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8.3 Federal Legislation

There are two categories of federal legislation that may have an impact on a student identified with dyslexia. The first category pertains to special education law, and the second category is civil rights law. In this section, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the primary legislation regarding the provision of special education, will be reviewed first. This legislation requires certain, specific actions be taken by states in the provision of special education services. The Exceptional Children’s Education Act (ECEA) delineates the specific rules for the administration of special education services in Colorado. Next, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 will be reviewed. Section 504 is civil rights legislation that protects students with disabilities from discrimination based on disability.

Special Education

Special education provides specially designed instruction and related services — at no cost to the parents — to meet the unique learning needs of students whose educational needs cannot be adequately met with accommodations and modifications within the general education instructional program.

A student with dyslexia does not necessarily require special education services and is not automatically eligible to receive special education. Eligibility for special education placement is based on the completion of a prescribed set of procedures that are initiated after a referral for an initial evaluation to determine whether a child has a disability and needs special education and related services. A special education referral may be initiated by either the child’s school or the child’s parent. After a formal referral, the child’s parent will be asked to consent to an evaluation.

In the case of a student with dyslexia, the evaluation conducted by the school’s special education team will be used to help determine whether the student has a disability as defined by IDEA.  During the eligibility meeting, additional information — such as the results of other evaluations, including those not conducted by the school — can be considered in making a determination about the presence of a disability and the child’s eligibility for special education services.

As specified in IDEA, there are 13 categories of qualifying disabilities, one of which is “specific learning disability.” Dyslexia is found under this broad category, as are dyscalculia and dysgraphia.

Colorado’s ECEA Rules state: “A child with a Specific Learning Disability shall have a learning disorder that prevents the child from receiving reasonable educational benefit from general education.” The Rules also provide a definition:

Specific Learning Disability means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. Specific Learning Disability does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of: visual impairment, including blindness; hearing impairment, including deafness; orthopedic impairment; intellectual disability; serious emotional disability; cultural factors; environmental or economic disadvantage; or limited English proficiency. [ECEA Rule 2.08(8)(a)]

Colorado’s regulations include two major eligibility criteria that must be met (demonstrated through a body of evidence) in order to determine that a student has a specific learning disability:

  1. The child does not achieve adequately for the child’s age or to meet state-approved grade-level standards and exhibits significant academic skills deficit(s) in one or more of the following areas when provided with learning experiences and instruction appropriate for the child’s age or state-approved grade-level standards: oral expression; listening comprehension; written expression; basic reading skill; reading fluency skills; reading comprehension; mathematical calculation; mathematics problem solving;


  1. The child does not make sufficient progress to meet age or state-approved grade-level standards in one or more of the areas identified … when using a process based on the child’s response to scientific, research-based intervention.


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The CDE has a technical assistance document titled Specific Learning Disability Evaluation and Eligibility, which provides further information and explanation of the eligibility process.


If a student is found to have a disability and is determined eligible for special education, an IEP must be created in compliance with IDEA and, in Colorado, ECEA. An IEP is a document designed for one specific student, with the intention of improving educational outcomes for that student. It is important that the student’s parents have an opportunity for meaningful participation in the development of the document and the plan for their child’s education program.


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Further information regarding IEPs, including parent resources can be found at CDE’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) webpage.


The school team, along with the student’s parents, should address the student’s academic difficulties regardless of the eligibility decision that is made. Specific instructional plans to address the area(s) of academic need should be considered through a general education problem-solving process that may include access to non-special education intervention services and programs. Some students with dyslexia who are not found eligible for special education may be provided accommodations through a 504 Plan.

Civil Rights

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protects students with disabilities from discrimination based on disability. A student with dyslexia who does not qualify for an Individual Education Program (IEP) may be entitled to protection under Section 504. For example, a student with dyslexia may experience difficulty in completing exams or reading assignments within specified time limits due to reduced reading fluency. The student may require additional or extended time or access to audiobooks and materials. Such accommodations for students who qualify for protection under Section 504 are typically documented in the student’s 504 Plan. Section 504 is enforced by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR). 


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The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights website includes helpful information regarding disabilities and Section 504.