially being eligible for IDEA or 504 services. They provided some guidance to school districts on this.

The USDE document, which just came out in July of 2021, identifies a number of potential symptoms that we may see in children with long COVID. Symptoms include fatigue, difficulty thinking and concentrating, a headache, changes in smell or taste, dizziness on standing, fast-beating heart, difficulty breathing, cough, joint or muscle pain, mood changes, auto-immune conditions. Additionally, symptoms often worsen after physical or mental activities.

Given these symptoms, the US Department of Education set out the documentation that long COVID absolutely can be a disability under both IDEA and 504. They highlighted “other health impairment” as the disability category under IDEA and that definition includes limited strength, vitality, or alertness due to chronic or acute health problem.

Under 504, it would be listed as a physical or mental impairment that limits major life activity, which can include both breathing and concentrating. It does not need to be substantially limited. In that document, they included some comments that provide some guidance for attending to these young people:

  • “Students with disabilities – including those whose long COVID is a disability – have a right to be free from discrimination in school.” - Suzanne B. Goldberg, Acting Assistant Sec for Civil Rights (2021)
  • … “need to ensure that children who are living with impaired development or health due to long COVID that is a disability are identified and are provided appropriate services and supports covered under IDEA.” - Katherine Neas, Acting Assistant Secretary for Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (2021)

That makes it pretty clear that we need to be thinking about these children who have long COVID and how they may or may not fall into the protections and services of either IDEA or 504.

Common Challenges and Strategies for Resolution

I have a couple of examples of challenges and solutions to share. 

Challenge: The eligibility team just doesn't see the adverse educational impact for students with speech or language impairments. What can you do?

First, create those relationships with team members. I am stunned, having worked in the field for so many decades, I still hear, “Oh, I thought you just worked on S's and R's.” We, as a profession, need to continue to get the word out about what we do.  I actually hear more people recognize that we do swallowing than we do language because we are so present in the lives of their parents and grandparents.

Look at your reports. Are you doing a really good job documenting the effect based on what you saw in the classroom, or based on the artifacts you gathered from the teacher?  Are you going back to the state’s academic standards and saying, “This 2nd grader cannot meet this language standard from kindergarten. She is operating a full grade level below in the language standard regarding morphology.” You're going to find language standards on morphology, on syntax, on phonology in those standards so they are very helpful.

Challenge: The special ed administrator won’t agree to eligibility for children with speech sound disorder (SSD) unless the child is older than the developmental norms. 

I've heard this one a couple of times. I've heard stories of special ed administrators or the lead for the building who has gotten a copy of some set of special ed norms and said, “Nope, this child is not this age yet. They are not eligible.” 

In our evaluation report, we need to clearly identify that this is a non-developmental speech sound disorder. A lateral lisp, for example, is never developmental. Certain phonological patterns, such as initial consonant deletion, are never developmental. It doesn't matter that initial constant deletion is of an /s/. Are you including intelligibility? Percent constant correct is valuable for saying, “This child is 60% intelligible. The impact of that in the classroom will be huge.”

Again, are you going back to the standards? Look for the standards that you're going to find in kindergarten and 1st grade for pronunciation of phonemes or phonological awareness skills.

Challenge: The adolescent with intellectual disabilities (ID) has plateaued, yet the team wants speech to continue.

First, take a look at what you're doing. Have you made an effort to include transition in your goals? Are you adjusting what you're working on to address the fact this child's going out in the work setting? How well does this teenager respond to directions when they are in a work setting? They may do great in a quiet school, but how do they do in the noisiness of a grocery store, for example? Do they know how to ask for assistance in that setting? Are they making that transition? Be sure to look and see if your goals are reflecting transition.

Then, think about independence.  Do they have the skills to ask for clarification when they need it? How about social media? Have we spent enough time on social media to help them understand what to do and not do on social media? That's another communication platform we should be addressing.

Another area that is important to address at the high school level is the code of conduct. What document do teenagers have to read that is more complicated than the code of conduct. How well can our students understand it? As I alluded to earlier, we can shift to speech and language services to support the teacher. We can still be in the IEP, but we are not pulling the child for regular services. Rather, we are in the classrooms supporting the teacher.

