Special Education Eligibility in San Diego

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Special Education Eligibility

When is a Student Eligible for Special Education?

In order for a child to receive special education and related services in California, he or she must first be found eligible by an IEP Team. Eligibility is determined by assessing the child and answering two questions:

(1) Does the child have one of the 13 qualifying disabilities under the IDEA; and

(2) Does the disability adversely impact the child's educational performance.

If the answer is “yes” to both questions, the child is eligible for special education and related services.

What are the special education eligibility categories?

There are 13 special education eligibility categories. These include:

  • Autism
  • Deaf-blindness
  • Deafness
  • Emotional Disturbance
  • Hearing Impairment
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Multiple Disability
  • Orthopedic Impairment
  • Other Health Impairment
  • Specific Learning Disability
  • Speech or Language Impairment
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Visual Impairment

Each special education eligibility category has its own qualifying criteria. 5 CCR § 3030 defines the qualifying criteria for each category.

Criteria for Each Special Education Category:

Special Education Eligibility for Autism

“Autism means a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three, and adversely affecting a child's educational performance. Other characteristics often associated with autism are engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(1).

“Autism does not apply if a child's educational performance is adversely affected primarily because the child has an emotional disturbance if the criteria in subdivision (b)(4) of this section are satisfied.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(1)(A).

“A child who manifests the characteristics of autism after age three could be identified as having autism if the criteria in subdivision (b)(1) of this section are satisfied.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(1)(B).

Special Education Eligibility for Deaf-Blindness

“Deaf-blindness means concomitant hearing and visual impairments, the combination of which causes such severe communication and other developmental and educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for children with deafness or children with blindness.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(2).

Special Education Eligibility for Deafness

“Deafness means a hearing impairment that is so severe that the child is impaired in processing linguistic information through hearing, with or without amplification that adversely affects a child's educational performance.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(3).

Special Education Eligibility for Emotional Disturbance

5 CCR § 3030(b)(4) states that “Emotional disturbance means a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child's educational performance.” These characteristics include:

  • “An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(4)(A).
  • “An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(4)(B).
  • “Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(4)(C).
  • “A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(4)(D).
  • “A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(4)(E).
  • “Emotional disturbance includes schizophrenia. The term does not apply to children who are socially maladjusted, unless it is determined that they have an emotional disturbance under (b)(4) of this section.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(4)(F).

Special Education Eligibility for Hearing Impairment

“Hearing impairment means an impairment in hearing, whether permanent or fluctuating, that adversely affects a child's educational performance but that is not included under the definition of deafness in this section.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(4)(5).

Special Education Eligibility for Intellectual Disability

“Intellectual disability means significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning, existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period that adversely affects a child's educational performance.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(4)(6).

Special Education Eligibility for Multiple Disabilities

“Multiple disabilities means concomitant impairments, the combination of which causes such severe educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for one of the impairments. ‘Multiple disabilities' does not include deaf-blindness.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(4)(7).

Special Education Eligibility for Orthopedic Impairment

“Orthopedic impairment means a severe orthopedic impairment that adversely affects a child's educational performance. The term includes impairments caused by a congenital anomaly, impairments caused by disease (e.g., poliomyelitis, bone tuberculosis), and impairments from other causes (e.g., cerebral palsy, amputations, and fractures or burns that cause contractures). 5 CCR § 3030(b)(4)(8).

Special Education Eligibility for Other Health Impairment

“Other health impairment means having limited strength, vitality, or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environment stimuli, that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment that:

(A) Is due to chronic or acute health problems such as asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, sickle cell anemia, and Tourette syndrome; and

(B) Adversely affects a child's educational performance.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(4)(A)-(B).

Special Education Eligibility for Specific Learning Disability

“Specific learning disability means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may have manifested itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. The basic psychological processes include attention, visual processing, auditory processing, sensory-motor skills, cognitive abilities including association, conceptualization and expression.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(10).

What's not a Specific Learning Disability?

