At a glance
The school can deny your evaluation request if there’s no evidence your child has a disability.
But the school must evaluate if it suspects or should suspect your child has a disability.
The school must explain in writing why it’s denying your request.
You made a request for a special education evaluation, but the school denied your request. Can the school really say no? What reasons must the school have? Learn why your child’s school can deny your evaluation request.
The school can deny your request only if there’s no sign of a disability
The (IDEA) makes schools provide services to any child who qualifies for special education.
The law also makes schools look for, find, and evaluate any kids who may qualify. If a school suspects or should suspect a child has a disability, it must evaluate that child. This part of IDEA is known as Child Find.
When you request an evaluation, you’re asking the school to fulfill this Child Find responsibility. And the law says there’s only one valid reason the school can deny your request. The school must reasonably believe there’s no evidence your child has a disability.
The school must explain its decision
If the school decides not to evaluate, it must tell you in writing. And it has to explain its reasoning. IDEA refers to this as prior written notice.
The school should also explain why it believes there’s no evidence your child has a disability. Keep in mind that each child is unique. What might be a reason to deny an evaluation to one child might not apply to another.
Common reasons for denying evaluation requests
Here are six of the most common explanations schools give:
1. Your child just started grade school.
In early grades, kids may struggle because of differences in meeting developmental milestones. For instance, if your child is in kindergarten and is a little behind in reading, school staff may believe your child will catch up.
For the school to agree to an evaluation, there needs to be some evidence that a child’s struggles could be due to an underlying issue.
2. Your child is performing at grade level or above.
If your child is doing OK academically, the school may cite this as a reason to deny your request.
But IDEA says that kids who are passing grade to grade may still need to be evaluated for services. For instance, twice-exceptional kids are gifted and have a disability.
3. Your child is struggling, but it’s due to willful behavior.
If your child acts out in class, fools around, or is otherwise unengaged, the school may say your child is struggling because of intentional bad behavior. The school may think there’s no underlying issue.
But in many cases, behavior problems should give the school reason to suspect a qualifying disability like ADHD.
4. The school is offering help, and your child’s grades are improving.
Many schools offer academic help as soon as a child is struggling. (RTI) is one approach that does this. If your child is getting help and is learning, the school may say this shows there’s no issue.
Keep in mind that a school can’t use RTI as an excuse to delay an evaluation. But data from RTI could show a child doesn’t need special education.
5. Your child is an English language learner.
Kids who are just beginning to learn English may fall behind academically. The school may think your child needs more language instruction, not special education.
But there are key questions to ask if an English learner is struggling in school. For instance, is your child showing signs of learning and thinking differences in English and in their home language?
6. Your child was evaluated recently.
If the school evaluated your child a few months ago, it will probably deny a new request. You may need new data or information to get the school to agree to a new evaluation.
But there are steps you can take if you disagree with the previous evaluation. For instance, you can request an (IEE).
Whatever reason the school gives, it's important to remember that each child is unique. Common explanations don't apply to all kids. The key is that the school can deny a request to evaluate only if there’s no evidence of disability. And the school must explain its decision.
Why it’s important to submit a written request
Some parents or caregivers who are new to the special education process may say in a school meeting that they’d like an evaluation. But unwritten requests may get overlooked. The school might not remember to respond to a spoken request.
That’s why it’s best to submit your evaluation request in writing. Here’s a letter template you can use to request an evaluation.
If school staff deny your evaluation request, that doesn’t mean they’re right. You can challenge the school’s decision.
- Explore steps you can take if the school denies your evaluation request.
- Learn more about your rights in the evaluation process.
- Get information on independent educational evaluations outside the school.
It’s important to request an evaluation in writing.
The school has to explain why it believe there’s no evidence your child has a disability.
You can challenge the school’s decision if it denies your request.
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About the author
About the author
Kate Kelly has been writing and editing for more than 20 years, with a focus on parenting.
Melody Musgrove, EdD served as director of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) in the U.S. Department of Education.