Evaluation Fundamentals

By Kenneth H. Magrath, Ph.D, FACAPP

At a Glance

Evaluation is the foundation on which your child’s education will be built • There are three phases to an evaluation: Establishing the reasons for an evaluation; assessing your child; and reporting the results


For a child with learning disabilities or ADHD, the evaluation is the first step toward addressing his issues. Knowing what to expect will ease your fears and your child’s and ensure that the results are used appropriately.

Evaluation Goals

A good evaluation begins with a set of clear-cut goals and objectives. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why is the evaluation being done?
  • What do we hope to accomplish?
  • What can be done with the information once it is collected?

The answers to those questions will help define the objectives, which should then be discussed in detail with the evaluator before the assessment begins.

Assessment Components

A thorough evaluation has four core components:

  1. Developmental History: This is a detailed review of your child’s medical, educational, family, and social background. This information provides context for the data that will be gathered during the assessment. Accurate diagnoses of learning and attention disorders, for example, require ruling out medical causes for these concerns.
  2. Cognitive Assessment: This is a detailed examination of learning skills and abilities. Intelligence testing is usually a part of this work. Well-developed IQ tests are excellent catalogues of the thinking skills that are required for success in school. The cognitive assessment should also include specialized measures of attention, memory, and planning and organization (executive functions).
  3. Academic Achievement: A comprehensive battery of tests is used to evaluate your child’s skills in reading, math, and writing. Most of these batteries assess basic skills, the ability to apply the skills, and the ability to work rapidly and efficiently.
  4. Behavior, Social and Emotional Functioning:  This portion of the evaluation assesses your child’s behavioral strengths and challenges, interpersonal skills, and emotional life. It’s important to identify strengths and assets as well as any difficulties that might be present.
Evaluation Results

The assessment should result in a comprehensive written report, which the evaluator should discuss with you in detail. In addition to a diagnosis, the report should contain specific recommendations for next steps and assistance. That information should be used to develop an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 plan.
An evaluation report usually contains a great deal of data and technical information. It should, however, be written in a way that’s easy to understand for nonprofessionals. All jargon should be well defined, and if it’s not, don’t hesitate to ask for explanations.

If the information is going to be shared with the school, it is essential that the evaluator present the results personally. This usually takes the form of attendance at IEP meetings to interpret the data and advocate for your child.

Your child should get feedback from the evaluator as well. He should walk away from the process aware of his strengths and how to use them, and secure in the knowledge that parents, school personnel, and the evaluator will be working together to use the information in ways that will be helpful to him.

The author is a licensed clinical psychologist who has served on the faculties of the Cornell University College of Medicine and New York Medical College. He works with children, adolescents and adults to identify learning strengths as well as challenges.

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