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Can the School Terminate My Child's Eligibility for Special Ed? Evaluations, IQ Scores, and Grades
by Sue Whitney, Research Editor, Wrightslaw

Girl reading"Last year, the school retested my daughter and said she was 'no longer LD' because her IQ is 'solidly average' and she makes good grades. They want to terminate all special ed services.

I disagreed. She still struggles with reading and needs help. Is the fact that her IQ average and she makes good grades sufficient to make this decision? What will happen if I do not consent to their plan?

Sue's Answer

The school's criteria for determining if your daughter is still eligible for special education - her IQ score and grades - is incorrect and inappropriate.

Eligibility Decisions Must Be Based on Comprehensive Evaluations

Before the school determined that your child was eligible for special education, they were required to do a comprehensive evaluation and assess all areas of suspected disability.

Before the school can determine that she is not eligible for special education, they are required to do a comprehensive evaluation and assess all areas of suspected disability.

The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) describes how this evaluation must be conducted and what it must include. For example:

The school "shall use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental, and academic information including information provided by the parent" about the child...

The school "may not use any single measure or assessment as the sole criterion for determining whether a child is a child with a disability" ...20 U.S.C. § 1414(b)(2) (Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, page 95; Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, pages 156-161).

There are other legal requirements for evaluations, reevaluations and evaluators when determining if a child is or is not eligible for special education. You need to understand these requirements. Check the information on this page about Eligibility. Visit the web site of your State Department of Education for information about your state requirements.

Since your daughter has a specific learning disability in reading, the law includes additional requirements about determining if she is eligible for special education. For example, the school shall not be required to determine "whether a child has a severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability."

Grades v. Data from Objective Tests

Grades are based on subjective observations by the child's teachers. Grades will not help you or the school team know if a child has made acceptable progress. Because grades are so subjective, the IDEA does not even mention "grades" as a factor in determining if a child is or is not eligible.

How Much Progress Has Your Child Made?

Did the school do a comprehensive evaluation on her that included educational achievement tests? What did these tests shows? You and the rest of the team need to look at her scores when she was first found eligible and her scores on subsequent testing.

These test results are usually reported as standard scores, percentile ranks, grade and age equivalent scores. You need answers to these questions:

  • Did the evaluation by the school look at the areas that originally led them to classify her as a child with a learning disability who needs special education services?
  • Was your child functioning on the level of her peers when she was first found eligible? Is your child functioning on the level of her peers now? Is she reading at grade level?
  • Has she fallen further behind her peers?

To learn what your child's test scores mean, read Chapters 10 and 11 in Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, 2nd Edition or the article, Tests and Measurements for the Parent, Educator, Advocate and Attorney. These two chapters will teach you what your child's tests scores mean. You will know if your child is making progress or falling further behind her peers.

Chapter 11 describes the tests that are most commonly used to evaluate children (pages 99-111). You will learn how to chart your child's tests scores and create progress or regression graphs on page 111 of From Emotions to Advocacy.

Chart out your daughter's scores on educational achievement tests. By doing this, you can measure the progress she has made since she entered special ed.


Note: Congress has reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the statute formerly known as No Child Left Behind. The new statute, Every Student Succeeds Act, was signed into law by President Obama on December 10, 2015.


Do You Know What Was Tested?

You say your daughter has difficulty reading and still needs help. Here is a problem you may find when you read and analyze her test results:

She may have been tested on a different area of reading. The original evaluation my have measured her ability to sound out words, or phonemic awareness. The most recent school testing may have measured reading comprehension.

Did the School Conduct a "Diagnostic Reading Assessment?"

You also need to know the federal legal definition of a diagnostic reading assessment. The evaluation of your child may not meet the necessary criteria.

The term 'diagnostic reading assessment' means an assessment that is -

(i)valid, reliable, and based on scientifically based reading research; and
(ii)used for the purpose of -
   (I) identifying a child's specific areas of strengths and weaknesses so that the child has learned to read by the end of grade 3;
   (II) determining any difficulties that a child may have in learning to read and the potential cause of such difficulties; and
   (III) helping to determine possible reading intervention strategies and related special needs.
   (20 U.S.C. § 6613(7)(C))

What is the Legal Definition of Reading?

The law also defines reading.

The term 'reading' means a complex system of deriving meaning from print that requires all of the following:

(A) The skills and knowledge to understand how phonemes, or speech sounds, are connected to print.

(B) The ability to decode unfamiliar words.

(C) The ability to read fluently.

(D) Sufficient background information and vocabulary to foster reading comprehension.

