Special Education Services

If your child has a disability or you suspect he or she may have a disability, you may request that the school system evaluate your child. An evaluation is conducted free of charge by the county. Special education law requires the child be evaluated in all areas of suspected disability.

Identification is the process used to decide if a child may have a disability and, therefore, need assessments. If the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team decides that a child may have a disability and be in need of special education, the team recommends assessments to determine eligibility and identify the child’s educational needs.

Children from Birth through Age 2
The Howard County Infants and Toddlers Program (410-313-7017) is a countywide system of coordinated, interagency, multidisciplinary early intervention services. The Howard County Public School System, Howard County Health Department, and the Howard County Department of Social Services provide services to eligible infants, toddlers, and their families. Health and developmental needs may be identified in the areas of: hearing, speech, language, physical development, cognitive development, social-emotional development, and self-help skills. Children are eligible to receive services if they have a developmental delay, atypical development likely to result in subsequent delay, or a diagnosed condition that has a high probability of resulting in developmental delay.

Children Ages 3 – 5
The Preschool Child Find Team (410-313-7046) is an interdisciplinary team that provides identification services to children from three to five years of age who may have a disability including developmental delay. The team includes an educational diagnostician, a speech-language pathologist, a psychologist, an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, an audiologist, a pediatrician, and a nurse. Parents are important members of the team and are included in each IEP team meeting. The Preschool Child Find Team provides all services at no cost to the parent.

School Age Students Enrolled in Private or Religiously Affiliated Schools
School-age children who attend a private or religiously affiliated school in Howard County, whether residing in Howard County or another jurisdiction, may be referred for identification by calling the Child Find Program at the County Diagnostic Center (410-313-7046). Parents are asked to complete a Parent Referral form, Parent/Guardian Questionnaire, and Educational Report form. Written permission is obtained for Howard County Public School System staff to review the student’s records, reports from any specialists who have worked with the student, and Educational Reports completed by the student’s current teachers.

School Age Students Enrolled in Howard County Public Schools
A student who is suspected of having a disability is referred to the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team. The IEP team meets to receive the referral and to review existing data, information from the parent, previously implemented instructional interventions and strategies, current classroom-based assessments, and observations by teachers and related service providers. Based on this information the IEP team shall determine the need for assessment.

Evaluation and Assessment
After a thorough evaluation and parent interview, the assessment reports are reviewed at an Individual Education Program (IEP) team meeting and a written evaluation report is completed to determine whether the child is a child with a disability. The evaluation report includes a summary of the child’s performance in each area of suspected disability; relevant functional, cognitive, developmental, behavioral, and physical information; and instructional implications for the preschool child’s participation in appropriate activities. The IEP team completes the evaluation of the child within 60 days of receiving the signed permission to test or 90 days from the date of the receipt of the signed written referral, whichever comes first. The parent is given a copy of the assessment reports, the Evaluation Report, and the IEP Team Meeting summary. For those children eligible for services, an Individualized Education Program is developed.

Individualized Education Program (IEP)
If the child is determined to be a child with a disability, an IEP is developed by the school staff with input from the parents within 30 days of the meeting to review assessment results. The IEP team reviews the IEP, identifies services needed to implement the IEP, and considers options for the provision of services in the least restrictive environment.

To read more about special education services, visit: http://marylandlearninglinks.org/3750

Inclusive Happenings

Welcome to Inclusive Happenings, a blog from the Office of Special Education for Howard County Public Schools. The Office of Special Education hopes to share stories of inclusive opportunities in its schools as well as inspire community interaction through the sharing of resources, news, and discussion topics related to rigorous academic instruction for all learners.

Visit the site at: http://inclusivehappenings.wordpress.com/

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 – Requirements for a Free Appropriate Public Education for Students with Disabilities

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protects the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance, including federal funds. The Section 504 regulation requires a school district to provide a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) to each qualified person with a disability who is in the school district’s jurisdiction, regardless of the nature or severity of the person’s disability.

The US Department of Education website answers the following questions about FAPE according to Section 504:

    Who is entitled to a free appropriate public education?
    How is an appropriate education defined?
    How is a free education defined?

To read more:

A Parent’s Guide to Section 504 in Public Schools can be found at

To read more about special education services, visit:

IEP Tips for Parents

Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP)

The Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) provides the foundation of family-centered early intervention services. The IFSP is an agreement between you and the local Infants and Toddlers Program regarding the early intervention services and supports provided to your child and family. The IFSP is both an agreement and a written document that puts in writing your child’s strengths and needs, your family’s priorities, and the outcomes you and the team would like your child to achieve. The IFSP provides the “what,when, where, why, and how” of early intervention services to be provided to your child and family.

