Testing Alternatives for Children with Disabilities (PDPs)

Disclaimer: This is a general summary of laws (and some personal opinions) regarding homeschooling, but does not constitute legal advice. You should read the language of the laws and rules or contact an attorney familiar with homeschooling if you have any questions.
For rules 581-015-xxxx go to: http://arcweb.sos.state.or.us/rules/OARS_500/OAR_581/581_015.html
For rules 581-021-xxxx go to: http://arcweb.sos.state.or.us/rules/OARS_500/OAR_581/581_021.html
For laws relating to compulsory attendance and testing (ORS 339.xxx), go to: http://www.leg.state.or.us/ors/339.html

Introduction
There are two legal exceptions to the testing requirements for homeschoolers: using an individualized education plan (IEP) and using a privately developed plan (PDP). Here's what the law says (ORS339.035(5)):

(a) Notwithstanding the examination requirements of subsections (3) and (4) of this section, the parent or legal guardian of a child with disabilities who has an individualized education plan and is receiving special education and related services through the school district or who is being educated in accordance with a privately developed plan shall be evaluated for satisfactory educational progress according to the recommendations of the plan.

(b) The parent or legal guardian of a child with disabilities who was evaluated by service providers selected by the parent or legal guardian based on a privately developed plan shall submit a report of such evaluation to the education service district in lieu of the examination results required by subsections (3) and (4) of this section.

(c) A child with disabilities described in this subsection shall not be subject to the examination requirements of subsections (3) and (4) of this section unless the examination is recommended in the plan in effect for the child.

If your child is working under an IEP through the school district, then assessment will be conducted according to the terms of the IEP. (OAR 581-021-0029(3)(a)) This may or may not include standardized testing. The second exception is through the use of a PDP, which is described more fully below.

1. Who is eligible for a privately developed plan?

Any homeschooling child who meets eligibility criteria for a specific disability category under OAR581-015-0051. [This rule has now been re-numbered, so that each disability category has its own rule number, as shown below.] These categories include:
(1) Autism Spectrum Disorder (OAR581-015-2130(2))
(2) Communication Disorder (OAR581-015-2135(2))
(3) Deaf blindness (OAR581-015-2140(2))
(4) Emotional Disturbance (OAR581-015-2145(2))
(5) Hearing Impairment (OAR581-015-2150(2))
(6) Mental Retardation (OAR581-015-2155(2))
(7) Orthopedic Impairment (OAR581-015-2160(2))
(8) Other Health Impairment (OAR581-015-2165(2))
(9) Specific Learning Disability (OAR581-015-2170(3))
(10) Traumatic Brain Injury (OAR581-015-2175(2))
(11) Vision Impairment (OAR 581-015-2180(2))

Make sure that you read the eligibility criteria (which is only a subsection of the whole rule). For most categories, the eligibility criteria is in subsection (2); for specific learning disability, it is in subsection (3). The other subsections of the rules apply to children seeking publicly-paid special education services, and define who must perform the evaluation. For homeschoolers using a PDP, the law says that the evaluation can be performed by team members selected by the parent.

In the public schools, the most frequently used category (75% of students with IEPs) is Specific Learning Disability. Here's the eligibility criteria for this category:

To be eligible as a child with a specific learning disability, the child must meet the following minimum criteria:

(a) The child does not achieve adequately for the child's age or to meet Oregon grade-level standards in one or more ofthe following areas when provided with learning experiences and instructionappropriate for the child's age or Oregon grade-level standards:
(A) Basic reading skills;
(B) Reading fluency skills;
(C) Reading comprehension;
(D) Mathematics calculation;
(E) Mathematics problem-solving;
(F) Written Expression;
(G) Oral expression; or
(H) Listening comprehension.
(c) For a student evaluated using a model that is based on the student's strengths and weaknesses, in relation to one ormore of the areas in subsection (3)(a), the student exhibits a pattern ofstrengths and weaknesses in classroom performance, academic achievement, or both, relative to age, Oregon grade-level standards, or intellectual development, that is determined by the [evaluation team] to be relevant to the identification of a specific learning disability.
(d) The child's patternof strengths andweaknesses in subsection (3)(c) is not primarily the result of:
(A) A visual, hearing, or motor impairment;mental retardation or emotional disturbance;
(B) Cultural factors;
(C) Environmental or economic disadvantage; or
(D) Limited English proficiency.

In plain English, this means: if the development of your child's skills (achievement level) in any ONE or more of the areas listed in (a) is significantly behind the achievement typically expected for your child's age, and this discrepancy isn't the result of another disability or lack of exposure to avariety of learning opportunities or lack of English proficiency, then the child may qualify for a PDP under the specific learning disability criteria.

If your child doesn't fit this criteria, but has other special needs or circumstances (and you believe that testing would be detrimental to his/her educational progress), then take the time to read the criteria for all of the disability categories. (Remember that the eligibility criteria are in subsection (2) of each rule for each category other than Specific Learning Disability.)

For example, the following are the eligibility criteria for Emotional Disturbance (581-015-2145(2)):

The child exhibits one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree:
(A) An inability to learn at a rate commensurate with the child™s intellectual, sensory-motor, and physical development;
(B) An inability to establish or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers;
(C) Excessive behaviors which may include hyperactive and impulsive responses or depression and withdrawal;
(D) Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances; or
(E) A tendency to develop physical symptoms, pains, or fears associated with personal, social, or school problems.

