Special education evaluation: An overview
Learn about the purpose, procedures, and laws for evaluating a child for special education services.
By GreatSchools Staff
When can you ask the school to evaluate your child for special education? What does the process involve? What are your rights as a parent?
If the general education program isn't meeting the needs of a child with disabilities, he may be eligible to receive special education services in public schools. Services are free to parents under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal law, and its regulations.
In addition, each state has special education laws and regulations that govern special education. For more information about these rights, contact your local school district's department of special education or your state department of special education.
Obtaining an evaluation
If you feel your child isn't benefiting from the general education program in your local public school, has significant learning problems, and needs special education, you can ask the school district where you live to evaluate him. This is true whether he attends a public or private school. (Note: Under IDEA 2004, the school district in which the private school is located is responsible for conducting the evaluation - not the district where the student resides.)
Effective July 1, 2005, under the 2004 reauthorization of IDEA, school districts have different options for addressing the needs of children who are struggling with learning. Traditionally, public schools have been required to determine whether there is a discrepancy between the child's ability and his achievement, both of which are measured by standardized tests. (Often, before evaluating a child - as a "pre-referral" step - schools attempt to address the child's learning difficulty with instructional remediation in the general education classroom.)
Because of widely acknowledged shortcomings in the "discrepancy method," IDEA now permits schools to take other approaches, the most prominent of which is the "Response-to-Intervention" (or "Responsiveness to Intervention," or "RTI") approach.
In the RTI approach, a struggling (or at-risk) student is provided with increasingly intensive instruction in his areas of academic weakness, such as reading. Based on frequent progress monitoring, if the child is not responsive to these instructional interventions - i.e. he's still not making progress - then an evaluation may be conducted to determine if he has an SLD, as required by IDEA. However, regardless of whether a school is using the RTI approach, the discrepancy approach, or a combination of approaches, parents still have the legal right at any time to request that their child be evaluated for specific learning disabilities.
You should address your written request for evaluation to the school principal or the special education administrator. It's important that you document each of your concerns in the letter because all areas of suspected disabilities will be assessed. Be sure to keep a copy of the letter and any attachments for your files.
You should receive a written response - either an evaluation plan that requires your consent or a denial of your request giving the reasons why. In both cases, you'll be sent a copy of your legal rights and responsibilities. Remember that, if the public school agrees to evaluate your child to determine if he needs special education, that does not obligate them to provide a diagnosis, give you more information for his tutor, or qualify him for extra time on college entrance exams.
Your child can't be evaluated unless you provide your consent in writing. When the school district receives the consent form that you signed, timelines begin. For timelines that apply in your state, consult with your local school district or state department of education.