(E) The development of appropriate active strategies to construct meaning from print.

(F) The development and maintenance of a motivation to read. (20 U.S.C. § 6368 (5))

If your child's team members want to use another definition of reading, (1) ask why they are choosing not to use the federal legal definition and (2) ask that their "legal definition" be written into the documentation of the meeting. Keep a copy of this documentation and put it in your child's file.

If you do not know what reading skills are being tested (i.e., phonemic awareness, fluency, or reading comprehension), you need to learn about tests - intelligence tests, education achievement tests, reading tests, and other tests used in the evaluation process.

Doing Your Homework

You need to read:

Get an Independent Psycho-Educational Evaluation

The school's evaluation may not be comprehensive enough to provide information about "all areas of suspected disabilities." The school's reading assessment may not meet the federal standards. Make sure you have an evaluation that does meet these criteria listed above.

Since the school wants to terminate your child's eligibility for special education, this is an important evaluation with high stakes for your daughter's future education. I recommend that you have an evaluator from the private sector do a complete psycho-educational evaluation on your daughter. This will give you an independent picture of your daughter's abilities and needs.

If you do not have all your child's test results from the beginning, write a letter to the school and ask for a complete copy of her records. If she has been evaluated privately, get copies of these evaluations too. Ask that the meeting be postponed until you have this information . To be an informed participant in the decision-making process, you must have all her test results and you must understand what the test results mean.

The comprehensive psycho-educational evaluation should clearly describe your child's present levels of academic achievement, functional performance, and related developmental needs, the educational program she needs, what will happen to her if the school decides that she is not eligible and refuses to provide her with this program.

Note: If you disagree with a school district's evaluation, you can ask for an independent educational evaluation at the school district's expense. Although this is one of your rights, schools often put limits on these evaluations and who can perform them. I suggest that you find an evaluator who has expertise in your child's disability (in this case, reading) and pay for the evaluation yourself. (Yes, I know it's expensive, but a good evaluation will pay for itself many times over.)

Start Today!

Private sector evaluators often have waiting lists of several months. Start looking for an evaluator today. Look for an individual in the private sector who is knowledgeable about your child's disability, child development, and special education. In addition to making recommendations about your child's educational program, your evaluator should be willing to attend school meetings to support these recommendations.

Collect the information that the evaluator will need now, so you won't delay the process once you find the evaluator. Read What to Expect From an Evaluation - this article explains the evaluation process, what the evaluator needs, and you role in the process.

Here are links that will help you find a good evaluator.

These articles will help you know what to look for in an evaluator:

Factors to Consider When Selecting an Expert by Rosemary N. Palmer, Esq.

Using an Expert as an Effective Resource by Jennifer L. Bollero, Esq.

Read these "Mistakes People Make" articles by parent attorney Robert Crabtree:

What Will Happen if I refuse to Agree?

The consequences of refusing to go along with decisions made by a school team are not the same in all states.

Call the Protection and Advocacy Office in your state. Ask what the law in your state says you need to do if you refuse to go along with the school on a decision about your child's special education program - eligibility, IEPs, or placement.

Use the Yellow Pages for Kids with Disabilities to find Disability Organizations and other Advocacy Resources in your state so you have support.

You may need the help of very busy people who probably have waiting lists. You are already doing this "at the last minute" even though it may seem you are preparing ahead of time. In addition to what I mentioned earlier in this article, you need to:

  • Make an outline or list of what you need to do
  • Keep a log of who you talk to and the information you give and receive
  • Organize your child's file and your documentation. To learn how to organize your child's file, read Chapter 9, "The File: Do it Right!" in Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, 2nd Edition

If you start the process in an organized manner, it will be more efficient and less stressful for you.

Take care, and good luck.


Meet Sue Whitney

Sue Whitney of Manchester, New Hampshire, works with families as a special education advocate and is the research editor for Wrightslaw.

Doing Your Homework, Suzanne Whitney gives savvy advice about reading, research based instruction, and creative strategies for using education standards to advocate for children and to improve public schools.

Her articles have been reprinted by,,, The Beacon: Journal of Special Education Law and Practice, the Schafer Autism Report, and have been used in CLE presentations to attorneys.

Sue is the co-author of Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind (ISBN: 978-1-892320-12-4) that was published by Harbor House Law Press, Inc.

She also served on New Hampshire's Special Education State Advisory Committee on the Education of Students/Children with Disabilities (SAC).

Sue Whitney's bio.

Copyright © 2002-2022 by Suzanne Whitney.

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