Additionally, have you been talking about dismissal all along? The more that teachers and family are aware that we're going to be dismissing, as long as we've addressed all these things, the better that transition is going to be.

Challenge: We received a referral for a student who is a refugee and only speaks Urdu. How does the team determine if the child is eligible?

The first step is to research the phonology, morphology, and syntax of Urdu. What did you learn about that language? ASHA has some great resources of phonemic inventories and cultural-linguistic information from multiple languages, including Urdu (https://www.asha.org/practice/multicultural/phono/. We worked with an individual from one of the former countries in the Soviet Union and found some very valuable information about the language she spoke. There are definitely some resources at that link to help identify the typical phonemes of individuals' native languages.

Also, look for any valid assessments. Look for bilingual providers and interpreters.  What did you learn from your parent interview about the child's speech and language skills in Urdu?

If you have the luxury of having a cultural broker, that's fabulous. I have found cultural brokers are great at providing information about the culture and comparing that child to other persons within the culture. So that's a great asset. I know that the cultural brokers are relatively rare, but you definitely want to find about how the child's pronunciation compares to others at the same age in that culture as well as the child's language skills compared to other children at the same age.

Then, of course, we have to write up the report, relying heavily on very detailed, descriptive information.

Challenge: I evaluated a child who has evidence of a voice disorder.  I’m not sure the team finds the child eligible?  Do we need medical authorization?

Go back to the academic standards. Look at the child's performance in the classroom and look at the standards for doing oral presentations. How will this child do with those? I think we all know from working with children with voice disorders, that for child A it's no big deal and for child B it is a devastating disorder. You really need to make the decision based on the unique characteristics of that child's situation. 

If you do believe you need to pursue it, have a heart-to-heart talk with the special ed director about the need for medical clearance. Talk to him/her about the implications of not getting medical clearance.  I've found in my limited experience because there are not a lot of voice cases in schools, that kind of conversation usually results in, “Okay, we're going to get the evaluation.”

Challenge: The team doesn't see the adverse impact of stuttering.

Have you addressed how the stuttering will hinder meeting the education standards? Go back and look at them. There are standards for the child being fluent when they give a presentation, maintaining eye contact, and having expression when they speak.

If you can tie the child's stuttering to their ability or inability to meet those standards for talking in the classroom, you'll be more successful.

Reading fluency can be a challenge for children who stutter.  If you have students that have fluency disorders, ASHA has a great resource on that. I did have an experience with a reading specialist who was talking about the SLP not solving the stuttering problem because the stuttering was interfering with the reading fluency. That was a good opportunity for me to have a heart-to-heart talk with the person about stuttering as a disability.

Challenge: The team is considering eligibility for a child who is African American due to his performance on standardized tests and disciplinary concerns.

This challenge gets at disproportionality. Be sure to evaluate the tests to see if they are appropriate for the geographic region and for African-American students. Reevaluate with appropriate instruments, and then look at other support systems that might be available.

Challenge: A child is having difficulty concentrating in class and complaints of headaches and fatigue.  The teacher thinks the child is using these as excuses for not doing the work.

This is addressing the long COVID issue.  It behooves us to be engaged and do a referral for 504 accommodations. A 504 is going to be a faster way to get accommodations than IDEA because the IDEA process for assessment is so much longer.


I want to conclude with this quote from Robert Stafford, one of the co-sponsors of EHA, 1978, “To determine that a child [is a child with a disability] and to have placed [the child] in a specialized program… is one of the most important, if not the most important decision that will ever be made in that person's life.”

The evaluation that you're doing and your role on the eligibility team are so important. The label that is attached to the child at that meeting is with that child throughout K-12 and frequently is attached to them as they move on, whether by label or by inference. So, take that role seriously and I hope I've offered some ideas that will assist you in that.

Questions and Answers

To clarify, states and localities may add, override, or limit requirements so long as they are willing to give up federal support?

