What is Special Education

Special education refers to a range of services provided to students with disabilities.

​Special Education is specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs ofstudents with disabilities. Special education may include but is not limited to academic services, speech-language services, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy, counseling services, and parent education. Special education services are provided at no cost to parents.

Special Education Is It For Your Child

Special education services are made available to any student ages 3 through 21 who demonstrates a need for specially designed instruction, after an eligibility determination. An evaluation will determine the nature and extent of the student’s needs. Evaluations are comprised of separate assessments which may include: academic performance, communication skills, general intelligence, health, vision, hearing, social and emotional status, and motor abilities. If a student is eligible for special education, services are provided to the student through an Individualized Education Program (IEP).

The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA) and state regulations require the Hawaii State Department of Education to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE), which includes a continuum of services for students who are eligible for special education and related services.

Evaluation & Eligibility

Special education is intended for students who have disabilities that cause difficulty in learning and need specialized instruction.

Evaluation is defined as the procedures used to determine if a student has a disability and the nature and extent of the need for special education and related services.

Purpose: To identify learners who are eligible for special education and related services by determining the presence of a disability and the need for special education. There are specific timelines that teams must follow for the evaluation process.

Appropriate referrals for special education begins after supportive instructional practices have occurred and the student needs far more than the classroom teacher can provide through general education supports. This would be a student who has significant academic and/or behavioral challenges and continues to display a lack of progress despite increasing levels of intervention.

Determination of disability for special education

Teams must:

  • conduct an evaluation
  • complete the three-prong test
  • consider the student’s educational progress and the interaction between the disability
  • determine the educational impact of that disability
  • decide the need for special education

This important distinction highlights that the disability label alone does not prompt a determination of eligibility for special education. In the context of special education eligibility, the disability label has no standing alone without reference to impaired educational progress as a result of the disability.


Determination of eligibility and educational need


  • Prong 1: DISABILITY Is the student with a disability?
  • Prong 2: ADVERSE EFFECT Is the disability adversely affecting the student’s involvement and progress in general education?
  • Prong 3: NEED Does the student need special education and related services due to their disability?

Individual Education Program

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a written statement about the educational program for a child with a disability. It serves as a management tool used to ensure that the child receives the needed special education and related services. It also serves as an evaluation device when used to determine the extent of the child's progress toward accomplishing projected goals.

Each IEP includes:

  • a statement of the child's present levels of academic achievement and functional performance;
  • a statement of annual goals, including short-term instructional objectives;
  • a statement of the specific special education and related services to be provided;
  • the extent that the child will be able to participate in regular educational programs;
  • the projected dates for initiation of services and the anticipated duration of the services; and
  • appropriate objective criteria and evaluation procedures and schedules for determining, on at least an annual basis, whether the objectives are being achieved.

Beginning at age 14 (or younger if determined appropriate by the IEP team), the IEP shall include a statement of the transition service needs of the student under the applicable components of the student’s IEP that focuses on the student’s courses of study (such as participation in advanced-placement courses or a vocational educational program).

Beginning not later than the first IEP to be in effect when the student turns 16, (or younger if determined appropriate by the IEP team) the IEP must include:

  • Appropriate measurable postsecondary goals based upon age-appropriate transition assessment.
  • The transition services (including courses of study) needed to assist the student in reaching those goals.
  • Age-appropriate transition assessments based on the individual needs of the student are to be used to determine appropriate measurable postsecondary goals.
  • Beginning no later than one year before the student reaches the age of majority under State law, (18 years of age in the State of Hawaii), the student’s IEP must include a statement that the student has been informed of his/her rights under Part B of IDEA, if any, that will transfer to the student on reaching the age of majority.

The following participants need to be present at an IEP meeting:

  • a representative of the public agency, other than the child's teacher, who is qualified to provide, or supervise the provision of, special education;
  • the child's teacher;
  • one or both of the child's parents/legal guardians
  • the child, if appropriate; and
  • other individuals at the discretion of the parent or agency.

IEP meetings

IEP meetings need to be held at least annually. Depending on the needs and progress of the child, meetings to review and revise may be held more frequently.

While IEP meetings are usually initiated and conducted by the school, it is appropriate for parents to request an IEP meeting when they believe their child is not progressing satisfactorily or they feel there is a problem with the current IEP.

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