Can “Smart” Kids Get IEPs?

Absolutely! Passing grades is not the only measure that should be used to determine whether or not a child is in need of special education services.  Parents often hear from their school districts that their child does not need special education services because the student is “so bright,” “is a great speller,” “has masted math facts,” etc. So if a child is making progress academically, why would he be in need of special education services?

Parents often hear from their school districts that they “can’t” offer special education services to a child who is making progress academically. That simply is not true. School districts are mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to look at the child’s “educational performance” not only the academic performance.  What does educational performance mean in the context of the IDEA? How does a parent of a student with passing grades make the argument that their child “needs” special education?

Some students with average to above average intellectual ability can and often do achieve passing grades but that does not mean that the student does not have other “educational” challenges.  Many “smart” students still may present with emotional, behavioral, social, communication, or other manifestations of the student’s disability.  Students who have educational challenges may develop anxiety, refuse to go to school, and become isolated from their peers.

Sometimes, students are “given” passing grades based on merely handing in homework or participating in class. These measures of “academic” performance are hardly substantive, and parents should ask how their child is being graded, especially if they are seeing academic struggling at home.

As far back as 2002, The President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education acknowledged that students need to be more than “academically” prepared. “While the Commission wholeheartedly supports strong academic achievement for all students,
it recognizes that academic achievement alone will not lead to successful results for students with disabilities. Students with disabilities need educational supports and services to promote the acquisition of skills throughout their school lives. However, these supports and services may
need to intensify during the transition years. Such skills include self-determination, self-advocacy social skills, organizational skills, community and peer connection, communication, conflict-resolution, career skill building and career development and computer/technological competency. Federal courts have supported this concept.

If your school district tells you that your child does not need any special education services because he is “passing,” ask if he is really learning? How can a child learn if he is socially isolated, or refusing to go to school? How about when the child is not able to follow directions, or pay attention and receiving negative feedback for failing to stay on task, or constantly asking his very busy teacher for 1:1 support? Is your child going to be prepared to leave school with “skills” that will allow him to get a paying job, or pursue additional schooling, or function as a member of society?

If you are having these types of problems, please feel free to contact me to discuss what you can do.