My mom and I were talking about child study team meetings the other day and reflecting on how chaotic it was when trying to get accommodations for me in kindergarten, followed by renewing accommodations in eighth grade. As we were talking, I realized a lot of the steps required resembled the scientific method of problem solving. So today I will be explaining how child study teams are done by using terms from the scientific method.
First, what is a child study team?
A child study team consists of professionals that determine if a student is eligible for special education services or accommodations in the classroom, such as IEPs or 504 plans-read my post about transitioning to a 504 plan here. The exact size and composition of a child study team may vary, though normally all of the members are based in the school. Some examples of staff members include the school psychologist, school nurse, school social worker, assistant principal, reading/math specialist, classroom teacher, disability specialist (like a vision impairment coordinator), and parents.
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A child study team meeting request can be initiated by the parent or other staff member at any time during the school year. They can suggest that a student be evaluated to determine if they should receive special education services or accommodations in the classroom. My mom went to the assistant principal at my elementary school with documentation of my condition, but documentation was not necessary to request the meeting. After the initial request, schools have twenty (20) calendar days to schedule the first child study team meeting. Read my post on how elementary school teachers can support low vision students here.
Do background research
It helps to have an idea of what services or accommodations to request before going to the first child study team meeting. I wrote a post on ten terms to know before your first IEP meeting, which you can find here. It also helps to talk to parents of other students with similar disabilities, as well as talk to specialists for advice on what to ask for. My mom had me attend private occupational therapy sessions before I was approved for in-school services, and these visits gave my family an idea of what to ask for. This is also a great time to start putting together documentation of conditions.
Construct a hypothesis
A hypothesis is a proposed explanation based on evidence presented at the beginning of the experiment. My parents told the school I had diagnosed low vision/vision impairment as well as dysgraphia- check out my post on dysgraphia accommodations in the classroom here. In my first IEP, they also mentioned issues with sensory integration, now referred to as sensory processing disorder. We knew we wanted to get an IEP over a 504 plan because at the time, occupational therapy and speech-language services were only provided for students with IEPs (this is no longer the case). After the initial child study team meeting, schools have fifteen (15) days to determine if a student should receive further testing.
Test with an experiment
The school conducts evaluations and collects information to see if a student could need services. This includes but is not limited to disability evaluations, classroom observation, home visits, meetings with specialists, and collecting documentation from outside sources. Some steps may be skipped if the student has received services before and the condition and/or home environment hasn't changed, or if a sibling in the same home environment has been evaluated before. This process must be completed within ninety (90) days.
When I was getting re-evaluated in eighth grade for an IEP, one of my teachers who attended my child study team insisted that I don't need an IEP, or any classroom accommodations. After at least two meetings with this teacher, my mom requested that a different teacher be invited to the next meeting, preferably my science teacher, because I needed more accommodations in their class for my low vision. At the next meeting, my science teacher was able to explain that I needed services and we were able to move forward with the IEP process. Sometimes all it takes is a personnel switch or additional evaluation to create a more favorable outcome.
Results from the testing are reviewed by school professionals to determine if the student is eligible for services, and if so, which services. Outside documentation can also be submitted, such as from a doctor, and legally it must be considered when making the decision for whether a student should receive services or not. I had my ophthalmologist certify that I have low vision and that it impacts my academic performance, and we attached that to the documentation the school had.
If results don't align with hypothesis
When the school determines that special education services are not necessary, they are required to notify the parent within fifteen (15) days. If you are initially denied for special education services, don't give up! I had trouble getting services at first because the school district hadn't done many IEPs for vision impairment and was not supplied with resources on how to include a student with low vision in the classroom. After being denied, we provided additional documentation of how my grades were lower in classes where I didn't receive accessible materials and then repeated the process. Read more about my accommodations for print materials here.
If the results of the assessment conclude that a student requires special education services or accommodations, then the school must start to put together an IEP or a 504 plan without delay, especially if the student has low grades. Some circumstances such as impending standardized testing (read more about my experiences with standardized testing here) or requests for accessible textbooks (read more about accessible textbooks here) may require that an IEP meeting be scheduled quickly.
I am grateful that my family was proactive in getting me accommodations back in kindergarten, as this was the foundation for how I would receive services in elementary school, middle school, high school, and even college. I hope this post is helpful for parents or other staff members on understanding how child study teams work and why they are important to request.