The IFSP process begins when your child is referred to your local Infants and Toddlers Program dueto a concern about his or her development. The local Infants and Toddlers Program will contact yourfamily within two days of receiving the referral. Your early intervention team has 45 days from the dateof referral to complete your child’s evaluation and assessment and complete an initial written IFSP.Most services contained in the IFSP document begin no later than 30 days after the IFSP has beensigned by you. The completion of the IFSP or the start date for an IFSP service may be delayed by

The IFSP process is ongoing. You and your IFSP team will review the IFSP every six monthsafter the initial completion date. You may request a review at any time to make sure the IFSPcontinues to meet the changing needs of your child and family. Development and review of theIFSP are collaborative processes that take place during IFSP team meetings. You and your servicecoordinator must be present for all IFSP meetings.

©Maryland State Department of Education

A Family Guide to Understanding the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) can be found at:
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Individualized Education Program (IEP)

If the child is determined to be a child with a disability, an IEP is developed by the school staff with input from the parents within 30 days of the meeting to review assessment results. The IEP team reviews the IEP, identifies services needed to implement the IEP, and considers options for the provision of services in the least restrictive environment.

Preparing to Develop the IEP
Effective communication skills are most important in preparing for an IEP team meeting. The meeting should be child-centered and focused on a commitment to work together. Parents should prepare by reviewing all documents sent home in advance (reports, evaluations, assessments), and by creating a list of key questions or concerns. Though parents and the school team may not agree on everything, parents should come to the meeting prepared to listen and collaborate. If you do not understand acronyms or terms that the IEP team uses, ask for an explanation. Clear communication is vital. And most importantly, remember YOU are a member of the IEP team. Your participation is critical.

The Five-Day Rule
Maryland law requires school personnel to provide parents with an accessible copy of each assessment, report, data chart, draft Individualized Education Program (IEP), or other document(s) the IEP team or other multidisciplinary education team plans to discuss at that IEP meeting at least five (5) business days before the scheduled meeting. It also requires school personnel to provide parents an accessible copy of the completed IEP not later than five (5) business days after the scheduled meeting. If school personnel are unable to provide an accessible copy of the material(s) at least five (5) business days before the scheduled meeting because of an extenuating circumstance, school personnel are to document and communicate to parents the nature of the extenuating circumstance that prevented school personnel from providing accessible copies of the material(s). If the IEP has not been completed by the fifth business day after the IEP team meeting, school personnel shall provide the parents with the draft copy of the IEP. (MSDE Technical Assistance Bulletin 20)

The IEP Team Meeting
First and foremost, remember that you are a valuable member of the IEP team. Your participation is critical.

As outlined on the Maryland Learning Links website, the following questions should be answered at the IEP Team Meeting:

Who is the student? The student is introduced to the IEP team by descriptions provided by parents, teachers, and others. Understanding the student’s experiences, learning style(s), and skill levels allows for realistic long-term goal setting later in the process.

Where is the student now? Discussion should focus on the student’s strengths. Data is introduced to identify specific areas in which the student is not progressing in the same manner as non-disabled peers. Data comes from assessments, school staff observations, and parents. Knowing the student’s strengths enables the IEP team to determine how the student can participate in the general education curriculum.

How is the student progressing? The goals and benchmarks for progress are determined by examining how the student learns, what the student needs to learn, and what special accommodations are needed. Data and observations from individuals who have instructed thestudent in the past, as well as assessment information, help the IEP team set reasonable goals to be accomplished within 12 months.

What does the student need? Specially-designed instruction for participation in general education curriculum activities is discussed here. The IEP must identify additional needs and services to be addressed through special education and related services.

What are the parents’ concerns? Parents provide important information to help the team better understand the student. Parents should share their concerns and observations of their child’s behavior, attention to tasks, and ability to relate to others.

How will the student reach education goals? The IEP team must consider data, annual goals, and how the student’s strengths and needs affect the student’s involvement and progress in the general education curriculum when developing the IEP. To the maximum extent appropriate, the IEP should call for the student to be instructed in a way that allows the student to participate in the general education curriculum and environment with non-disabled peers.

How will the team know the student has met the education goals outlined in the IEP? The IEP must be written in a format that enables the IEP team to recognize when outcomes have or have not been achieved. The IEP will indicate how often the student’s progress toward achieving the goals outlined in the IEP will be reported to the parent (daily, monthly, quarterly, etc).

If the student is turning, 14, what is the plan for post secondary transition? Federal and State regulations require additional planning to begin as children reach age 14. Whether the child will receive a Maryland high School Diploma or Certificate of Program Completion, considering must be given to preparing the child for life beyond the secondary school level. Transition specialists, counselors, adult service providers, and agency representatives may join the IEP team. Your child will also be a member of the IEP Team. The Team will develop appropriate postsecondary goals in Employment, Postsecondary Education, and, if appropriate, Independent Living. The team will also develop Transition Activities and Services that will occur during the coming year that will assist your child in attaining postsecondary goals.

©Maryland State Department of Education

Identifying Accommodations and Modifications for the IEP
The IEP must identify what special accommodations or modifications are needed for your student. Simply put, accommodations are practices and procedures that level the playing field. They provide equitable access during instruction and assessments for students with disabilities. Modifications, on the
other hand, are alterations to instruction and assessments. To read more about accommodations and modifications, and the important differences between them, click here [go to accommodations page].

