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U.S. Department of Education: Promoting Educational Excellence for all Americans

Group members (Sec. 300.308)

Comment: Several commenters requested an explanation of the use of "group members" rather than "team members" to describe the group that determines whether a child suspected of having an SLD is a child with a disability. One commenter stated that the eligibility determination is an IEP Team function and, therefore, using the term "group members" is inappropriate. One commenter stated that Sec. 300.308 is confusing because the group seems to be the same as the IEP Team.

Discussion: The change from "team members" to "group members" was made in the 1999 regulations to distinguish this group from the IEP Team, because the team of qualified professionals and the parent in Sec. 300.306(a)(1) that makes the eligibility determination does not necessarily have the same members as an IEP Team. In some States, this group of professionals may have the same individuals as the IEP Team, but in other States, this is not the case. We inadvertently referred to "team members" in 300.309(a)(2)(ii) and, therefore, will change this to "group."

Changes: We have changed "team members" to "group" in Sec. 300.309(a)(2)(ii) to be consistent with Sec. 300.306(a)(1).

Comment: Several commenters stated that the requirements for the qualifications of the group members in proposed Sec. 300.308(a) are unnecessary and should be removed because they are not included in the Act, are overly prescriptive, and add another set of procedural requirements. On the other hand, a number of commenters recommended additional or different qualifications that should be required of the group members in Sec. 300.308. Several commenters recommended that the group members be qualified to conduct assessments in the area of "cognition" rather than "intellectual development" to ensure that specific cognitive abilities are assessed, rather than global intellectual abilities.

Several commenters recommended that proposed Sec. 300.308(a)(2), requiring group members to apply "critical analysis" to the data, be changed to require group members to apply "clinical" analysis to the data. One commenter stated that clinical analysis should be defined and suggested a definition that includes professional judgment informed by empirical research, training, and experience, and guided by interpretation of patterns in evaluation findings from a number of sources (e.g., test scores; interviews; work samples; observational data; and information from parents, school personnel, and other related services providers).

A few commenters recommended requiring evaluations to be completed by certified speech-language pathologists and school psychologists to ensure that qualified professionals conduct the assessments. One commenter recommended that the examples of the areas for diagnostic assessments be preceded by "such as" to avoid a misinterpretation that a speech-language pathologist, for example, is mandated to participate in every SLD determination.

Several commenters agreed with the professional competencies for the group members described in Sec. 300.308(a). However, one commenter stated that "collectively qualified" is too broad a term and should be more narrowly defined. Another commenter stated that there is no way to ensure that the group members possess the necessary expertise unless there is a mechanism to determine whether the group members have the specified competencies in proposed Sec. 300.308(a).

One commenter stated that, although professionals from more than one discipline may be qualified to administer certain assessments, they do not bring the same expertise to the process. One commenter asked if a special education teacher, a regular education teacher, and parent were all that would be necessary if they collectively met the competency requirements.

Several commenters stated that the list of professionals in proposed Sec. 300.308(b) for the eligibility group should be removed and decisions about group members left to schools and districts. Other commenters stated that the requirements for the eligibility group should be the same as those for the group that determines the eligibility of children suspected of all other disabilities.

Many commenters recommended that additional or different professionals should be included in the group. Numerous commenters recommended including speech-language pathologists in the group because of their expertise in reading and conducting individual diagnostic assessments in the areas of speech and language.

A few commenters stated that a school psychologist should be a required member of the group, rather than listed as "if appropriate." One of these commenters stated that, even if school psychologists are no longer required to administer assessments to determine whether there is a discrepancy between the child's achievement and ability, school psychologists conduct assessments related to cognitive functioning, behavior, and other issues that may affect a child's learning.

Numerous commenters recommended requiring the special education teacher who is part of the eligibility group to have expertise in the area of SLD. However, one commenter stated that it is unnecessary for a special education teacher to be part of the group because the teacher would not have any instructional experience with the yet-to-be identified child and nothing in the Act requires special education teachers to possess any diagnostic expertise in the area of SLD.

One commenter recommended that the group include a teacher with experience in teaching children who are failing or at-risk for failing, in addition to a general education and special education teacher. Several commenters recommended adding a reading specialist as a required member. A few commenters recommended including a social worker as a required member, stating that it is important that one of the members examine the child's home and community environment to rule out environmental and economic factors as a primary source of the child's learning difficulties. Another commenter recommended adding a guidance counselor as a required member. One commenter recommended including a school nurse and stated that a school nurse can contribute information about educationally relevant medical findings.

One commenter stated that a reading teacher and an educational therapist should always be included in the group. A few commenters were not familiar with the role of an educational therapist and requested a definition or elimination of the term from the list of "other professionals." One commenter stated that two of the three professionals listed as "other professionals" (school psychologist, reading teacher, educational therapist) are not credentialed and questioned why they were included in the group.

Discussion: The Department has considered the diversity of comments received and, given the lack of consensus about which individuals should be included in the group that makes eligibility determinations for children suspected of having an SLD, believes that the requirements in current Sec. 300.540 should be retained. Current Sec. 300.540 states that the eligibility group for children suspected of having SLD must include the child's parents and a team of qualified professionals, which must include the child's regular teacher (or if the child does not have a regular teacher, a regular classroom teacher qualified to teach a child of his or her age) or for a child of less than school age, an individual qualified by the SEA to teach a child of his or her age; and at least one person qualified to conduct individual diagnostic examinations of children, such as a school psychologist, speech-language pathologist or remedial reading teacher. We believe this allows decisions about the specific qualifications of the members to be made at the local level, so that the composition of the group may vary depending on the nature of the child's suspected disability, the expertise of local staff, and other relevant factors. For example, for a child suspected of having an SLD in the area of reading, it might be important to include a reading specialist as part of the eligibility group. However, for a child suspected of having an SLD in the area of listening comprehension, it might be appropriate for the group to include a speech-language pathologist with expertise in auditory processing disorders. Current Sec. 300.540 provides flexibility for schools and districts, and ensures that the group includes individuals with the knowledge and skills necessary to interpret the evaluation data and make an informed determination as to whether the child is a child with an SLD, and the educational needs of the child.

Changes: Section 300.308 has been changed to include the requirements from current Sec. 300.540.