Working Together for Children

A Guide for Parents and Teachers

A problem-solving processhas been developed for use in North Carolina schools in order to meet the needs of students. This process assists parents and teachers whoneed help with developing educational solutions for problems that arise inschools. Four questions will be answeredthrough this process:

What is the problem and why is it happening?

What are we going to do about the problem?

Are we implementing our plan as intended?

Did our plan work as we had expected?

In a problem-solvingprocess, student difficulties are specifically defined, possible solutions aredetermined, and targeted instruction is provided within the general educationclassroom. The impact of this instructionis carefully monitored and evaluated to determine if the instructional planselected has made the desired difference for the student.


The severity or intensity ofthe problem will determine which school support staff will work with parentsand teachers to try to solve the problem.The consideration of the level of difficulty a student is experiencing,along with a specific match between area of difficulty and the necessaryresources, will often be referred to as “tiers” within the problem-solvingapproach. Problem-solving occurs at oneof four different tiers:

Tier One Studentconcerns are addressed by informal parent and teacher conferences.

Tier Two Thereare times when additional building staff is needed to address concerns. These concerns are addressed through informalconsultation with additional professionals, to elicit their support, services,and/or recommendations for an instructional plan.

Tier Three If theproblem requires more specialized assessment and input, formal consultationwith a “Problem-Solving Team” may be warranted.The planning, documentation, and data collection is very specific. The schools Problem-Solving Team will beprimarily responsible for directing activities at this tier.

Tier Four Throughthe process of problem-solving, it may become clear that additional resourcesand services are needed to address the student concern. In this case, special education services maybe considered at this level. Parentswill be asked to sign for permission to evaluate their child to determine theeligibility and need for special education services.

It is not necessary for allstudent concerns to go through each tier of the problem solving process. Instead, school staff and parents will lookat the individual issues of each child to determine the appropriate services(and to what extent these services are needed) to resolve the problem.


A general educationinstructional plan is a planned set of procedures and strategies providedthrough general education designed to improve student performance. As a parent or teacher you will frequentlyhear the term “general education instructional plan.” General education instructional plandescribes the part of the problem-solving process where individuals have lookedat a specific concern and, based on informed judgment, put a plan of action inplace. The intent of the instructionalplan is to reduce the student’s difficulty in the general education setting andlearn more about what would be needed to successfully address theconcerns. Instructional plans can beprovided at different levels of intensity and can involve more or fewerprofessional staff depending on the degree of the problem and the number ofresources needed.


Perhaps the most criticalcomponent in the process is “monitoring” or keeping track of the difference theinstructional plan is making in the student’s performance. This regular, ongoing collection ofinformation about the effect of the instruction is important to the team’sdecision making as they follow-up on the plan.If information is not collected, it will be difficult, if notimpossible, to determine the instructional plan’s effect on studentperformance.


The problem-solving processallows school staff and parents to work together to solve student problemswithout labeling students as being disabled.Instruction is provided in the general education classroom. In that way, students continue to be exposedto the day-to-day lessons in their general education classes. Because students do not have to be labeled inorder to receive this instruction, school staff can put their time and energyinto analyzing specific student difficulties.Additionally, staff can focus on finding reasonable solutions to reducethose concerns and help carry out and evaluate the success of instructionalplans.


If general educationinstructional plans are successful there will be no need to consider specialeducation services. Students whosedifficulties are not resolved through the problem-solving process using generaleducation instructional plans may be in need of special education services. Some students will need special educationservices because of the degree of difficulty they are having. Some students will need special educationservices because the degree of instruction they need is more than what can becontinually provided in the general education classroom. In either case, parent permission will berequested to consider existing information and to gather further specificassessment data to determine eligibility for special education services. Additional information may need to begathered and a meeting will be scheduled to discuss the need for theseservices. It is important to rememberthat all of the information which is generated as a result of theproblem-solving process, particularly the implementation of the specificinstructional plan, will be used in making any further decisions about the needfor special education, should that become necessary.


The individuals withDisabilities Act (IDEA) of 2004 clearly states that a parent of a child havingproblems in school can request an evaluation at any time to determine if theirchild has a disability and needs special education services. When parents request an evaluation of theirchild, a meeting will be held with the parent and selected school staff todiscuss this request and determine what is needed for the child. It is not necessary for all student concernsto go through each tier of the problem-solving process. Instead, school staff will look at theindividual issues of each child and provide services to the extent needed to resolvethe problem. There will be manysituations where parents will only be looking for help, information, or supportfrom the school. They are notnecessarily asking for an evaluation to determine eligibility for specialeducation services.

