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Teachers Trump Psychologist? Who Decides Eligibility?

by Wrightslaw

When you have a disagreement between the teachers and the school psychologist about whether a child qualifies for services, you must consider the real question that needs to be answered. “Does the child have a disability that adversely affects educational performance?” If the answer to the question is “yes,” then the child is eligible under IDEA.

I am a special education teacher in a small school district.

We tested an ESL student to see if he qualifies for services.

Based on the evaluation, the school psychologist recommended him for special education. But, the student’s teachers at his junior high school said the child is not eligible. Can these teachers override the recommendation of the school psychologist?

The IDEA sets out a series of steps that must be taken before a child is determined to be eligible for special education and related services. This is not a decision made by the child’s teachers or the school psychologist or the principal alone. It is a decision made by a “team of qualified professionals” after the child has been evaluated by various professionals.

The school must

  • conduct a comprehensive evaluation to determine the child’s educational needs, and
  • use the results of the evaluation to make an eligibility decision.

There are several requirements about this evaluation.

The school must use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental and academic information on the child. This includes information provided by the parent. These requirements are spelled out in IDEA 2004, Section 1414 about Evaluations, Reevaluations, IEPs, and Placements.

The law about eligibility for a child with a specific learning disability changed – there is no longer a requirement to use a discrepancy formula. At the same time, Section 1414(b)(2)(B) says the school may “not use any single measure or assessment [such as RTI] as the sole criterion…”. The Federal Regulations 300.310(b) also say that a child suspected of having a specific learning disability must be observed in the regular classroom after the child has been referred for an evaluation.

The question is not about which recommendation can override the other, rather what is stated in the law. The requirements for eligibility and evaluation are spelled out in IDEA 2004 and the Federal Regulations.

Teachers need to become familiar with the law – it has a huge impact on how they do their work (and what they are supposed to do!)

Get more information on Eligibility

Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, Section 1414 (b) (Evaluations, eligibility), p. 95

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21 Comments on "Teachers Trump Psychologist? Who Decides Eligibility?"


I am a teacher in an elementary school. I have a 5th grade student who moved to our building last Oct. 2013. In the first month he was with me I suspected this child had a learning disability in mathematics. I brought him up to our school special ed team in December. We did three months of RTI and he has not shown any progress and currently is unable to do 3rd grade mathematics. He has also failed all math tests this year and scored way below national and state averages on math tests given this school year. We have finished the RTI process and persented it to our school psycologist. She said she couldn’t hold a staffing with his parents to present our finding because we only have 30 days of school left and he has had too many absences during math instruction. Can you tell me if this follows the law. Thanks


Chris, The law about evaluations is in 20 U.S.C. 1414(a) (b) and (c). Those 3 subsections are the key.

Schools are required to identify and evaluate all children who may have disabilities under the Child Find mandate. If you have a student who is struggling and has not been evaluated or received any help, read what IDEA 2004 says about Child Find. 20 U.S.C. 1412(a)(3)

There is nothing in the statute or federal regulations that addresses “absences from math instruction” or “only 30 days of school left” as a reason not to evaluate.

Re the RTI process. The USDOE’s Office of Special Education Programs sent a memo to all State Directors of Special Education in January 2011, clarifying that RTI cannot be used to delay or deny an evaluation for eligibility under IDEA.

More info:


If a child has a marked diagnosis for example, Down syndrome. Does she need to have a Psy. evaluation to be eligible for special education services?


I had a general question regarding special ed teachers disagreeing with school psychologist. In a meeting recently the team felt the student should qualify for OHI, including myself, the Special Education teacher. However, the psych also recommended speech and OT in her report, but down the road in a different evaluation. I wanted that data collected before determining eligibility, she did not, nor did the other team members. First, should that data be collected before going forward, even when all team members agree that he needs special ed services, and two what happens if the SPED teacher and psych disagree in that situation? Who trumps who? I realized the need for services, but did not feel he was evaluated in all suspected areas, where she did. Does the team just go forward with her recommendation even if I disagree? Thanks