School Denies Evaluation Request


I have requested that my child be tested for learning disabilities, yet the school district has come up with various excuses as to why that is not possible. According to all that I have read, I am able to request the testing and the school district must provide something in writing to me as to why they would deny. Have I misinterpreted what I have read? What can I do considering that I am a middle-income person unable to afford an attorney?

                                                                                                            Thomas, Philadelphia, PA

Ask the Experts

Matthew C. Saleh, J.D., Ph.D.

Matthew Saleh is a Research Associate at Cornell University’s Yang-Tan Institute on Employment and Disability, and an instructor of disability studies coursework at Cornell. 

The short answer is that it depends on the rationale provided by the school district. In general, if you are requesting an initial evaluation for special education services there are few circumstances where a school can deny an evaluation outright.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004), gives parents, guardians, and advocates the legal right to request that a public school evaluate their child for special education needs and services. The IDEA’s “Child Find” requirement mandates that school districts conduct appropriate evaluations of students who are suspected of having a disability. In essence, when you request an evaluation, you are asking the district to fulfill its Child Find requirement.

If an initial, in-district evaluation has been conducted to determine eligibility for special education and you don’t feel that the evaluation was appropriate, you can ask for an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) at the district’s expense. When you ask the school district for an IEE they can respond in one of two ways: they can do the evaluation utilizing an evaluator of your choice, subject to certain requirements, or they can take you to due process to show that their own evaluations are appropriate.

Denying a Request

Some common rationales for denying an initial evaluation do exist, but the IDEA’s Child Find requirement generally requires some form of evaluation at the school-level. Some schools will deny an evaluation if they believe that there is no evidence that the child has a disability. If the school decides not to go forward with an evaluation, it must notify the parent/guardian in writing, and generally these notifications will contain a rationale for why the evaluation is being denied.

These will vary depending on the individual student and academic context, but school denials often include reasons such as:

  • the child is currently performing at or above grade level
  • it is too early to evaluate because the child only recently started elementary school
  • the child recently received an evaluation
  • the school is providing academic interventions that are resulting in improvement of the child’s performance
  • low academic performance is attributable to factors not related to special education needs (e.g., student is an English Language Learner or poor performance due to willful behavior).

Some of these rationales, while common, are not sufficient to meet IDEA requirements. For example, the rationale that poor performance is resulting from factors not related to a disability (e.g., willful behavior) requires some kind of formal assessment to ensure that the behaviors in question are not themselves the manifestation of a disability.

If the district denies the initial evaluation and the IEE, and the parents feel strongly that their child is eligible for special education services, they can always obtain their own independent evaluation which the school district must consider at an IEP meeting.

Smart Follow-up

Regardless of the type of request for an evaluation, it is important to send copies of a written request to both the school principal and the district’s special education director. Some states require the additional signing of a school district form granting permission to evaluate. Parents should retain copies of the request and follow up on the status of the request with both administrators as needed.

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