2. Who determines whether my child meets the eligibility criteria?

The law states that the disability is evaluated by service providers selected by the parent. If challenged by an ESD, the parent has the burden of proof to establish that the child meets the eligibility criteria for a PDP.

When I was exploring the possibility of a PDP for my son, I had his reading and language skills evaluated by a homeschool-friendly reading specialist. It was very clear from watching the evaluation that there were some areas that my son had great difficulty with. When I asked the reading specialist about a disability diagnosis, at first she shied away from using a disability label -- she is as anti-labeling as I am. However, once I explained that if my son met the eligibility criteria, then he could be assessed other than by a standardized test, she readily acknowledged that he met the criteria. Sometimes it matters how you ask.

If you already have a diagnosis for your child that fits within one of the eligibility categories, and the condition that was diagnosed still exists, then you're in good shape to begin developing your PDP. If you don't already have a diagnosis, then I recommend that you get an assessment by a third party who has experience working with children with your child's condition.The service provider that you select for the evaluation does not have to be a paid professional.

3. What is a PDP and how do I create one for my child?

A PDP is defined as: an individual plan developed by a team including the parent and one or more private service providers to address the educational needs of a child with a disability. A PDP shall include individual educational goals for the student and a statement indicating how satisfactory educational progress will be determined for the student. (OAR 581-021-0029(1)(d))

That's it -- you define the educational goals and how "satisfactory educational progress" will be determined. You do this in conjunction with one or more "private service providers". You can be as creative as you wish. This is YOUR child and YOUR plan. The plan can be as broad as you wish, but I chose to cover only the minimum areas covered by the standardized testing-- reading, language arts and math. (The purpose of the PDP is to meet legal requirements for assessing educational progress; it obviously doesn't define how you are going to homeschool.)

There is no requirement that you give a copy of this plan to the ESD, but it should be written and you should keep a copy for your records. You'll need the plan when you do the year-end assessment. Also, if you ever become involved with Services for Children and Families or ever become involved in a custody case, you'll definitely want to have your plan and eligibility evidence available.

4. Who can be a service provider?

This is not defined. Here's what Christine Webb (who was instrumental in the drafting of the administrative rules) says:

"Parents [should] work primarily with someone they and their children are comfortable with and who has valuable experience. Some parents are getting together with another set of parents to form a kind of 'group' of support for the PDP process. I find that this way both sets of parents work to educate themselves, to share information, and to check in with an 'expert' when they have a question or need.

"I generally talk about a variety of options, one of course being finding a person or even a couple of people who are experts in whatever area the parents need the most help. Sometimes that has nothing to do with the disability but with the teaching of specific skills or even with parenting skills. Sometimes it is someone who can administer astandardized test or someone who has experience assessing portfolios.

"I think anyone who has a good understanding of the law, good communication skills (sometimes I spend a lot of time talking to ESD or OSAA reps), a good background in the totality of learning and education, a clear understanding of alternative forms of assessment, many years of homeschooling (hate to add this one but it is almost essential) and some background working with parents of children with 'issues' would be a good candidate. They don't really have to be an expert in disabilities. Lots of what I do is explain the law, talk about options, and guide parents to good resources. I work with them to set up the PDP and then check back periodically. Then I help them with the assessment at the end of the year and write the letter to the ESD. The law part and communicating with the ESD is the most difficult part for most parents. Most of them, with a little encouragement and information, take on the primary parts of record-keeping anassessment on their own, with my guidance."

5. What assessment do I have to do under the PDP?

You do whatever you and your service provider specify in the PDP. It can include observation over time, demonstration of skills, an interview, a portfolio, written work, etc. You can use standardized tests if you wish. If so, you can choose the test, the tester, and the testing environment.

The goal is to determine whether or not the child has made "satisfactory educational progress". Here's the definition of satisfactory educational progress from OAR 581-021-0029(1)(e):

"Satisfactory educational progress" means educational progress across academic and/or developmental areas appropriate to the child's age and abilities. The student need not complete all individualized educational program or privately developed plan goals for the team to determine that the student is making satisfactory educational progress.

6. What information do I have to provide to the ESD, and when do I have to provide it?

At the end of a "testing year" (grades 3, 5, 8 and 10) and before August 15th, the PDP team (parent and one or more service providers) complete the assessment defined in the PDP. The parent gets a copy of the assessment, including a summary statement indicating whether the child has made satisfactory educational progress in light of the child's age and disability. (OAR 581-021-0029 (3)(b)) If (and only if) the ESD requests test scores, you must provide the summary statement to the ESD. Here's a sample summary statement for the ESD:

Assessment of Educational Progresspursuant to Privately Developed Plan

Student: [Name]
[Address]
Birthdate:

PDP Development and Assessment Team: [Parent] and [team member]

Date of Assessment:

Assessment: [Name of student] has made satisfactory educational progress in____ grade in accordance with his privately developed plan in light of his age and abilities.

By:________________________________
[name of team member]

By: ___________________________________
[name of parent]

NOTE: The same schedule and the same exceptions apply for assessments under a PDP or IEP as for standardized testing. This means that the same 18-month testing-recess applies after a child is withdrawn from school, and the same rules about determining grade levels apply.

7. What if my child wants to participate in interscholastic activities?

Children on PDPs can qualify to participate in interscholastic activities through the public schools with only a letter that they are making satisfactory progress, from whomever is administering the PDP.