Learning About Evaluations

By The Understood Team
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At a Glance

  • An evaluation can go by many names.

  • You may hear it referred to as an educational evaluation, an educational assessment, or a school evaluation.

  • Different kinds of evaluations and help are available depending on your child’s age and difficulties.

When the school, doctors, or others talk about getting your child tested, what does it mean? Typically they’re referring to an evaluation. An evaluation is often the first step toward getting your child help at school. Many people refer to it as an education evaluation, a school evaluation, or an educational assessment. And it can lead to your child receiving special education services and supports.

Whether the school or your child’s doctor suggests an evaluation, it’s important to know the basics before you decide whether to have your child tested. That knowledge can help you feel more at ease in what may be uncharted territory.

This guide can lead you to the basic information you need about evaluations.

Different Terms for Evaluations

If you’re new to evaluations, you may have a lot of questions. One thing that can make learning about evaluations confusing is that there are so many different terms for them. From educational evaluation to cognitive testing, this chart breaks down the many terms you may hear.

An evaluation can lead to your child getting support through an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 plan. You may be curious about whether evaluations for IEPs and 504 plans are different. Find out here.

The Difference Between an Evaluation and a Functional Assessment

An evaluation looks for difficulties that might make a child eligible for special education services. A functional assessment looks at problems with behavior. It might be done as part of an evaluation, but it’s not the same thing.

You can also explore quick answers to common questions about evaluations.

Evaluations for Kids at Different Ages

If your child is in preschool, you may think you have to wait until your child starts school to get an evaluation. But kids from birth through age 3 can be evaluated to find out if they’re eligible for early intervention services.

Different kinds of help are available depending on your child’s age. This year-by-year guide breaks it down.

Private vs. School Evaluations

When it comes to having your child evaluated, there are two basic options: a free evaluation by the school district or a private evaluation that you pay for. This is true whether your child attends public school or private school, or is homeschooled. And getting one doesn’t mean you can’t get the other.

You may have also heard about independent educational evaluations (IEEs). These are private evaluations done by an outside professional—but they’re paid for by the school. Learn more about IEEs.

Child Find and Free School Evaluations

Child Find is a legal mandate that requires schools to evaluate—for free—kids who may need services. It’s part of a federal law called the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). And it applies to all students, whether they attend public school or private school, or are homeschooled.

Learn more about how Child Find works in general, and specifically for kids who attend private school.

Evaluation Myths and Benefits

There’s a lot of misleading information out there about evaluations and special education. Knowing what’s a myth and what’s the truth may help put those concerns to rest.

Evaluations for College Testing Accommodations, ADHD, and Adults

You may have heard the term evaluation because you want your child to get test accommodations for the SAT or ACT. The College Board, which gives the PSAT, SAT, and AP exams, requires documentation of a learning disability and/or ADHD. ACT has its own set of documentation guidelines. So if your child hasn’t had an evaluation, you’ll need to get one.

If you’re specifically interested in having your child evaluated for ADHD, find out what to look for in an ADHD evaluation.

And if you’re an adult who’s interested in getting evaluated, learn who can evaluate adults. And find out how dyslexia is diagnosed after school, along with ADHD.

Looking Ahead

If you’re unsure whether to have your child evaluated, continue with the next steps listed below. If you’re not interested in an evaluation and the school suggested one, find out whether you can refuse.

Here are the next steps in your evaluation journey:

Key Takeaways

  • An evaluation can lead to kids getting special education services and supports.

  • Kids can get a free evaluation by the school district or a private evaluation that you pay for.

  • Getting the facts behind special education myths can help ease concerns.

About the Author

About the Author

The Understood Team 

is made up of passionate writers, editors, and community moderators. Many of them learn and think differently, or have kids who do.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Bob Cunningham, EdM 

serves as executive director of learning development at Understood.

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