Special Education

Special Education District Supervisor Contact List

The department promotes educational services and programs for all Tennessee's students with special education needs. The department is committed to systematic planning along with plan implementation, tracking, and accountability as a vehicle for providing the leadership necessary for fulfilling this purpose.

The Beliefs that Drive our Work

  • Special education is not a place. It is the most intensive intervention along the continuum of service defined by individual need, services, and placement.
  • Strong leadership at every level is the foundation of a collaborative and inclusive environment that supports ALL students.
  • All students are general education students first. Every student can learn, demonstrate growth, and must have access to high quality, evidence-based instruction that maximizes their potential in the least restrictive environment.
  • Educators are professionals, content experts, and the key to student success. They should be supported instructionally and professionally.
  • All students can achieve postsecondary success.

Special education frameworkSpecial Education Framework

Several years ago, the department developed the first Special Education Framework and has continuously garnered feedback from educators on how to improve the framework in order to be most useful to teachers as they support students with disabilities.

In August, the department shared the revised Special Education Framework at the special education directors' conference. The purpose of the framework is to support educators in writing instructionally appropriate IEPs. The framework is organized into two sections:

  • General information about special education
  • Writing IEPs

The framework has been updated to include best practices and tips for writing instructionally appropriate IEPs, alongside IDEA requirements. Other improvements include a component on the development of writing short-term objectives, additional clarification around service delivery, best practices in transition planning, and links to eligibility resources for the IEP team.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law ensuring appropriate services to children with disabilities throughout the nation. IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities. Infants and toddlers with disabilities (ages birth through age two) and their families receive early intervention services under IDEA, Part C. Children and youth (ages 3–21) receive special education and related services under IDEA, Part B.

In addition to meeting the legal requirements of IDEA, the commitment made by districts and schools to provide a high-quality education in an inclusive setting to all students with disabilities is crucial to their success.

IDEA Key Terms

Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) 

The IDEA (reauthorized in 2004) ensures a free appropriate public education (FAPE) is provided to children and youth with disabilities at public expense.

  • This includes an appropriate preschool, elementary school, or secondary school education.
  • This is provided in conformity with the individualized education program (IEP).
  • Students must be permitted to register at their school of zone.
  • Transfer students must be provided with comparable services while eligibility and the IEP is reviewed.
  • Textbooks must be provided to all students.
  • Special events, field trips, computers, and library materials must be covered and provided to all students.
Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

The IDEA requires that children be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE) in which they can progress.

  • "To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular education environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily" (20 U.S.C. 1412(a)(5)(A)).
  • Special education instruction must be provided to students with disabilities in their LRE.
  • Students with disabilities must be educated with non-disabled children to the maximum extent appropriate.
  • Students with disabilities must be educated in the school they would attend if they did not have a disability, unless the student's IEP requires other arrangements.
Continuum of Services

The IDEA mandates that each school district provides a continuum of placements and requires that the district annually provide to the department an assurance that a continuum of alternative placements are available to meet the needs of children with disabilities" (34 C.F.R. 300.115).

Inclusive Practices

Almost 30 years of research and experience has demonstrated that the education of students with disabilities can be made more effective by having high expectations for all students and ensuring students with disabilities' access to the general education curriculum in the regular classroom, to the maximum extent possible.

New and Noteworthy

Elimination of the Alternate Performance Based Assessment

On Oct. 20, the state board approved on final reading an update to the high school policy that eliminates the use of the alternate performance based assessment (APBA). As a reminder, the APBA rubric score has been used as a substitution for a student's TCAP score if the score caused the student to not obtain credit for a particular course. The department requested the elimination in order to align with the high expectations we hold for all students and to ensure equitable access to postsecondary opportunities for students with disabilities. IEP teams should consider the appropriate services and supports needed for students to appropriately access grade-level standards within their least restrictive environment. 

Public Feedback on the Alternate Academic Diploma Policy

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has made available to states a diploma option for students with significant cognitive disabilities who are assessed on the alternate assessment. In order to take advantage of this option, the department proposed the adoption of an alternate academic diploma at the October State Board of Education meeting. In order to receive an alternate academic diploma, a student must participate in the alternate assessments; earn the prescribed 22-credit minimum required by the state board; receive special education services or supports and make satisfactory progress on an IEP; have satisfactory records of attendance and conduct; and complete a transition assessment(s) that measures, at a minimum, postsecondary readiness in the areas of postsecondary education and training, employment, independent living, and community involvement. Students who earn an alternate academic diploma within four years plus a summer will be included in graduation rate.

The current high school policy can be viewed on the state board's website. Members of the public may submit written comments and feedback prior to the second and final reading of the proposed diploma adoption by emailing them to Elizabeth.Fiveash@tn.gov and copying Kristen.B.McKeever@tn.gov. To ensure consideration, feedback must be received by Dec. 15.

Communication Resource for Teachers

Communication is an essential need for all students, and students with significant cognitive disabilities may need additional communication support. The Communication Matrix includes resources on ways to identify communication systems and track progress on the ability to communicate, which can help teachers ensure that all students have their communication needs supported. The department is always looking for new free or low-cost resources to share with school districts—let us know what you’re using in your district.

If you have questions or concerns, please contact Lori.Morris@tn.gov.

Overview of the Alternate Academic Diploma Policy Proposal

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has made available to states a diploma option, which will be included in the graduation rate, for students assessed on the alternate assessment. In our Tennessee ESSA plan, we have named this diploma the alternate academic diploma. We have drafted a policy and course requirements around this diploma that will be presented for first read at the next state board of education meeting in October. The webinar provides an overview of the policy, diploma requirements, and next steps including opportunities for input.

Tiered Intervention Guidance Flowchart

The Tiered Intervention Guidance for Students with IEPs graphic is intended to assist IEP and data teams when making decisions regarding the most appropriate intervention tier for a student served under an IEP. The graphic is meant to provide guidance for educators when making informed decisions to determine if special education intervention or general education intervention is more appropriate. As the graphic explains, a student with an IEP may receive an intervention in special education, an intervention in general education, or both. For questions concerning Tier II or Tier III intervention, please contact Karen.Jensen@tn.gov. For questions concerning special education intervention, please contact Kate.B.Martin@tn.gov.

Updated Accessibility Guidance: Students with a Hearing Impairment

Guidance regarding students with a hearing impairment which precludes them from participation in the listening subparts of the grades 2–4 assessments has been updated. The department is working closely with the Tennessee School for the Deaf to ensure all students are provided the opportunity to participate in a meaningful way. The Accessibility Guidance document has been revised to reflect the participation of students who are deaf or hearing impaired in the listening subpart. Additional information regarding administration of those subparts will be provided closer to test administration.

Request for Applications: Assistive Technology and Augmentative Assistive Communication Support for Schools

This video highlights Tennessee teachers as they discuss how to increase access to core instruction by differentiating for all students through universal design for learning principles.

Employment Opportunities

Rules, Regulations, Policies, and Related Guidance

IAIEPs Service Delivery and Least Restrictive Environment

State Board of Education Rules and Regulations

Federal Rules and Regulations

2017-18 Special Education Course Code Revisions FAQ

Assessment Accommodation Guidelines

Guidelines for Transportation of Oxygen on School Buses

Special Education Course Code Revisions PowerPoint

Student Transfer Flowchart


Related Links

Alternate Assessment

Planning and Monitoring

State Personnel Development Grant


Tennessee Association of Audiologists and Speech-Language Pathologists

Tennessee Association of School Psychologists

Tennessee Works