What is an evaluation?
Evaluation is the process for determining whether a child has a
disability and needs special education and related services. It’s
the first step in developing an educational program that will help
the child learn. A full and individual initial evaluation must be
done before the initial provision of any special education or related
services to a child with a disability, and students must be reevaluated
at least once every three years.
Evaluation involves gathering information from a variety of sources
about a child’s functioning and development in all areas of
suspected disability, including information provided by the parent.
The evaluation may look at cognitive, behavioral, physical, and
developmental factors, as well as other areas. All this information
is used to determine the child’s educational needs.
Why have an evaluation?
A full and individual educational evaluation serves many important
- Identification. It can identify children who have delays
or learning problems and may need special education and related
services as a result.
- Eligibility. It can determine whether your child is a
child with a disability under the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (IDEA) and qualifies for special education and related
- Planning an Individualized Education Program (IEP). It
provides information that can help you and the school develop
an appropriate IEP for your child.
- Instructional strategies. It can help determine what
strategies may be most effective in helping your child learn.
- Measuring progress. It establishes a baseline for measuring
your child’s educational progress. The evaluation process
establishes a foundation for developing an appropriate educational
program. The public agency must provide a copy of the evaluation
report and the documentation of determination of eligibility to
the parent. Even if the evaluation results show that your child
does not need special education and related services, the information
may still be used to help your child in a regular education program.
What measures are used to evaluate a child?
No single test may be used as the sole measure for determining
whether a child has a disability or for determining an appropriate
educational program for your child. Both formal and informal tests
and other evaluation measures are important in determining the special
education and related services your child needs.
Testing measures a child’s ability or performance by scoring
the child’s responses to a set of questions or tasks. It provides
a snapshot of a child and the child’s performance on a particular
day. Formal test data is useful in predicting how well a child might
be expected to perform in school. It also provides information about
unique learning needs.
Other measures of a child’s growth and development, such
as observation or interviews with parents and others who know the
child, provide vital information on how the child functions in different
settings and circumstances.
The school must conduct a full and individual evaluation consistent
with the IDEA that uses information from diverse sources, including
formal and informal data. Tests are important, but evaluation also
includes other types of information such as:
- medical information
- comparisons of the child’s progress to typical expectations
of child development
- observations of how the child functions in school, at home,
or in the community
- interviews with parents and school staff
As a parent, you have a wealth of information about the development
and needs of your child. When combined with the results of tests
and other evaluation materials, this information can be used to
make decisions about your child’s appropriate educational
What types of tests are available?
There are many types of tests that schools use to measure student
progress. Here are a few important terms parents may need to know.
Group tests. Group achievement tests may not be used to
determine eligibility for special services. They furnish information
about how a child performs in relation to others of the same age
or grade level, but they do not identify an individual student’s
pattern of strengths and needs.
Individual tests. Tests administered individually to your
child can clarify the special education and related services your
child needs to progress in school.
Curriculum-based assessments (CBAs) or curriculum- based measurements
(CBMs). These types of tests are developed by school staff to
examine the progress a child has made in learning the specific materials
the teacher has presented to the class. They can be useful tools
for teachers and parents in determining whether learning is taking
place, but they must never be used to determine eligibility for
Standardized tests. Standardized tests are rigorously developed
by experts to be used with large populations of students. The tests
are administered according to specific standards. Standardized tests
can evaluate what a child has already learned (achievement), or
predict what a child may be capable of doing in the future (aptitude).
Norm-referenced tests. Norm-referenced tests are standardized
tests that compare a child’s performance to that of peers.
They can tell you where your child stands in relation to other children
of the same age or grade.
Criterion-referenced tests. These tests measure what the
child is able to do or the specific skills a child has mastered.
Criterion-referenced tests do not assess a child’s standing
in a group but the child’s performance measured against standard
criteria. They may compare a child’s present performance with
past performance as a way of measuring progress.
What criteria are used in selecting tests?
Schools should look at many factors when selecting tests to use
in evaluation. Here are a few:
- Tests must be reliable. A test is reliable if it offers consistent
results when taken at different times and/or given by different
evaluators. You should feel comfortable asking for the reliability
of the tests given to your child if this information isn’t
discussed along with the test results.
- Tests must be valid. A test is valid if it actually measures
what it was designed to measure. Tests must accurately reflect
the child’s aptitude or achievement level. Any standardized
tests your child is given must have been validated for the specific
testing purpose and administered by trained and knowledgeable
- Tests and other evaluation materials must not discriminate against
a child on a racial or cultural basis. They must be administered
in the child’s native language or other mode of communication
unless it is clearly not feasible to do so.
- Factors such as your child’s attentiveness, motivation,
anxiety, and understanding of the test directions can affect the
What is functional assessment?
