Has your child been denied an evaluation for special education services because of good grades? That simply should never be the sole reason to deny an evaluation or services. How well your child is doing in school should not be the sole determinative factor of whether they receive special education services. If your child cannot access the curriculum due to a disability, it does not matter if they have an A+ or an F. The disability is still there. We cannot see inside a child’s head to see how much pain or aggravation the disability is causing during the school day. We cannot tell from simply looking at a child how much they are compensating for their disability to get their passing grades. The point is that the disability is there, and regardless of how well your child is performing in school, the law allows for accommodating that child to put them in the same position as a child without that disability.
Individuals with Disabilites Education Act
Similarly, we cannot tell through observation how or when a disability may require specially designed instruction in order for a child to make progress in the general education curriculum. This includes academic and non-academic areas and skills (i.e. social-emotional skills, language skills). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 300.101(c) says that a child may need special education even though “the child has not failed or been retained in a course or grade, and is advancing from grade to grade.”
Teachers give out grades for many different reasons. Some give good grades based on effort during the elementary years. Others allow for improving grades based on extra credit. Sometimes teachers even base grades on class participation, effort, a positive attitude, or citizenship. The point here is that it is not necessarily evident from grades whether a child is making progress in school. Grades are not necessarily reflective of whether a child is actually learning.
Doe v. Cape Elizabeth School District
The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit addresses this issue in Doe v. Cape Elizabeth School District. The decision in Doe held that grades are not necessarily determinative of a student’s eligibility.
In this case, Jane, the student at issue, was identified for special education in second grade under the specific learning disability (SLD) classification due to deficits in reading fluency. By the middle of seventh grade, the District recommended placing Jane on “consult status” for the remainder of the year because she was receiving good grades.
The following year, the District conducted a reevaluation and recommended that Jane be removed from special education due to her good grades and her performance on general state standardized tests and individually administered standardized tests. Jane’s parents disagreed and obtained an independent educational evaluation (“IEE”).
Some of the tests administered as part of the IEE were consistent with the District’s testing, yet other tests had a much different result. Some of the IEE tests showed that Jane was performing much lower in reading fluency than the District’s assessments reflected.
The IEP team met to consider the results of the IEE, but held that Jane was still not eligible for special education due to her overall improved grades. Jane’s parents disagreed and requested a hearing. The Hearing Officer agreed with the District and found Jane ineligible for special education. The parents appealed to the United States District Court who also held that Jane was not eligible for special education. Jane’s parents appealed to the First Circuit Court of Appeals.
First Circuit Court of Appeals Decision
The First Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately found that the District Court and Hearing Officer should not have relied on Jane’s overall academic achievements without specifically looking at the relevance of these achievements in regards to her disability. The Appellate Court held that although overall school performance can be one factor considered in determining eligibility under the IDEA, the school performance that is being considered must be reflective of the student’s suspected academic or functional deficiencies.
In this case, Jane’s overall academic performance was the result of many factors including, but not limited to, Jane’s higher intelligence, accommodations provided at school (i.e. extended time for tests), hard work, and parental assistance with school work at home. None of these factors are reflective of Jane’s suspected area of disability – reading fluency.
The court placed emphasis on the fact that certain assessments administered by the District and the independent evaluator specifically measured Jane’s reading fluency skills – the suspected area of disability in that case. It is necessary to include these measures and to ensure they are properly weighted in the overall assessment of that child and their unique circumstances.
When a child’s overall academic performance can mask an academic or functional disability, it is important to weigh all factors accordingly for that child’s unique circumstances. The value given to a child’s overall performance must be based on the unique circumstances of the child, especially when the child’s overall academic performance is discrepant from his or her performance on assessments measuring the specific areas impacted by his or her disability.
If you believe your child should be evaluated or continue to receive special education services, gather all relevant information and collaborate with your school. Remind all parties involved that it is about what is best for your child and getting your child the education they deserve and legally entitled to.