Evaluation and Identification

Why evaluate?

For school-aged children (ages 3-22) 

  • If general education isn't meeting the needs of a child with a disability, the child may be eligible to receive special education services in public schools.
  • Services are free to parents under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
  • 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.

For infants and toddlers (ages birth - 2)

  • If you are concerned about your child’s development, you can have your child evaluated to find out if he or she is eligible for early intervention services.
  • Services are free to parents under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
  • Each state has one lead agency that is in charge of the early intervention system for infants and toddlers with special needs. The lead agency may be the state education agency or another agency, such as the health department.

An evaluation serves many purposes:

  • Identification/Referral: To identify children who need special education and related services.
  • Eligibility: To determine whether a child is a "child with a disability" under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) definition.
  • Planning an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for children ages 3-22: To develop goals and plan service delivery.
  • Planning an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) for children ages birth-2: To identify the major results or outcomes expected to be achieved for the child and family.
  • Instructional strategies: To determine ways to help a child learn.
  • Measuring progress: To provide a present level of performance for measuring a child's progress.

How does a child get evaluated?

For school-aged children (ages 3-22)

  • If a child isn't progressing in the general education program and has learning problems, a parent can ask the school district for an evaluation. A parent can submit a written request (referral) for evaluation to the school principal or the special education department.
  • Schools can also refer students for an evaluation based on data, documentation, and observation.
  • A child can't be evaluated unless a parent provides consent in writing.
  • When the school district receives the consent, timelines begin. For timelines that apply in your state, consult with your local school district or state department of education.

For infants and toddlers (ages birth - 2)

  • If you are concerned about your child’s development, contact the early intervention system in your local community
  • When you call the early intervention agency in your community, explain that you are concerned about your child’s development and that you would like to have your child evaluated under IDEA. 
  • The early intervention system will assign a temporary service coordinator to work with you and your child through the evaluation and assessment process.
  • This person will help to arrange a multidisciplinary evaluation of your child.
  • A full multidisciplinary evaluation assesses a child's physical health, vision, hearing, cognitive development, adaptive functioning (basic skills like feeding, toileting, dressing, social interactions and communication at home, play), motor, sensory processing and communication skills, and social/emotional development.

What is an initial evaluation?

  • The first time a child is evaluated for special education is called an initial evaluation (or it may be called an assessment).
  • The evaluation should be complete and individualized using a variety of methods to gather academic, functional, and developmental information about a child.
  • The purpose of the initial evaluation is to decide if a child is a "child with a disability."
  • The child must meet two requirements to be eligible for special education services:

    1. Meet the defined criteria for at least one of the 14 disabilities under IDEA,
    2. Need special education and related services due to the disability in order to benefit from the educational program.

What are evaluation procedures?

  • A child cannot receive special education without an evaluation.
  • No single test may be used to identify a disability.
  • Tests will measure a child's ability or performance by scoring the child's responses (answers) to a set of questions or tasks.
  • Information will be gathered from a variety of sources about a child's functioning and development. It looks at the child's strengths and needs.
  • An evaluation also includes other information such as medical information, interviews with parents and school staff, observations, and informal data.
  • Evaluation is completed in all areas of suspected disability.
  • The information gathered through evaluation is used to determine whether a child has a disability and the child’s educational needs.
  • There will be an observation of a student’s academic performance in the regular class as part of the evaluation.

In addition, the tests and procedures that will be used must:

  • Not discriminate on a racial or cultural basis
  • Be given in a child's native language or other mode of communication
  • Measure a disability and not limited English language skills (Limited English Proficiency)
Which professionals might be involved in evaluations?
  • Physicians assess physical and behavioral health status, and refer to specialists (neurologists, geneticists, endocrinologists, etc.) as needed.
  • Audiologists assess hearing and ear functioning, and refer to Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) doctors as needed.
  • Psychologists assess cognitive development/ability, academic achievement, emotional development, adaptive skills, and behavioral health status.
  • Speech and language pathologists assess communication and articulation skills.
  • Occupational therapists assess motor, daily functioning and sensory processing skills.
  • Physical therapists assess motor skills and functioning.
  • Special education teachers and educational specialists assess educational achievement, social and behavioral skills.

What types of assessments are available?

  • Norm-referenced tests: Norm-referenced tests are standardized tests that compare a child's performance to that of peers (other children). They show where a child stands compared to other children of the same age or grade.  
  • Standardized tests: Standardized tests are developed by experts for use with large groups of students. The tests are given according to specific standards. These tests measure what a child has already learned (achievement), or predict what a child may be able to do in the future (ability).
  • Group tests: They provide information about how a child performs compared to others of the same age or grade, but do not identify an individual student's strengths and needs.
  • Individual tests: Tests given individually to a child are useful in determining unique learning strengths and needs, and to help develop an IEP.
  • Curriculum-based assessments (CBAs) or curriculum-based measurements (CBMs): These tests are developed by school staff to examine the progress a child has made in learning specific materials.
  • Criterion-referenced tests: These tests measure what a child is able to do or the specific skills a child has mastered, as well as comparing present performance with past performance. These tests do not assess a child's standing in a group.
  • Functional assessment: A functional assessment looks at how a child actually functions at home, at school, and in the neighborhood/community. Functional assessment may include looking at reading, writing, and math skills. It may also include assessing whether the student is able to ride a bus, dress without help, or handle money.
  • Functional behavioral assessment: When a child has behavior problems that do not respond to standard interventions, a functional behavioral assessment (FBA) can provide additional information to help the team plan more effective interventions. A typical FBA includes a description of the problem behavior, and observations of the child at different times and in different settings. Observations should record what was happening in the environment before the behavior occurred, what the actual behavior was, and what happened as a result of the behavior. Behavioral interventions should address the behavior and teach behavior skills. Once a functional behavior assessment has been completed, the results may be used to write a behavior intervention plan (BIP) or to develop behavior goals for the IEP.

How are evaluation results used?

  • After a child's evaluation is complete, parents will meet with a group of qualified professionals (a team) to discuss the results. This group will determine whether a child has a disability under IDEA.
  • The school district must provide parents with a copy of the evaluation report. It must also give parents written information on how the group determined that the child was or was not eligible for services.
  • If the child is found eligible for special education and related services, the next step is to develop an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) to meet that child's needs. The goals and objectives the IEP team develops relate directly to the strengths and needs that were identified through evaluation.
  • It's important for parents to understand the results of the evaluation before beginning to develop an IEP. They may ask to have the evaluation results explained to them by a qualified professional. Parents can choose to review the results before meeting to develop an IEP.
  • A child won't receive any special education services unless consent by parent or guardian is given in writing.
  • A parent has the right to obtain an Independent Education Evaluation (IEE) from a qualified professional (not affiliated with school), in order to challenge findings of a school evaluation team.
  • Parents have a right to disagree with the results of the evaluation or the eligibility decision.

When are students reevaluated?

Students receiving special education services must be reevaluated when:

  • Conditions warrant a reevaluation (example: A new medical diagnosis, etc).
  • A child's parents or teacher requests a reevaluation, but not more often than once per year.
  • Evaluation must be conducted at least every three years unless parents and school staff agree that it is not needed.
  • Reevaluation results are used to monitor a child's progress in meeting the goals in his or her IEP, and to determine whether the child continues to need special education and related services.
  • A reevaluation will include a review of existing data, information from parents, classroom assessments, and observations.
  • The IEP team will decide if additional information is needed to determine if the child continues to need special education and related services.
  • If the IEP team decides that no additional data are needed, parents will be informed in writing. At this point, the team is not required to conduct additional assessments unless parents or the child's teacher request them. new.