The school evaluation process: What to expect

By Amanda Morin

What happens during the school evaluation process? A key part of that question is the word process. That’s because in the case of school evaluations, evaluation doesn’t mean the same thing as test.

It’s called an evaluation process because there are a series of steps that go into it. A school evaluation looks at a student’s areas of challenges and strengths. Doing just one test or assessment wouldn’t provide all the information an team needs to make decisions about services, supports, and interventions. 

In most schools, an evaluation is called a comprehensive educational evaluation. Keep in mind that not all schools handle this evaluation process the same way. But here are some typical parts to the process:

Creating an evaluation plan

Parents can request an evaluation, or the school can refer students for one. In either case, an evaluation team meets to review the request/referral. That team includes teachers who work with the student. Others on the team include the student’s family, a special education teacher, and a school administrator. 

The team talks about the reasons for the request/referral, and they decide what tests the student needs. Then, they come up with a plan that outlines the recommended testing. That may include: 

  • Psycho-educational testing: This involves two types of testing. One is cognitive. The other is achievement. Cognitive tests look at how a student processes information. Achievement tests focus on academics — how a student does with school-related skills, based on age or grade.
  • Interviews: These may be in person. They may also be through questionnaires with the family, the student, and teachers. The goal is to get a detailed look at the child’s social, functional, and academic history.
  • Classroom observation: This gives a sense of how the student functions in the classroom.
  • Functional behavioral assessment (FBA): This gives a better understanding of any behavior challenges that may have been getting in the way of learning. 
  • Psychological evaluation: This takes a closer look at the student’s emotions, behavior, and social skills. 
  • Other evaluations: These may include speech-language, physical therapy, occupational therapy, or other specialized evaluations. 

As your child’s parent or legal guardian, you have to give written consent before the testing happens. As you look over the evaluation plan, ask questions before you provide consent. Here are some questions to ask: 

  • Are these tests the right ones to figure out if my child has a “suspected disability”? (If you’re not sure what the tests are, ask the IEP case manager or coordinator to explain.) 
  • What does each test measure? 
  • What’s the format of the test (like written or verbal)? 
  • Is there a specific purpose for the classroom observation? 
  • Will the observation be done during a class that my child is struggling in? 
  • Which evaluator will work with my child? 
  • What are the evaluator’s credentials and experience? 

Having the evaluation

For the most part, testing happens at school. Sometimes, a school district doesn’t have a specific type of evaluator on staff. In that case, a student may have to go to an outside professional’s office.

If the student is taking many tests, the evaluation may take place over many days. But it must be finished within 60 days of the referral. (Most states use that time frame, but not all.)

An evaluation looks at all areas of a child’s development, and at least two professionals evaluate and observe. The professionals who evaluate students: 

  • Have training and credentials in the area of development they’re testing, like speech and language 
  • Have experience working with kids 
  • Know the expected behaviors and skills of kids of various ages 
  • Share information to help get the best picture of a student

Test results aren’t the only things evaluators look at to assess a student’s skills. They read and review a student’s records, work samples, and screenings. They also speak with families, teachers, and the student. 

You may or may not be present during your child’s testing, depending on the type of assessment and the school’s policies. But even if you’re not there, you can still play an active role. 

Help your child understand the evaluation process. Make sure to tell your child that the evaluation isn’t something you study for. Knowing that can help reduce stress. Your child will probably be pulled out of the classroom to participate in some testing. Talk about this ahead of time so it doesn’t come as a surprise.  

Expect to hear from the evaluator about finding time to share information. But if you don’t hear, it’s OK to reach out to set up some time.

Going over the results

The evaluation ends with a written report. Each evaluator writes about their part. The report includes the reasons for the request/referral. It should also provide scores and a summary of what the evaluator learned.

Many reports also give recommendations for how to help a student. The evaluation team will meet with the IEP team to talk about the results and recommendations. This is called an eligibility meeting. Parents find out at this meeting if their child is eligible for special education services.

As a parent, you have the right to see evaluation results at least three business days before the eligibility meeting. If you haven’t gotten a copy before then, get in touch with the IEP coordinator to ask for them. 

The information from an evaluation can point everyone in the right direction to help a student.

Key takeaways

  • A school evaluation includes both testing and observation.

  • An IEP case manager coordinates evaluation testing.

  • The evaluation results help the IEP team decide whether a student needs special education services.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days. 

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Molly Algermissen, PhD is an associate professor of medical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center and clinical director of PROMISE.