Navigating the School System for Academic Supports

Navigating the bureaucracy of a school system to find academic support for your child can be daunting. It is always a good first step to speak with your child’s classroom teacher (s). Teachers will be able to offer observations about your child’s abilities and performance, inform you of what might be occurring in the classroom that might interfere with your child’s school performance, and propose informal steps to improve learning and performance. If problems remain after such efforts, schools have formal procedures that you will need to know so that you can obtain the academic support that your child needs.

In the Montgomery County Public School System in Maryland, the first formal step is the Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) team meeting (Other school systems might have different names for this procedure). During the consultation, school staff and parents develop goals, specify interventions, and set up a system for monitoring progress. After a determined period of time the teacher will assess whether the goals have been achieved, and will review the results with parents.

If your child continues to struggle, the next step is for parents and staff to hold a Grade Level/Content Team Consultation. This meeting is more formal and comprehensive version than the CPS meeting; the classroom teacher will consult with other key player’s in your child’s education, and recommends goal and interventions. If your child meets the goals set in the meeting after a predetermined amount of time, the process ends here.

If your child continues to face challenges, either you or school staff can ask for an Educational Management Team (EMT) meeting. During an EMT meeting the staff will look back at your child’s entire school performance, and review interventions that the school has applied. Team members (which may include one or more of your child’s teachers, the school guidance counselor and a school administrator) will work with parents to develop goals and interventions. Once the interventions are complete and the school has had a chance to collect and analyze the intervention data, the team will review progress, and may revise the intervention plan. The EMT may meet multiple times as they attempt to address your child’s learning challenges.

It may come to a point where you or your child’s teachers suspect that your child has a learning disability. If you suspect this, you may request a Screening Meeting for the Initial Eligibility Process for Special Education. If a child is found to have a learning disability, they are entitled to an Individualized Education Program which will help meet the unique needs of your child. The IEP team has 90 days from the initial referral to complete the evaluation process. If you would like to request a screening for IEP eligibility, it is recommended that you do so in writing. The school will then schedule a screening meeting within 30 days. In the screening meeting a worksheet will be filled out which contains an educational history, current teacher reports, classroom observations and a parent questionnaire. If the IEP team does not suspect a disability they will refer the student to an EMT meeting or continue the recommendations of the previous EMT.

If the team does suspect a disability, they will determine what additional information, if any, is needed to determine your child’s eligibility for an IEP. As parents you will be asked to sign an authorization for assessment. The IEP team has 60 days from the date the parent signs the authorization, or 90 days from the referral date, to complete their assessments. During this process you may obtain testing from an outside source that may be considered by the team. Once the meeting is held, the team reviews all assessment data and relevant information. If your child is not found eligible for special education and related services, the IEP team must document the basis for their decision, and your child will be referred back to the EMT process. If your child is eligible for special education services, the IEP team will has to develop a plan for intervention within 30 days of the eligibility decision.

Once your child has received an IEP, the school will hold annual reviews to review and update the plan. There will also be a triennial review to determine if more assessment is needed to determine further eligibility. At any point a parent can ask for a periodic review if there are concerns that an issue needs to be revisited.

If the IEP team determines that your child does have a disability but does not require special education, they will refer your child to a school based 504 team. A 504 plan spells out modifications and accommodations for students with disabilities so that they will be able to perform at the same level as their classmates. The disabilities covered under a 504 plan include physical or mental impairments which substantially limit one or more major life activities. No formalized testing is required for a 504 plan. The 504 team will look at grades over the past several years, teacher’s reports, information from parents or other agencies, state assessment scores or other school administered tests, observations, discipline reports, attendance records, health records and adaptive behavior information. Once a 504 plan is in place it will be re-evaluated on a yearly basis. It also may be revised at any time during the school year if needed.

A positive relationship with your child’s school staff is the critical underpinning of effective advocacy. In addition, an understanding of school processes for academic support can be very helpful in helping your child obtain the supports he or she needs to have a successful academic career.


1) Montgomery County Public Schools. Problem Solving for Student Success. Collaborative Problem-Solving Guidelines. Educational Team Management Guidelines. Special Education Procedures. Retrieved from:

2) US Department of Health and Human Services. Your Rights Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Retrieved from:


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