“Specific learning disabilities do not include learning problems that are primarily that the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, or intellectual disability, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(10)(A).

How is a Specific Learning Disability Determined?

Eligibility for specific learning disability is determined using one of two methods: (1) Severe-Discrepancy Method or (2) Age or Grade-Level-Standards Method.

Eligibility Under the Severe-Discrepancy Method

“In determining whether a pupil has a specific learning disability, the public agency may consider whether a pupil has a severe discrepancy between intellectual ability and achievement in oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skills, reading comprehension, mathematical calculation, or mathematical reasoning.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(10)(B).

“The decision as to whether or not a severe discrepancy exists shall take into account all relevant material which is available on the pupil.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(10)(B).

“No single score or product of scores, test or procedure shall be used as the sole criterion for the decisions of the IEP Team as to the pupil's eligibility for special education.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(10)(B).

To determine whether a severe discrepancy exists, the IEP Team will use the following procedures:

“1. When standardized tests are considered to be valid for a specific pupil, a severe discrepancy is demonstrated by: first, converting into common standard scores, using a mean of 100 and standard deviation of 15, the achievement test score and the intellectual ability test score to be compared; second, computing the difference between these common standard scores; and third, comparing this computed difference to the standard criterion which is the product of 1.5 multiplied by the standard deviation of the distribution of computed differences of students taking these achievement and ability tests. A computed difference which equals or exceeds this standard criterion, adjusted by one standard score points, indicates a severe discrepancy when such discrepancy is corroborated by other assessment data which may include other tests, scales, instruments, observations and work samples, as appropriate.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(10)(B)(1).

“2. When standardized tests are considered to be invalid for a specific pupil, the discrepancy shall be measured by alternative means as specified on the assessment plan.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(10)(B)(2).

“3. If the standardized tests do not reveal a severe discrepancy as defined in subdivisions 1. or 2. above, the IEP team may find that a severe discrepancy does exist, provided that the team documents in a written report that the severe discrepancy between ability and achievement exists as a result of a disorder in one of more of the basic psychological processes. The report shall include a statement of the area, the degree, and the basis and method used in determining the discrepancy. The report shall contain information considered by the team which shall include, but not be limited to:

(i) Data obtained from standardized assessment instruments;
(ii) Information provided by the parent;
(iii) Information provided by the pupil's teacher;
(iv) Evidence of the pupil's performance in the regular and/or special education classroom obtained from observations, work samples, and group test scores;
(v) Consideration of the pupil's age, particularly for young children; and
(vi) Any additional relevant information. 5 CCR § 3030(b)(10)(B).

Eligibility Under the Age or Grade-Level-Standards Method

“Whether or not pupil exists a severe discrepancy as described in subdivision(b)(10)(B) above, a pupil may be determined to have a specific learning disability if” one of below listed conditions apply. 5 CCR § 3030(b)(10)(C).

“1. The pupil does not achieve adequately for the pupil's age or to meet State-approved grade-level standards in one or more of the following areas, when provided with learning experiences and instruction appropriate for the pupil's age or State-approved grade-level standards:

(i) Oral expression.
(ii) Listening comprehension.
(iii) Written expression.
(iv) Basic reading skill.
(v) Reading fluency skills.
(vi) Reading comprehension.
(vii) Mathematics calculation.
(viii) Mathematics problem solving.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(10)(C)(1).

In addition to 1., “[t]he pupil does not make sufficient progress to meet age or State-approved grade-level standards in one or more of the areas identified (b)(10)(C)(1) of this section when using a process based on the pupil's response to scientific, research-based intervention,” (5 CCR § 3030 (b)(10)(C)(2)(i)), or “[t]he pupil exhibits a pattern of strengths and weaknesses in performance, achievement, or both, relative to age, State-approved grade-level standards, or intellectual development, that is determined by the group to be relevant to the identification of a specific learning disability, using appropriate assessments, consistent with 34 C.F.R. sections 300.304 and 300.305.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(10)(C)(2)(i)-(ii).

