Updated 6/21/18

Special Education Eligibility
The determination of special education eligibility is based on the results of an assessment where no single test or single observer is the sole determining factor. According to Section 3030 of Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations, a student qualifies as an individual with special needs if the results of the assessment demonstrate that the degree of the student's impairment requires special education and related services. The Individualized Education Program (IEP) team, including assessment personnel, shall determine whether the assessment results demonstrate that the degree of the student's disability requires special education and related services. The Local Education Agency must assure that the student's academic needs cannot be met through interventions and supports available in the regular education program and that the disability, even with general education interventions and supports adversely affects the individual's educational performance.

All areas of suspected disability must be assessed. There shall be further documentation that race, cultural differences, economic disadvantage, language background, limited school experience and poor attendance are not primary contributing factors to the results of the assessment. The IEP team will determine eligibility, present levels of performance, and areas of need that will help the team identify goals that address each area of need. Goals and (objectives if required) will be supported by appropriate services in the least restrictive environment as determined by the IEP Team in order for the child to receive educational benefit.

Three factors must be considered when determining the needs of the student:

  • Does the student meet the eligibility criteria as an individual with a disability?
  • Does the severity of the disability have an adverse effect on the student's educational performance?
  • Does the student require specially designed instruction to achieve a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)?

Eligibility criteria are identified in thirteen federal classifications. Students meet eligibility under any one these federal classifications. (34 C.F.R. Part 300.8) Eligibility Categories:

  • Autism
  • Deaf/Blindness
  • Deafness
  • Emotional Disturbance
  • Hearing Impairment
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Multiple Disabilities
  • Orthopedic Impairment
  • Other Health Impairment
  • Specific Learning Disability
  • Speech or Language Impairment
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Visual Impairment, including Blindness

The eligibility categories and their definitions are listed below:

5 CCR § 3030 § 3030. Eligibility Criteria. (a) A child shall qualify as an individual with exceptional needs, pursuant to Education Code section 56026, if the results of the assessment as required by Education Code section 56320 demonstrate that the degree of the child's impairment as described in subdivisions (b)(1) through (b)(13) requires special education in one or more of the program options authorized by Education Code section 56361. The decision as to whether or not the assessment results demonstrate that the degree of the child's impairment requires special education shall be made by the IEP team, including personnel in accordance with Education Code section 56341(b). The IEP team shall take into account all the relevant material which is available on the child. No single score or product of scores shall be used as the sole criterion for the decision of the IEP team as to the child's eligibility for special education. (b) The disability terms used in defining an individual with exceptional needs are as follows:

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. Autism does not apply if a child's educational performance is adversely affected primarily because the child has an emotional disturbance, as defined in subdivision (b)(4) of this section. 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.

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.

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.

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: (A) An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors. (B) An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers. (C) Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances. (D) A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression. (E) A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems. (F) 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 subdivision (b)(4) of this section.

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. (6)

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.

Multiple disabilities means concomitant impairments, such as intellectual disability blindness or intellectual disability-orthopedic impairment, 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.

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).

Other health impairment means having limited strength, vitality, or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental 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.

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.
Specific learning disabilities do not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of intellectual disability, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage. 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 skill, reading comprehension, mathematical calculation, or mathematical reasoning. The decision as to whether a severe discrepancy exists shall take into account all relevant material which is available on the pupil. 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.
In determining the existence of a severe discrepancy, the IEP team shall 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 error of measurement, the adjustment not to exceed 4 common 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. 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.
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 or 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 present 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.
4. A severe discrepancy shall not be primarily the result of limited school experience or poor school attendance.
(C) Whether or not a pupil exhibits a severe discrepancy as described in subdivision (b)(10)(B) above, a pupil may be determined to have a specific learning disability if:
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, and 2.(i) The pupil does not make sufficient progress to meet age or State-approved grade level standards in one or more of the areas identified in subdivision (b)(10)(C)(1) of this section when using a process based on the pupil's response to scientific, research based intervention; or
(ii) The 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; and 3. The findings under subdivisions (b)(10)(C)(1) and (2) of this section are not 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.
4. 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 a part of, the referral process, the 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. In determining whether a pupil has a specific learning disability, the public agency 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.

The Contra Costa SELPA recommends the use of the severe discrepancy model when determining eligibility for a specific learning disability.

Click here to download and print "Procedures Guide-Eligibility"