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Special Education Eligibility and Evaluation

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Special Education Eligibility and Evaluation Standards - A guidance document describing the essential elements of the process by which students are identified and evaluated for special education under IDEA and state law.

Breadth of the Guidance

The Standards are to be used in initial eligibility determinations, re-evaluations, and considerations of exit from special education for learners ages 3-21 (Iowa Administrative Code 281-41). They describe the process to determine whether a child has a disability and needs special education. They describe the collaborative process between general and special educators before, during and after the special education eligibility process. They are to be used for children who may have a disability and need for special education in any or all of the performance domains (academic, behavior, physical, health, hearing, vision, adaptive behavior, and communication).

Legal Requirement

The Iowa Department of Education (Department) has the legal authority to “prescribe minimum requirements for children requiring special education to be admitted” to special education instructional programs. Iowa Code 256B.3(5)(2011). The Standards reflect authoritative interpretations of school laws and rules and thus compliance with and attainment of these Standards will be used by The Department to determine compliance with federal and state law.


While listed as separate Standards, the ten Standards form a coherent whole and depend on each other for their meaning.

  1. Qualified professionals must be part of all decisions about a child’s special education eligibility.
  2. All special education decisions are based on sound data.
  3. When a public agency suspects that a child might have a disability that might require special education, the agency seeks parental consent for an initial evaluation.
  4. Children and parents receive procedural protections whenever special education eligibility is questioned, reviewed, or established.
  5. Evaluations are fair, thorough and comply with the requirements of special education law.
  6. To be eligible for special education, a child must have a “disability.”
  7. If a child’s low performance is due to lack of opportunity to learn or due to cultural or language difference, the child does not have a “disability.”
  8. A child’s disability must cause a need for special education before the child is eligible for special education.
  9. A child’s evaluation determines and describes the eligible individual’s special education needs.
  10. If a child is eligible for special education services, the child’s IEP team uses evaluation data to draft an IEP that addresses the needs identified in the evaluation.

Other Eligibility Resources

The following resources provide additional guidance regarding topics related to Special Education Eligibility and Evaluation for learners ages 3 to 21 in Iowa.


The following link to resources related to eligibility from Department partners.