The Arkansas Department of Education (ADE), Special Education Unit, is issuing this guidance memorandum in an effort to assist preschool programs in understanding the appropriate conduct of initial evaluations for determination of student special education eligibility and associated educational needs. The relevant statutory and regulatory citations for this guidance memorandum are Sec. 614 of Pub. Law 108-446 (codified at 20 U.S.C.A. Sec. 1414) and 34 C.F.R. Sections 300.301 through 300.306, respectively.
Preschool special education programs should note that the determination of whether a child is a child with a disability must be based on the conduct of a full and individual initial evaluation. This initial evaluation must be conducted before the initial provision of special education and related services to the child with a disability.
Preschool special education programs should also note that, according to federal law and regulation, the initial evaluation serves a dual purpose: to make a determination of whether a child is a child with a disability and to determine the educational needs of the child. For a preschool child with a disability, the child’s initial evaluation, therefore, is the foundation for the child’s special education goals and progress.
Federal law and regulation specify that when conducting the full and individual initial evaluation, the public agency must:
(1) Use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental, and academic information about the child, including information provided by the parent;
(2) not use any single measure or assessment as the sole criterion for determining eligibility for special education and related services or for determining an appropriate educational program for the child;
(3) use technically sound instruments that may assess the relative contribution of cognitive and behavioral factors, in addition to physical or developmental factors;
(4) ensure that assessments and evaluation materials:
(a) are selected and administered so as not to be discriminatory on a racial or cultural basis;
(b) are provided and administered in the child’s native language or other mode of communication and in the form most likely to yield accurate information on what the child knows and can do academically, developmentally, and functionally;
(c) are used for the purposes for which the assessments or measures are valid and reliable;
(d) are administered by trained and knowledgeable personnel; and,
(e) are administered in accordance with any instructions provided by the producer of the assessments;
(5) assess the child in all areas related to the suspected disability, including, if appropriate, health, vision, hearing, social and emotional status, general intelligence, academic performance, communicative status, and motor abilities;
(6) provide that the evaluation is sufficiently comprehensive to identify all of the child’s special education and related services needs, whether or not these education and related services needs are commonly linked to the disability category in which the child has been classified; and,
(7) use assessment tools and strategies that provide relevant information that directly assists persons in determining the educational needs of the child are provided.
In determining initial eligibility and the educational needs of the child, preschool programs are also directed to review the additional requirements in 34 CFR 300.305 that pertain to reviews of existing evaluation data and the administration of assessments and other evaluation measures that might be needed to produce these data. When evaluation data are interpreted for the purpose of determining if a child is a child with a disability, the public agency must draw upon information from a variety of sources, including parent input and teacher recommendations, as well as information about the child’s physical condition, social or cultural background, and adaptive behavior and make sure that information obtained from all of these sources is documented and carefully considered.
Finally, the ADE recommends that data derived from full and individual initial evaluations be used whenever possible to establish child-specific baselines for Early Childhood outcomes in the areas of positive social-emotional skills (including social relationships), acquisition and use of knowledge and skills, and use of appropriate behaviors by the child to meet his or her needs. However, the criteria used to establish initial eligibility and the initial educational needs of a child with a disability are not necessarily the same criteria used when evaluating and documenting a child’s improvement in the three outcome areas throughout the time the child is receiving preschool special education services.