What is an evaluation for special education?

What is an evaluation for special education?, teacher working with student

At a glance

  • A special education evaluation will show if a child has a disability and needs specialized instruction and support. 

  • These evaluations go by many names, including special education assessment, school evaluation, and IEP evaluation.

  • An evaluation for special education will show a child’s strengths and challenges.

When kids are having trouble with academics or behavior, there’s a process that schools can use to find out what’s causing these struggles. This process is called an “evaluation for special education.” The goal is to see if a child has a disability and needs specialized instruction and support. 

A evaluation involves a series of steps:

  • Having the school and family agree that a child needs an evaluation
  • Gathering school data, like test scores and discipline records
  • Giving questionnaires to teachers and parents or caregivers (and sometimes to the child) to get a full picture of how the child is doing at school and at home
  • Having the child tested by a psychologist to see how the child thinks and solves problems
  • Having the child tested by at least one other professional, like a speech therapist for children who have trouble expressing themselves
  • Observing the child in a classroom or other school setting
  • Meeting to discuss the evaluation’s findings and decide if the child qualifies for special education

Federal law says schools need to complete the evaluation process within 60 days. But some states have shorter timelines. 

The evaluation process can create lots of different emotions for families. But after the evaluation, they should have a clear picture of their child’s strengths and challenges and an understanding of how to help their child thrive. 

Learn more about the benefits of getting an evaluation.

Dive deeper

About the author

About the author

The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Ellen Braaten, PhD is a child psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital where she is the Founding d Director of the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program (LEAP). She is also an Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Braaten's research focuses on ADHD, dyslexia, processing speed, and resilience in children. Her clinical work is in the field of neuropsychology, where she assesses children with learning disabilities, ADHD and developmental challenges.


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