Resource Materials and Technology Center for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing

If a child is academically successful, or has straight A’s, can they still be found eligible for a Deaf/Hard of Hearing (DHH) program?

According to IDEA section 300.306(a) of Title 34, Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), “A team, consisting of a group of qualified professionals and the parent of the child involved,” is responsible for determining if the student meets the eligibility requirements outlined in Rule 6A-6.0331, Florida Administrative Code (F.A.C.) (General Education Intervention Procedures, Evaluation, Determination of Eligibility, Reevaluation and the Provision of Exceptional Student Education Services) and Rule 6A-6.03013, F.A.C. (Exceptional Student Educational Eligibility for Students Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing). 

Section 300.101(c) [of IDEA] provides that a child is eligible to receive special education and related services even though the child is advancing from grade to grade [emphasis added]. Further, it is implicit from paragraph (c) of this section that a child should not have to fail a course or be retained in a grade in order to be considered for special education and related services. A public agency must provide a child with a disability special education and related services to enable him or her to progress in the general curriculum, thus making clear that a child is not ineligible to receive special education and related services just because the child is, with the support of those individually designed services, progressing in the general curriculum from grade-to-grade or failing a course or grade. (Supporting Success for Children with Hearing Loss, 2021)

Further, the United States Department of Education (2015) memo subject Letter to Delisle: Children with Disabilities with High Cognition references IDEA 34 CFR 300.304(b)(1), emphasizes the prohibition of the use of a sole criterion for determination of eligibility, which can be applied to the use of class grades as a determinant for denial of eligibility. In the 2010 Letter to Anonymous, the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) cites IDEA 34 CFR §300.8, in reference to how a child with high cognition must meet a two-prong test to be considered eligible. A student must have a specified disability and need special education and related services, neither of which conditions are specifically or unilaterally defined by classroom or academic performance or achievement.  

The National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE, 2018) outlines assessment components for students who are DHH in Optimizing Outcomes for Students who are D/HH Educational Service Guidelines on pages 25 and 26. The rules and guidance point to a student’s need for special education and related services which can be associated with any or all of the five domains of the IEP: curriculum and learning environment, social/emotional behavior, independent functioning, health, and communication. In the evaluation process, the Individual Educational Plan (IEP) team may propose assessments in addition to the required evaluations to determine if the child is eligible for services that may be provided via instruction in the Expanded Skills, Speech and Auditory Training Standards (6A-6.03411(1)(kk), F.A.C.), or both. 

There may be needs related to a myriad of conditions that create a barrier to instruction that impact performance in the educational environment including, but not limited to, behavior, independent or executive functioning, language, communication, or even mobility and accessing the environment, all of which may impact a student’s educational performance yet are not directly “academic” in nature. It is important for districts to consider the child in light of the entire “educational environment,” which is more than only academic performance. With students who are DHH, they may be able to meet standard mastery criteria for academic demands, but do not have the skills for self-advocacy, navigation of poor acoustic conditions, maintenance of their hearing assistive technology (HAT) such as hearing aids or remote microphone hearing assistive technology (RmHAT) systems, or many other skills included in the Expanded Skills Standards which could show need for specially designed instruction. 

The danger of finding a student ineligible solely based on grades or academic performance is that without the skills being taught via Expanded Skills Standards, many students who are DHH begin to fail when the vocabulary becomes more complex or when they are expected to participate with increasing independence. Even with the support of accommodations such as an interpreter or amplification, if the student does not know how to access those accommodations appropriately (e.g., how to split attention between the interpreter and the teacher, how to advocate for a change of seating, or ask a teacher to use the microphone connected to their HAT), they may be able to keep up for a while, or in specific conditions, but may start to demonstrate regression as complexity increases. Without specially designed instruction (SDI) in communication skills, regardless of modality, some students who have not been taught to navigate inaccessible communicative environments may experience difficulty maintaining peer relationships which may lead to social isolation and/or mental health concerns.

Not finding a student eligible for DHH because their grades are average or above average can also potentially put a local education agency (LEA) in a vulnerable position for denial of FAPE. If a child, initially found ineligible because they were “doing well” is found eligible for DHH later because they are failing, the student and their family could claim the failure is the result of a lack of child-find during the early years when there was evidence of need (i.e., an audiogram that meets numerical criteria). Finding the student eligible and providing them with the support of qualified staff increases the likelihood of their success, as there is someone familiar with the unique needs of students who are DHH monitoring their progress, able to identify when difficulties begin, to implement interventions in a timely manner to avoid significant regression. 

There are tools specific to students who are DHH that the team can consider in the evaluation process to determine if the child needs support in areas other than academics, some of which can be found on the RMTC-D/HH Assessment Tools web page. A few tools that may help teams in the eligibility consideration process are listed below.

In the event the evaluation team determines that the child is not in need of specially designed instruction in any of the domains of the IEP, the team may still opt to develop a Section 504 Plan that could include services such as audiology, daily amplification checks, or regular grade monitoring. Inclusion of these services, while not instructional in nature, may act as a proactive measure monitoring the student’s needs for change and ensuring the student doesn’t fail or fall too far behind, especially as instruction becomes more complex.

The information contained in the FAQs does not constitute legal advice. RMTC-D/HH does not endorse or sponsor any one product. Please refer to the original sources listed in each FAQ for more information.

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