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FAQs About Your Child’s Evaluation

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Q: How do I find out if my child is eligible for special education?

A: The first step is to find out if your child has a disability. To do this, ask the school to evaluate your child. Write a letter to the principal or Superintendant and ask that your child be evaluated for special education. In your letter, give some information about your child's educational problems. (To learn how to write letters, see Chapter 23, Writing Good Letters, Appendix I of Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy.)

The school may think your child needs special education help because he or she may have a disability. If so, then the school must evaluate your child at no cost to you.

However, the school does not have to evaluate your child just because you asked. The school may not think your child has a disability or needs special education. In this case, the school may refuse to evaluate your child. If they refuse, they must let you know their decision in writing, and why they refused to evaluate.

If the school refuses to evaluate your child, there are some steps you can take immediately:

  • Ask the school system for information about its special education policies, as well as parent rights to disagree with decisions made by the school system. These materials should describe the steps parents can take to challenge a school system’s decision.
  • Get in touch with your state’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) center.

Your PTI is an excellent resource to help you learn more about special education, your rights and responsibilities, and the law. Your PTI can tell you what steps to take next to find help for your child. To locate a PTI in your state, check our Directory of Parent Training Information Centers. Your PTI will be listed there.

Services to Very Young Children

Infants and toddlers have disabilities, too. Services to very young children are also part of the IDEA. These services are called early intervention services (for children birth through two years) and preschool services (for children ages 3-5). Early intervention services are very important in helping young children develop and learn.

Q: What happens during an evaluation?

Evaluating your child means more than the school just giving your child a test or two. The school must evaluate your child in all the areas where your child may be affected by the possible disability. This may include looking at your child's health, vision, hearing, social and emotional well-being, general intelligence, performance in school, and how well your child communicates with others and uses his or her body.

The evaluation must be complete enough (full and individual) to identify all of your child's needs for special education and related services.

Evaluating your child appropriately will give you and the school a lot of information about your child. This information will help you and the school:

  • decide if your child has a disability; and
  • design instruction for your child.

The evaluation process involves several steps. These are listed below.

Reviewing existing information. A group of people, including you, begins by looking at the information the school already has about your child. You may have information about your child you wish to share as well. The group will look at information such as:

  • your child's scores on tests given in the classroom or to all students in your
    child's grade;
  • the opinions and observations of your child's teachers and other school staff
    who know your child; and
  • your feelings, concerns, and ideas about how your child is doing in school.

Deciding if more information is still needed. The information collected above will help the group decide:

  • if your son or daughter has a particular type of disability;
  • how your child is currently doing in school;
  • whether your child needs special education and related services; and
  • what your child's educational needs are.

Group members will look at the information they collected above and see if they have enough information to make these decisions. If the group needs more information to make these decisions, the school must collect it.

Collecting more information about your child. If more information about your child is needed, the school will give your child tests or collect the information in other ways. Your informed written permission is required before the school may collect this information. The evaluation group will then have the information it needs to make the types of decisions listed above.

Q: So the school needs my permission to collect this extra information?

A: Yes. Before the school can conduct additional assessments of your child to see if he or she has a disability, the school must ask for your informed written permission. It must also describe how it will conduct this evaluation. This includes describing the tests that will be used and the other ways the school will collect information about your child. After you give your informed written permission, the school may evaluate your child.

Q: How does the school collect this information?

A: The school collects information about your child from many different people and in many different ways. Tests are an important part of an evaluation, but they are only a part. The evaluation should also include:

  • the observations and opinions of professionals who have worked with your
  • your child's medical history, when it relates to his or her performance in
    school; and
  • your ideas about your child's school experiences, abilities, needs, and
    behavior outside of school, and his or her feelings about school.

The following people will be part of the group evaluating your child:

  • you, as parents;
  • at least one regular education teacher, if your child is or may be
    participating in the regular education environment;
  • at least one of your child's special education teachers or service providers;
  • a school administrator who knows about policies for special education, about
    children with disabilities, about the general curriculum (the curriculum used
    by nondisabled students), and about available resources;
  • someone who can interpret the evaluation results and talk about what
    instruction may be necessary for your child;
  • individuals (invited by you or the school) who have knowledge or special
    expertise about your child;
  • your child, if appropriate;
  • representatives from any other agencies that may be responsible for paying for or providing transition services (if your child is 16 years or, if appropriate, younger and will be planning for life after high school);
  • and other qualified professionals.

These other qualified professionals may be responsible for collecting specific kinds of information about your child. They may include:

  • a school psychologist;
  • an occupational therapist;
  • a speech and language pathologist (sometimes called a speech therapist);
  • a physical therapist and/or adaptive physical education therapist or teacher;
  • a medical specialist; and
  • others.

Professionals will observe your child. They may give your child written tests or talk personally with your child. They are trying to get a picture of the "whole child." For example, they want to understand:

  • how well your child speaks and understands language;
  • how your child thinks and behaves;
  • how well your child adapts to changes in his or her environment;
  • how well your child has done academically;
  • what your child's potential or aptitude (intelligence) is;
  • how well your child functions in a number of areas, such as moving, thinking, learning, seeing, hearing; and
  • what job-related and other post-school interests and abilities your child has.

The IDEA gives clear directions about how schools must conduct evaluations. For example, tests and interviews must be given in your child's native language (for example, Spanish) or in the way he or she typically communicates (for example, sign language). The tests must also be given in a way that does not discriminate against your child, because he or she has a disability or is from a different racial or cultural background.

The IDEA states that schools may not place children into special education programs based on the results of only one procedure such as a test. More than one procedure is needed to see where your child may be having difficulty and to identify his or her strengths.

In some cases, schools will be able to conduct a child's entire evaluation within the school. In other cases, schools may not have the staff to do all of the evaluation needed. These schools will have to hire outside people or agencies to do some or all of the evaluation. If your child is evaluated outside of the school, the school must make the arrangements. The school will say in writing exactly what type of testing is to be done. All of these evaluation procedures are done at no cost to parents.

In some cases, once the evaluation has begun, the outside specialist may want to do more testing. If the specialist asks you if it is okay to do more testing, make sure you tell the specialist to contact the school. If the testing is going beyond what the school originally asked for, the school needs to agree to pay for the extra testing.

More FAQ Sheets on FetaWeb.com

FAQs about Special Education (What Is it? Who is Eligible?)
FAQs about Your Child's Eligibility
FAQs about Writing IEPs
FAQs about Reevaluations
FAQs - Resolving Disputes with the School

Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy

Parents need to learn about evaluations. This subject is covered in Chapter 8. You learn about test scores and how to measure your child's progress in Chapters 10 and 11.

You should also read Chapter 17, IDEA - Section 1414: Evaluations, Eligibility, IEPs, and Placement.

NOTE: This article is an excerpt from "Questions Often Asked by Parents about Special Education Services", NICHCY Briefing Paper LG1 (4th Edition), September 1999.

NICHCY Briefing Papers are developed in response to questions and concerns of individuals and organizations that contact the Clearinghouse. NICHCY disseminates other materials and can respond to individual requests for information.

This document was reviewed by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs for consistency with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997, Public Law 105-17, and the final implementing regulations published March 12, 1999.

For further information and assistance, or to receive a NICHCY Publications Catalog, contact:

P. O. Box 1492,
Washington, DC 20013
Phone: 1-800-695-0285 (Voice/TTY) and (202) 884-8200 (Voice/TTY).

Visit the NICHCY website at www.nichcy.org or e-mail at: nichcy@aed.org


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