Communicating Eligibility Decisions: Simplicity Sometimes Hurts the School District


In our desire to express complex decisions simply, we may sometimes shoot ourselves in the foot. This is what happened in a recent New Jersey case. The New Jersey SEA had distributed a computer program (called the Estimator) that produces a decision on whether the student demonstrates a severe discrepancy between ability and achievement, and thus a specific learning disability. A school district used the Estimator to remove a child from special education services. The school district's written explanation mentioned the Estimator's results but little else. While this satisfied a hearing officer, it did not satisfy a federal judge. The judge said basing a decision on the Estimator violated the prohibition against using any single procedure as the sole criterion for determining eligibility. The judge gave no credit to the later testimony to the effect that the school district took many other factors into account, seemingly because the school district's earlier evaluation report did not bear this out. As a result, the school district may be paying tuition reimbursement.

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