When a parent requests thattheir child be evaluated, the Problem-Solving Team should meet to consider theparent’s request. If, after reviewingall available information, it is determined that the child is not in need offurther assessment to determine special education eligibility, a parent noticemust be completed and justification given for the refusal of the parent’srequest. A specific instructional planmay be needed even if further assessment for eligibility is not necessary.

If after reviewing all availableinformation it is determined that there is sufficient evidence that the childis in need of further assessment to determine special education eligibility,the problem-solving process will be initiated.An evaluation plan must be completed and parent signaturesobtained. The problem-solving processshould be carried out without delay.Data collection, problem analysis, instructional planning, andmonitoring results should be carefully considered and completed to assure thatany needed services are not delayed.Parents must be apprised of the activities that will be undertaken andthe feedback they can expect from those actions. This frequent and direct communication keepsparents updated on the status of the request and the progress being made towarddetermining if their child may receive special education services.

At the end of the problemsolving process, reports will be completed and an IEP team meeting held to makethe final determinations of whether the child has a disability and needs specialeducation services or assistance through general education instructional plans. Parents are an integral part of this IEPteam. Additionally, parents must providesigned consent before special education services can begin if the IEP teamdetermines the child is eligible for special education services. If the instructional plans are successful,they will be continued even if the child is not determined eligible for specialeducation services.


There will be rareoccasions, such as medical conditions, when students experience difficulty sosevere in nature that the problem-solving team in the school might decide toimmediately consider the student for special education. In these rare circumstances, parents will berequested to sign permission for an evaluation to take place. An intervention will begin while theevaluation is being conducted. In thesetypes of situations, parents should contact the school principalimmediately. This will allow for anearly and timely response. Theseindividuals will assure that concerns are addressed as quickly as possible andstudent needs are met.


All students who willreceive special education services will have an individualized EducationProgram (IEP) The IEP is a writtendocument that serves as a guarantee to provide the needed services identifiedin your child’s evaluation. Parents andteachers are expected to participate in the development and revision of achild’s IEP.

The decision to place astudent into a special education program is an important one and one thatshould not be taken lightly. Animportant topic to discuss at IEP meetings is exit from special educationservices. The purpose of specialeducation services is to provide curricular and instructional opportunities forthe student that will enable them to overcome their learning problems andprogress to the maximum extent possible.With this in mind, asking how your student is progressing and when theywill no longer need special education services are always important questionsto ask.


When a child is initiallystaffed for special education services and an IEP is written, parents andteachers should have a very clear understanding of student goals andobjectives, what special services will be provided, who will provide thoseservices, and where any services will be provided. In addition, any accommodations or modificationsrequired for the student should be clearly described.

As the parent of a childrequiring special education, you should expect that your child’s individualizedEducation Program (IEP) is reviewed at least annually and that your child’sprogress is monitored regularly as stated in the IEP. You should expect to receive a progressreport describing the student’s progress as frequently as you receive theregular school report card.

Students who continue todemonstrate that they are eligible for and need special education services willreceive those services until they leave or graduate from high school. All students in special education havereviews of their programs at least once each year. All students in special education arereevaluated every three years if not before.As a parent you may request a meeting to discuss your child’s program atany time.

Exit decisions should beconsidered at every IEP meeting.Sometimes students will have progressed to a point that they can beconsidered for general education programs without support. For other students, receiving less supportfrom special education is warranted and needs to be considered. Once students have gained skills that allowthem to benefit from the general education program, they need to bereintegrated or exited from special education programming. The purpose of this transition is to ensurethat students do not become overly dependent on services, maintain contact withpeers, and are exposed, to the maximum extent possible, to instruction in thesame learning environment in which general education students receive instruction.


Everyone strives for studentsuccess. As parents and the school staffwork together, it will be critical that we communicate our concerns openly andwithout reservation. By working collaborativelywith one another we can provide the best possible opportunities for ourchildren and youth while assuring that difficulties are resolved in aneffective and efficient manner. Ifconcerns arise, contact your child’s teacher, school principal, and the centraladministrative staff.


How long will an instructional planbe tried at each tier of the problem-solving process?

