Deciding Which Path To Take

Schools are legally required to find, evaluate, and identify any child that may have a disability. This is called child find. If you or someone else thinks your child may have a disability, an assessment is recommended. This helps to decide if your child is eligible to receive extra learning supports and special rights.
Upcoming Terms Alert
  • Student Success Team (SST) — reviews students’ learning needs, recommends strategies, and decides next steps. The team usually includes parents, teachers, and may include specialists or others with knowledge of your child.
  • Coordination of Services Team (COST) — discusses the strengths and needs of students needing support. Manages and combines supports and resources. The team includes school staff, administrators, and school-based providers.
  • 504 Plan — accommodations for students with disabilities to make sure they have access to learning and to prevent discrimination. 
  • General Education — standards-based instruction for all students.
  • Special Education — supports and services to ensure students with disabilities benefit from school.
You Have Options!
  • Ask how to get your child more help. The Student Success Team and Coordination of Services Team are both options.
  • Request, in writing, a 504 Evaluation if you think your child may have a disability and may need accommodations at school.
  • Request, in writing, a special education assessment if you think your child may have a disability and may need special instruction. This process includes:
    1. Referral — Write a letter to the school asking for an assessment. The school may request an assessment as well. You must approve assessment plans in writing before testing can start.
    2. Evaluation — Agreed assessments are given to find out if your child is eligible for special education. 
    3. Decision — If found eligible, a program is created to address your child's needs. If they are not eligible, refer to the first two bullets to find support for your child.
Which option should I choose?

Assessments are provided to families for free. You may choose to have your child assessed by writing a request for evaluation (or consenting to a referral made by someone else). Students with disabilities may qualify for a 504 Plan or special education. Although both are based on federal law, require written plans, and assessment data, they have different purposes. To decide which assessment option may be the best starting point for your child, it is important to understand the 504 Plan and an IEP (see the following chart). Choose the best path based on your child’s unique needs after reviewing all possible options.
Summarized with permission
504 Plan Individualized Education Program (IEP)
Section 504 1973 Rehabilitation Act: federal civil rights law to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities of any age Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): federal special education law for children ages 3-21 and a special plan for families of 0–2 year old infant/toddlers
ANY disability
  • related to basic life activities (including learning)
  • affects learning in the general education classroom
Child has 1 or more of 13 disabilities listed in the law.
  • related to learning.
  • affects learning and benefiting from general education.
  • Special instruction is needed to make reasonable progress in school.
Some legal safeguards for child and parent Many legal safeguards for child and parent
  • District defined assessment standards.
  • Office of Civil Rights uses state timelines (60 days in CA)
Legally defined assessment standards and 60-day timeline
Decisions made by a team of people familiar with the child, who understand the evaluation data, and service options. For example:
  • Parent/caregiver
  • General education teacher
  • Special education teacher
  • Principal
Decisions made by a specific team:
  • Parent/caregiver
  • General education teacher
  • Special education teacher
  • School staff or other specialists who can interpret evaluation results
  • District representative with authority over special education services
Documented plan has no legally required components. Typically, lists accommodations to help a child access the general education program
Documented plan has many legally required components to ensure child benefits from school
Tips for Getting Started
  • Talk about your concerns! This is the first step to getting on the same page with your child’s teacher. They may be working on your concerns or not know about them. Ask for an interpreter if necessary.

  • Your child’s general education may be adjusted by the SST. They discuss your child’s learning needs, write strategies, and check progress. Ask questions about how progress will be monitored and when it will be reviewed. If the adjustment doesn’t work, the SST meets again to adjust. If it appears your child may have a disability, the SST can refer your child for a special education assessment.

  • You do not have to have an SST. You can also decide to request an evaluation for 504 or special education during the SST process.
15 days
  • The school district has 15 days to respond to your written request for special education assessment.

  • The school must go ahead with the special education assessment process unless you withdraw your request for assessment in writing.
  • Create a file of documents related to your concerns.

  • Whether your child receives special education services or not.
    • Document their progress through school.
    • Keep track of assessments and communication with district staff.
    • Keep up-to-date records of each step of the process and your

  • Keep copies of all communication:
    • Letters
    • Emails
    • Notices
    • SST notes
    • IEPs
    • Phone conversation notes with names, times, and dates
    • Oral agreements followed up to in writing
    • Your written statements of your understanding of all agreements
      • Send all letters by registered mail. If hand delivered, ask a staff member to initial and date for proof of receipt.