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify that. States can completely ignore IDEA, but then they get no money.  States are directed by IDEA to add specificity in certain places. So, there is going to be some addition to IDEA that happens at the state level. However, they may not override or limit, or they will lose their federal funding.  During a review from the US Department of Education, they will tell them to take out that override or to take out that area in which they've limited the requirements or the funding would be pulled.

Localities don't have that choice. The money flows from the Feds to the states and then from the states to localities. So that decision of giving up the federal support happens at the state level. Now, I'm not an attorney and I don't know the law in all 50 states so if you're in an administrative position and that's an issue for discussion in your area, go to your school board attorney who will dive deep into the statute and regulations.

Did you say there was no limit to how many disabilities a child can be labeled with? Look to your state to see if your state has a limit.

I was told if a doctor writes a note for the student to be assessed that we need to do it no matter what. No screening is necessary, is that right?

That would be considered a referral. When we get an order of request for an assessment in the schools, we need to act upon it. If the teacher requested, if the parent requested, if an outside person requested, it would be exceptionally wise for the district to move forward and do the evaluation.

What about the social impact of speech and language?

You have to tie it back to the standards. That's what folks care about in eligibility under IDEA.  But if you go back and look at those standards, you're going to see things about how well they communicate with peers, how they communicate in the classroom. Are we seeing that this child is not participating in the classroom?  Does our classroom observation help support the fact that the teacher does group work and this child never speaks up in groups. Is the child bullied? Do we have a bullying issue because of the social impact? .

Is it best practice for SLPs to select formal assessments on an individual basis or abide by the recommended formal assessment list of what's used for specific races within a district?

Without seeing that list it's hard to answer the question. I think I would say that we have the professional and ethical obligation to look at the assessment we're using to see if it is valid for the student we are assessing. It may be that the one on the list is perfect; it may be that it's not. I previously said I want us to be involved in schools and this is a really good example of when we want to speak up and become involved. If we look at that list of assessments and think that it does not include any children in this area that represent this geographic area or this racial ethnic group or I just looked through the picture plates on this and there are some that are blatantly discourteous, if not discriminatory, then get involved in the committee and get it taken off the list.

If there is no funding for 504, how do schools pay for it?

The quick answer is the money comes out of their other budget. The funding for special education covers only about 18% to maybe about 40% of the cost of special education. The other 60-80% of the cost of special ed is paid for by other sources. Those other sources are mostly local funds. State and local funds cover the vast majority of education and special education in the country. In most parts of the country, it is most heavily by the locality. That's why we see such diversity in education programs from one district to another. The funding for education generally comes from personal property taxes and maybe add-ons to restaurant taxes, entertainment taxes, things like that.  So, if you come from a locality that is really low income without much property tax money coming in, then there's not as much money in that school district compared to a larger district. They, are then, more strapped for funding. But for all of these students, whether they are IDEA or 504 students, the locality is picking up a significant portion of the cost of services.


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U.S. Dept. of Education Office for Civil Rights. (2016). Parent and educator resource guide to Section 504 in public elementary and secondary schools. Washington, D.C. https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/504-resource-guide-201612.pdf

U.S. Dept. of Education. (n.d.) Title 34 Education. Subtitle B Regulations of the Offices of the Dept. of Education. Ch. 1 – Office for Civil Rights. Part 104. https://www2.ed.gov/policy/rights/reg/ocr/edlite-34cfr106.html


Power-deFur, L. (2020). Eligibility Considerations Under IDEA and 504SpeechPathology.com Article 20497. Available at www.speechpathology.com

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lissa power defur

Lissa Power-deFur, PhD, CCC-SLP

Lissa Power-deFur has worked with children with disabilities for decades, including 18 years at the Virginia Department of Education, where one of her responsibilities was the revision of the state special education requirements. She is currently Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders and the Interim Dean of the College of Education and Human Services at Longwood University, where she has taught special education content and supervised school-based services. She has volunteered for her profession, serving on the Speech-Language-Hearing Association board for over 10 years and as the ASHA Vice President of Standards and Ethics in Speech-Language Pathology. She graduated from the University of Virginia and enjoys spending time with her family and in her garden in her free time.

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