While tests are an important part of a full and individual evaluation,
sometimes what children can do or need to learn is not reflected
in their scores. A functional assessment looks at how a child actually
functions at home, at school, and in the neighborhood.
Functional assessment for some students includes looking at reading,
writing, and math skills. For others, evaluating whether the student
is able to ride the city bus, dress independently, or handle money
might be more appropriate.
What is functional behavioral assessment?
When a child has behavior problems that do not respond to standard
interventions, a functional behavioral assessment can provide additional
information to help the team plan more effective interventions.
A typical functional behavioral assessment includes the following:
- A clear description of the problem behavior.
- Observations of the child at different times and in different
settings. These observations should record (1) what was happening
in the environment before the behavior occurred, (2) what the
actual behavior was, and (3) what the student achieved as a result
of the behavior.
- Positive behavioral interventions, strategies, and supports
to address that behavior, and to teach behavior skills.
Once the functional behavior assessment has been completed, the
results may be used to write a behavior intervention plan or to
develop behavior goals for the individualized education program.
How are evaluation results used?
After your child’s evaluation is complete, you’ll meet
with a group of qualified professionals to discuss the results and
determine whether your child has a disability under IDEA. The school
must provide you with a copy of the evaluation report and a written
determination of eligibility.
If the team determines, based on the evaluation results, that your
child is eligible for special education and related services, the
next step is to develop an IEP to meet your 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 you to understand the results of your
child’s evaluation before beginning to develop an IEP. Parents
should ask to have the evaluation results explained to them in plain
language by a qualified professional.
You will want to request the evaluation summary report before meeting
with other members of the IEP team to develop the IEP. Reviewing
the results in a comfortable environment before developing the IEP
can reduce stress for parents and provide time to consider whether
the results fit their own observations and experiences with their
When are students reevaluated?
Students receiving special education services must be reevaluated
if conditions warrant a reevaluation, or if the child’s parents
or teacher requests a reevaluation, but at least once every three
years. The results are used to monitor your child’s progress
in meeting the goals and objectives in his or her IEP and to determine
whether your child continues to be eligible for special education
and related services.
The reevaluation will include a review of existing evaluation data,
and information you provide, classroom assessments, and observations
consistent with the IDEA. The IEP team then decides if any additional
data is needed to determine if the child continues to have a disability
and continues to need special education and related services.
If the IEP team decides no additional data are needed, you will
be informed in writing that the team has sufficient information
to determine whether your child continues to be eligible for special
education and related services. At this point, the team is not required
to conduct additional assessments unless parents or the child’s
teacher request them.
What questions should I consider when evaluation
or reevaluation is proposed?
- What tests and other evaluation materials are being considered
for my child? Why? How will the information be used to plan my
- Will the evaluator observe my child in the classroom and talk
to my child’s teachers?
- Has the evaluator had experience testing children whose problems
may be similar to my child’s?
- Will my child’s disability interfere with obtaining valid
test scores in any area?
- Will a translator or an interpreter be available if my child
needs one? Testing must be done in a child’s native language
or sign language if needed.
- Is my child similar to the group on which the test was normed
(the children used when the test was developed)? Is the person
responsible for conducting the test familiar with my child’s
- Will test scores be based on my child’s grade or age?
If my child was retained, how will that be considered in evaluating
the test results?
- What kind of information will I be asked to contribute to the
- What will be done to help my child feel comfortable during the
What if I disagree with the school’s evaluation?
If you disagree with the results of an evaluation, you have the
right to obtain an independent educational evaluation (IEE) at public
expense. An IEE is conducted by qualified examiners not employed
by the school. The school district must provide parents with a list
names of possible examiners and provide the evaluation at no cost
to the parents.
If the school district denies a request for an IEE at public expense,
the district may initiate a due process hearing to show that its
evaluation was appropriate.
When the school provides an IEE, the evaluation must be accomplished
under the same criteria that the school district uses for its evaluations.
The school may not unreasonably delay an IEE, and it must consider
the results of the IEE when determining eligibility or developing
your child’s IEP.
If the result of the hearing is that the agency’s evaluation
is appropriate, you still have the right to obtain an IEE at your
own expense. If the IEE meets the school’s criteria, those
results, too, must be considered by the IEP team in determining
your child’s placement and special education and related services.
When the IEE evaluation is complete, ask for a written report.
Be sure that any recommendations for services or specific kinds
of programs are in writing. When you receive the report, contact
your child’s school to arrange an IEP meeting.
Families and Advocates Partnership for Education (FAPE)
FAPE Coordinating Office: PACER Center, Inc. 8161 Normandale Blvd,
Bloomington, MN 55437
952-838-9000 voice ~ 952-838-0190 TTY ~ 952-838-0199 fax ~ 1-888-248-0822
Web site: www.fape.org
~ E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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