Additionally, “[t]he findings under subdivisions (b)(10)(C)(1) and (2)” must not be “primarily the result of:

(i) A visual, hearing, or motor disability;
(ii) Intellectual disability;
(iii) Emotional disturbance;
(iv) Cultural factors;
(v) Environmental or economic disadvantage; or
(vi) Limited English proficiency.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(10)(C)(3)(i)-(vi).

Ensuring Underachievement Is Not Due to Lack of Appropriate Instruction

“To ensure that underachievement in a pupil suspected of having a specific learning disability is not due to lack of appropriate instruction in reading or math, the group making the decision must consider:

(i) Data that demonstrate that prior to, or as part of, the referral process, that pupil was provided appropriate instruction in regular education settings, delivered by qualified personnel; and

(ii) Data-based documentation of repeated assessments of achievement at reasonable intervals, reflecting formal assessment of student progress during instruction, which was provided to the pupil's parents.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(10)(4).

School Staff Must Observe the Student in the Student's Learning Environment

“In determining whether a pupil has a specific learning disability, the public agency [e.g., school district] must ensure that the pupil is observed in the pupil's learning environment in accordance with 34 C.F.R. section 300.310. In the case of a child of less than school age or out of school, a qualified professional must observe the child in an environment appropriate for a child of that age. The eligibility determination must be documented in accordance with 34 C.F.R. section 300.311.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(10)(5).

Special Education Eligibility for Speech or Language Impairment

A student may qualify for eligibility under speech or language impairment if he or she has one or more of the following speech-related disorders: (1) articulation disorder; (2) abnormal voice; (3) fluency disorders; or (4) language disorder. 5 CCR § 3030(b)(11).


(1) Articulation Disorder

“The pupil displays reduced intelligibility or an inability to use the speech mechanism which significantly interferes with communication and attracts adverse attention. Significant interference in communication occurs when the pupil's production of single or multiple speech sounds on a developmental scale of articulation competency is below that expected for his or her chronological age or developmental level, and which adversely affects educational performance.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(11)(A)(1).

(2) Abnormal Voice

“A pupil has an abnormal voice which is characterized by persistent, defective voice quality, pitch, or loudness.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(11)(A)(2).

(3) Fluency Disorders

“A pupil has a fluency disorder when the flow of verbal expression including rate and rhythm adversely affects communication between the pupil and listener.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(11).

(4) Language Disorder

“The pupil has an expressive or receptive language disorder when he or she meets one of the [two] criteria” noted below. 5 CCR § 3030(b)(11)(D).

“The pupil scores at least 1.5 standard deviations below the mean, or below the 7th percentile, for his or her chronological age or developmental level on two or more standardized tests in one or more of the following areas of language development: morphology, syntax, semantics, or pragmatics. When standardized tests are considered to be invalid for the specific pupil, the expected language performance level shall be determined by alternative means as specified on the assessment plan.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(11)(D)(1).

“The pupil scores at least 1.5 standard deviations below the mean or the score is below the 7th percentile for his or her chronological age or developmental level on one or more standardized tests in one of the areas listed in subdivision (A) and displays inappropriate or inadequate usage of expressive or receptive language as measured by a representative spontaneous or elicited language sample of a minimum of 50 utterances. The language sample must be recorded or transcribed and analyzed, and the results included in the assessment report. If the pupil is unable to produce this sample, the language, speech, and hearing specialist shall document why a fifty utterance sample was not obtainable and the contexts in which attempts were made to elicit the sample. When standardized tests are considered to be invalid for the specific pupil, the expected language performance level shall be determined by alternative means as specified in the assessment plan.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(11)(D)(2).

Special Education Eligibility for Traumatic Brain Injury

“Traumatic brain injury does not apply to brain injuries that are congenital or degenerative, or to brain injuries induced by birth trauma.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(12).

Special Education Eligibility for Visual Impairment

“Visual impairment including blindness means an impairment in vision that, even with correction, adversely affects a child's education performance. The term includes both partial sight and blindness.” 5 CCR § 3030(b)(13).

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