This is perhaps the mostcommon question asked in using the problem- solving approach. Unfortunately, there is no set answer. Some children respond very quickly to theinstruction designed to address their specific needs. As a rule, data collection and evaluation ofthe data are more important in determining the length of the plan. By following the problem-solving approach,everyone involved is given the opportunity to share their concerns with theother members of the problem-solving team.In short, an instructional plan will be tried as long as the team feelsit is effective. This length will differin each case, based on the individual needs and problems exhibited by eachchild. Some problems will naturally takelonger to determine if the plan will make the needed improvements. Throughout the process it is critical to usethe information collected to make instructional decisions so that instructionalplans are not continued when gains are not being made and changes in the planshould be made.

I want my child in specialeducation, and I don’t want to go through this problem solving. What can I do?

By law, parents may requesta “full and individual evaluation” for their child at any time during theproblem-solving process. When a parentrequests that their child be evaluated to determine special education eligibility,the school and Problem-Solving Team should meet to consider the parent’srequest. If, after reviewing theavailable evidence it is determined that sufficient evidence exists to suggestthat the child is not in need of further assessment to determine eligibility, aparent notice must be completed and justification given for the refusal of the parent’srequest. An instructional plan may beneeded even if further assessment for eligibility is not.

If, after reviewing theavailable information, it is determined that there is sufficient evidence tosuggest the child is in need of further assessment to determine eligibility, anevaluation plan must be completed, assessment questions designed, and a parentsignature obtained. Information will becollected to establish the needs of the child and the actions to be taken. The problem-solving process should be carriedout without delay. Data collection,problem analysis, instructional planning, and monitoring results should becarefully considered and completed.Throughout the process parents must be apprised of the activities thatwill be undertaken and the feedback they can expect from those actions. This frequent and direct communication keepsparents updated on the status of their request and the progress being made towarddetermining if their child may receive special education services.

My child’s private psychologist didtesting and said that my child is learning disabled. What does this mean for my child at school?

With the proper consent forrelease of information, the Problem-Solving Team will review the privatepsychologist’s report. A privatepsychologist’s report will not be used to automatically place a child inspecial education. Rather, it will beused as one piece of additional information in making decisions concerning thechild’s instructional needs.

I don’t want my child in specialeducation, so I don’t want to do problem-solving even though my child is havinga hard time at school.

The purpose of problem-solvingis to solve children’s academic and behavior concerns before special educationis even a consideration. However, if theproblem-solving process leads the team to Tier IV, determination ofeligibility, need, and placement in special education will occur on acase-by-case basis. Parents must givepermission for their child to be evaluated for special education determination AND for their child to receive special education services if warranted.

A child who is displaying veryaggressive behavior moved into my class.I need help. Do I need to startat Tier 1 of the problem-solving approach?

Parents should be informedfirst in cases of children with severe behaviors. However, the problem-solving team (consistingof the child’s parents, teachers, school administrator and centraladministrative support staff) could choose to begin at a higher tier of theproblem-solving process with many persons involved and with very detailedinstructional plans.

A student in my room has beendiagnosed by a physician as “ADHD” and is taking medication. Shouldn’t she be in special education?

Not necessarily. Federal rules and regulations require theprovision of health services for students who have health needs that interferewith learning. ADHD may be considered aspecial health need under some circumstances but other things need to be consideredas well. Although a child has special healthneeds, educational accommodations are not always required. Accommodations may be all that is needed foreducational success in some situationsIt is up to the discretion of the problem-solving team, including theparent, to determine whether additional educational resources or accommodationsare necessary and how to best support ongoing problem solving for studentsdiagnosed with ADHD.

How long will my child be in specialeducation? How will I know when it istime for services to be discontinued?

Your child’s progress willbe monitored and you should be able to get information from the specialeducation teacher about three aspects of their progress: 1) how your child’s performance compares toother peers in general education, 2) how much progress they have made sincethey started the program, and 3 how independently they can demonstrate neededskills. When the team determines thatsufficient progress has been made, it is time to consider reducing specialservices for your child, deleting goals, or possibly exiting your child fromspecial education. There should be adiscussion of your student’s progress, plans for reintegration into generaleducation activities, and steps toward exiting from special education at eachIEP meeting. If your child is not making progress toward their goals, it iscritical that you request an IEP meeting to discuss and possibly revise thecurrent plan in an effort to maintain positive progress for your child.

Special thanks to HeartlandAEA, Iowa for the use of this information template and to Horry Count Schools, SC for permission to adapt the contents.

Last Modified on February 16, 2012