An evaluation is the gateway to special education. Before your child can get special education and related services for the first time, the school must give her a comprehensive evaluation. This process is guided by legal rules in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Understanding the comprehensive evaluation process is easier if you don’t think of “evaluation” as meaning a single “test.” There’s a reason it’s called an evaluation process. A series of steps are needed to look at (or evaluate) your child’s strengths, weaknesses and school performance.
The process aims to get a better understanding of the whole child. That can’t happen with just one assessment or test. Here’s a breakdown of the evaluation process to help you understand it.
What’s the purpose of an evaluation?
An important purpose of the evaluation is to gather information to determine if your child is eligible for special education. IDEA has a legal standard for eligibility. It has two parts.
First, your child’s learning or attention issue must fall in one of the 13 disability categories in IDEA. Second, because of your child’s issue, she must need services to progress in school and benefit from general education.
The evaluation will gather data to answer these two questions. But the actual decision happens after the evaluation, usually at an eligibility meeting.
Another purpose of the evaluation is to gather information about your child’s needs. The evaluation will look at your child’s educational needs and what services are right for her. Again, this information is used after the evaluation.
If your child is eligible, the school will use the evaluation results to create an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for her. The IEP is a plan for your child’s special education experience.
Back to the top
How do you start the evaluation process?
The most common way to start an evaluation is for you to ask for one. If your child is struggling in school and you think she may need special services, you can request an evaluation. A good way is do this is to write a letter to the school.
Sometimes the school starts the process by asking you if they can evaluate your child. Either way, you’ll be asked to give permission to have your child evaluated. Once you give permission, the school usually has 60 calendar days to finish the evaluation.
During this time, it must complete testing, write an evaluation report and hold an eligibility or initial IEP meeting. (Note that some states may have different time limits, so check with your child’s school.)
Back to the top
Who pays for an evaluation?
Once the school agrees to conduct an evaluation, it will do so at no cost to you. As a parent, you’re part of the evaluation process. But the school decides many of the details of how the evaluation happens.
There’s typically a case manager who coordinates everything. In many schools, this person is known as the special education or IEP coordinator. There will also be a group of people on the evaluation team at your child’s school.
You may choose to have your child tested privately. The school generally isn’t required to pay for a private evaluation. The school has to consider the results of the private testing when evaluating your child. However, it’s not obligated to follow recommendations from a private evaluation.
Back to the top