Understanding the Important Difference between “Accommodations” and “Modifications”

Meeting after meeting, parents and teachers use the words “accommodation” and “modification” almost interchangeably when discussing IEPs and student needs. Yet the terms are vastly different. If understood and used correctly, these words can greatly impact the success of a child’s educational program.

Accommodations1Simply put, accommodations are practices and procedures that level the playing field. They provide equitable access during instruction and assessments for students with disabilities. Modifications, on the other hand, are alterations to instruction and assessments. Modifications may change, lower, or reduce learning expectations.

According to the Maryland Accommodations Manual, “accommodations are intended to reduce or eliminate the effects of a student’s disability; accommodations do not reduce learning expectations.” Most important to keep in mind is that accommodations cannot be added to an IEP only for testing. If you add accommodations to an IEP, they must be necessary in everyday instruction. The manual clearly states that “accommodations provided to a student must be the same for classroom instruction, classroom assessments, and district and state assessments.”

Examples of accommodations:

  • Timing and Scheduling—these accommodations may include extended time for written or verbal response, classwork, assignments, and tests; multiple breaks throughout a student’s work period or across the school day; and preferential scheduling to accommodate a student’s needs.
  • Setting—as in providing a setting that reduces distractions, or providing special equipment that may be necessary in a classroom or that may only be provided in a particular school.
  • Presentation—examples of presentation accommodations are providing materials in large print or Braille, books on tape, visual cues, or notes; or providing a “human reader,” someone who reads all written text.
  • Response—such accommodations may be to provide students with a scribe, a graphic organizer, calculator, electronic note taker, or speech-to-text equipment.

accommodations3Unlike accommodations, modifications are intended to change the materials and/or the curriculum. By doing so, the curriculum becomes more accessible and more academically appropriate for the student. Modifications can increase the gap between the achievement of students with disabilities and the expectations for proficiency at a particular grade level. As course materials are modified to a lower level year after year, the gap widens between modified work and on-grade-level work. It is important to keep in mind that when work is modified, different or fewer questions may mean less of an opportunity for the student to practice and ultimately master grade-level skills.

Examples of modifications:

  • Reducing the number of problems a student completes—students may be given fewer problems on a worksheet or a test than the rest of the class.
  • Revising assignments—assignments may be made easier or revised to a more appropriate academic level.
  • Giving students hints or clues to correct responses.

When implementing a special practice or procedure in instruction and assessment, the IEP team should carefully assess whether the practice or procedure maintains the fidelity and rigor of the assignment or the assessment. If it does, it is an accommodation. If, however, it changes the goal or rigor of the assignment or of what is being assessed, it is a modification.

It is easy to confuse the two terms. Parents do it; educators do it. But, with much at stake, it’s important to get it right. If the IEP team has any questions about permissible accommodations or what qualifies as a modification, the team may consult Judy Pattik, coordinator of special education, at 410-313-5350; Portia White, coordinator of testing in the Office of Student Assessment and Program Evaluation, at 410-313-6802; or the Maryland Accommodations Manual.

WrightsLaw Resources for Twice Exceptional Children

Twice-exceptional children are gifted children of above average abilities who have special educational needs –AD/HD, learning disabilities, Asperger Syndrome, etc. Because their giftedness can mask their special needs and their special needs can hide their giftedness, they are often labeled as “lazy” and “unmotivated.” This page includes articles, resources, book recommendations, free publications, and a short list of information and support groups about twice exceptional children.

Learn more:

WrightsLaw Resources for ADD/ADHD

WrightsLaw receives many questions from parents, teachers, and health care providers about special education services for children with ADD/ADHD. The WrightsLaw website includes FAQs, articles, legal resources, book recommendations, free publications, and a short list of information and support groups.

Are children with ADD/ADHD eligible for special education services under the IDEA? Are they eligible under Section 504? Can they be suspended or expelled? Answers: maybe, maybe, maybe.

To learn more, check the Legal Resources at:

The National Center for Learning Disabilities

The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) improves the lives of all people with learning difficulties and disabilities by empowering parents, enabling young adults, transforming schools, and creating policy and advocacy impact.

If your child struggles with learning or has LD, your role in advocating for him or her is crucial. What works best? A collaborative relationship with your child’s teachers and the school, strategic approaches to homework, and understanding your child’s IEP inside and out—to name a few. Their website contains numerous resources about IEPs, 504 plans, accommodations, and more.

Click here to access the National Center for Learning Disabilities

50 Questions about Learning Disabilities

Parents of children with Learning Disabilities (LD) are often faced with many questions. What are the warning signs of LD? How can I get my child tested? What is an IEP? The National Center on Learning Disabilities has asked some of the top LD experts to respond to these questions and many more in 50 Questions About LD: An E-Book for Parents of Children with Learning Disabilities. This informative resource addresses issues that directly affect your child at school, at home, and in the workplace.

Download your FREE copy of 50 Questions About LD: An E-Book for Parents of Children with Learning Disabilities.
Click here >>