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Definition of Most Significant Cognitive Disability

////Definition of Most Significant Cognitive Disability
Definition of Most Significant Cognitive Disability 2023-07-26T03:09:24-06:00

Definition of Most Significant Cognitive Disability


By way of background, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) requires children with disabilities to participate in all general State and district-level assessments unless they cannot participate in these assessments as indicated in their individualized education programs (“IEPs”).  20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(16)(C).  The students in this latter group participate in alternate assessments in which they are measured against alternate academic achievement standards.  Id.


The implementing regulations of IDEA requires a State that has adopted alternate academic achievement standards to issue guidelines for determining who are the students with the most significant cognitive disabilities for participation in alternate assessments.  34 C.F.R. § 300.160(c)(1).  Title I regulations state that the MSCD guidelines should do the following: (1) address factors related to cognitive functioning and adaptive behavior; (2) not rely on a particular disability classification or English learner status; (3) not identify MSCD solely on previous low academic achievement or student’s previous need for accommodations in assessments; and (4) assess whether a student requires extensive, direct individualized instruction and substantial supports to achieve measurable gains on State academic content standards for the grade in which the student is enrolled.  34 C.F.R. § 200.6(d)(1).


New Mexico State Definition of Most Significant Cognitive Disability


A. For a local education agency to classify a student as having a “most significant cognitive disability,” all of the following must be true:

  1. Student is already determined eligible for special education and has an IEP;
  2. Student demonstrates cognitive functioning and adaptive behavior which are significantly below age expectations even with program modifications and accommodations (typically characterized as having IQ or adaptive behavior scores 2.5  standard deviations below the mean); 
  3. Student requires intensive, repeated, and direct individualized instruction and substantial supports in order to learn and generalize academic, functional, and adaptive behavior skills across multiple settings;
  4. Student requires substantial modifications to access the general education curriculum; and
  5. Student has a disability that results in dependence on others for meeting their daily living needs and they are expected to require considerable ongoing support into adulthood.


B. A local education agency shall not classify a student as having a most significant cognitive disability based solely. on:

  1. disability classification; 
  2. below grade level academic achievement; 
  3. expected poor performance on the general assessment;
  4. anticipated impact of student’s scores on accountability system; 
  5. anticipated disruptive behavior if student takes general assessment; 
  6. poor attendance;
  7. English learner status; or
  8. need for accommodations to participate in the general assessment.


Page last updated July 26, 2023