Special Education/SDC


Are there laws in the IDEA Act that talk about combining certain grade levels with other grade levels in an SDC program?  For example.

Can you have a 4th grader in with 8th grade etc.

Special Needs Advocacy
Special Needs Advocacy  

ABCs for Life Success
ABCs for Life Success  
Hi Greg,  Thanks so much for reaching out to me regarding a situation that can be concerning:  special education students being grouped with multiple grades and multiple ages in the same class.

I find this is more common when a child is receiving a certificate (not receiving a diploma).  I looked up the SDC classroom you referenced in CA.  It looks like this is not a diploma program, so students are receiving a certificate and alternate assessments/alternate curriculum.

The reason this practice of grouping a wide range of students together is that the curriculum being delivered in these types of programs is functional.  Therefore, if a student is working on a life skill such as speaking or eating, a wide variety of children may have the same needs, althought they are different ages.  

However, that alone does not make this an appopriate practice.  While the children of different ages may have some of the same academic needs, in my opinion, that alone is not a valid enough justification, if the ages are so wide such as your example of a 9 year old in the same classes with perhaps a 14 or 15 year old student.  There are developmental needs that should be considered, and the class placement should respect the age and developmental levels of all children.  If one older student is experiencing the same lesson as a younger child, the background, method of teaching, examples given for using the skill in the community , and other factors should be considered for multiple grade placement.  

Many times, it's just easier for the school district to do such groupings.  It's important that this default is given individualized considerations.  I have had students who have had behavior and social difficulty just due to the inappropriate grouping practices in the special education classroom.  I mean, if the child did not have a disability, parents would likely not stand for this practice.  

I am not aware of a law that dictates grouping practices.  However, grouping practices should be considered to be an "evidence based method", since there is plenty of research that shows how and when the multi-age grouping can be effective.  I would advise you to ask the district if they have any research to support the efficacy of the current grouping practices.  

Also, the law clearly states that the child should make progress, attain IEP goals, and overall receive a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive setting.  I have seen troubling situations where an older child is being educated with younger children in both special education and general classrooms.  In these cases, I have successfully shown that the grouping did not allow a child to benefit from the special education and affected the child both academically and socially.  At other times, I have seen this practice successfully upheld by the district, even in the courts' decisions.  I have also been involved where attorneys argued that the district grouping practices were discriminatory in nature, since none of the general education students had to be grouped with such a wide range in one classroom.

This brings up other issues about how a teacher can deliver multiple curricula at one time.  It also raises the issue about whether a child is accessing the curriculum to the greatest extent possible.  I would also question, if that child is being included for any part of the day with non-disabled peers, how the practice supports a potential move to a less restrictive setting, as sometimes these groups slow a child's learning to the point where it is detrimental to include the child in school activities or classes.  

Whether a child is recieving a FAPE is a legal question.  THerefore, you may want to reach out to an attorney to consult about your concern.  www.yourspecialeducationrights.com and www.copaa.org are two suggestions.  If you would like more, please email me abc4success@msn.com.

So to answer your question directly, no, I am not aware of IDEA based laws about grouping, specifically.  But grouping would relate to every part of the child's IEP and therefore, grouping issues may be relevant for the child's FAPE.  THis would mean that the accommodation or modification or services should be appropriate such that the child is benefitting, making significant progress, and accessing the curriculum.  Here is the language, which discusses the accommodations and modifications on the IEP:

Also, my Special Needs Advocacy Resource Book breaks down the IEP into its 10 parts, to help you fit into the IEP this issue about multi-age grouping.  

I hope very much I have answered your question fully, and given you some ideas how to either make a determination or take action on the issue you wrote me about.  I wish you all the best as you continue to advocate for your exceptional child's education!  

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Michelle R. Davis, M. Ed.


I can answer questions about disability definitions and criteria for services, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004, No Child Left Behind, 504 plans, how to craft an IEP that drives the appropriate services, school placement, dispute options, and least restrictive environment. I worked in the public school system as a special educator and am now in private consulting practice where we assist parents as they navigate the special education process. I have expertise in all educational disabilities except blind/visual impairments and deaf/hard of hearing. This includes ADHD and other health impairments, medical conditions, dyslexia and learning disabilities, Autism, emotional disabilities, language processing problems, and interfering behaviors.


10 years as special educator and administrator in public school system; Director of ABCs for Life Success since 1998; Expert services such as analysis and testimony; Author: Special Needs Advocacy Resource Book: What you can do now to advocate for your exceptional child's education; Special Needs Advocacy Training Institute; internet radio show Teach Your Children Well: Hot Topics in Education; author School Success for Kids with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders released March 2010 (Prufrock Press).

Masters in Special Education with Emphasis on Inclusive Education (Johns Hopkins University); B.S.in Special Education (James Madison University); Conduct training for Universities, public and private schools, parent groups. Adjunct professor current George Washington University and prior George Mason University.

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