The early identification of the learning abilities and needs of students has been a long-time priority in Ontario schools, as reflected in Policy/Program Memorandum No. 11, “Early Identification of Children's Learning Needs” (1982). This PPM requires school boards to identify all students' strengths and needs when they are first enrolled – or no later than the beginning of a program of studies immediately following Kindergarten – and to reassess them on a regular basis. Although these procedures are not strictly considered to be part of special education, children identified may receive a variety of support services. Documentation of these support services and monitoring of ongoing school progress should be an integral part of any later recommendations for special education assistance, since the identification of a student's needs is crucial to the provision of special education programs and services.

Early identification may serve to:

  • establish a clear understanding of any visual, hearing, or other medical conditions that may affect learning;
  • identify students who may face learning, cognitive, motor, or social challenges, so that interventions or more in-depth assessments can be initiated;
  • identify students who are not developing speech and language skills within normal ranges, so that remediation or treatment can be initiated;
  • enable in-school teams to plan proactively to provide experiences and programs that will maximize students' strengths and meet any special education needs they may have from the time they enter school.

An area of concern may be suspected on the basis of observable behaviours, health or medical issues, and current development levels. It is the combined responsibility of school personnel, other professionals, and parents to gather this information and share it so that appropriate programming and monitoring can be put in place at the school.

Kindergarten educators begin this ongoing assessment process, as described in The Kindergarten Program (2016), in order to meet the needs of every child in the classroom. In addition to information provided by parents and preschool providers, educators use information from observation and various other types of assessment.

Each school board must have procedures in place to identify students who may be in need of special education programs and/or services. An Individual Education Plan (IEP), which describes the special education program and services required by a particular student, including any accommodations, modified expectations, and/or alternative expectations or programs, must be developed for each child who has been identified as exceptional by an Identification, Placement, and Review Committee (IPRC). An IEP may also be developed for any child who is receiving special education programs and/or related services but who has not been identified as exceptional by an IPRC. The principal is responsible for programs and services for children entering the school and for ensuring that an IEP that conforms to ministry standards is completed for each child who has been identified as exceptional. Part D of this guide provides a detailed description of the IPRC process. Part E describes the components of the IEP standards as well as effective practices related to various aspects of IEP development.