A First Timer’s Guide to Evaluation

By Eve Kessler, Esq.


For parents who suspect their child may have learning disabilities, the evaluation and recommendation process can be daunting • In fact, the process is a problem-solving exercise that need not be intimidating • Below is a straightforward explanation of what you can expect, with answers to your most fundamental concerns

1-2-8-evaluationThe purpose of the evaluation process is to identify your child’s specific learning strengths, needs, and concerns in order to make recommendations for an educational program suited to their unique learning profile.

The process is essentially a problem-solving exercise that involves gathering information from various sources, including informal and formal observations, schoolwork and school records, standardized and specialized test results, and discussions with parents and professionals.

The process can be arduous, particularly for those who have not been through it before. Following are some tips to help you reach a successful conclusion:

  1. Make sure you understand at the outset the purpose of the evaluation: Why is it being given? What areas will be evaluated? What information will be gained? What specific tests and subtests will be used and why? Are the evaluations administered in a language, form, and manner likely to yield accurate information about your child’s abilities academically, developmentally, and functionally?
  2. Whether you or the district initiates an evaluation and whether it is to be performed by someone from the district or by an independent professional, be familiar with the qualifications of the evaluator. Get recommendations from people you respect before deciding whom to use, and make sure you have input into the choice.
  3. When reviewing an evaluation, ask yourself: Does this sound like my child? How does this compare with other evaluations? What is getting in the way of my child being able to learn? How does this impact my child’s ability to be successful in school?
  4. To ensure your understanding, get a copy of the evaluation and recommendations and discuss them with the evaluator prior to the IEP meeting. It is helpful for the evaluator to attend the IEP meeting to discuss their report with the team.
  5. An Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) is an evaluation conducted by a qualified examiner who is not employed by the school district. Parents may obtain an IEE at their own expense at any time, but they have the right to request an IEE, at the district’s expense, if they disagree with a district’s evaluation or recommendations. If the district pays for the evaluation, it is the property of the district and becomes part of your child’s educational records. If you pay for the evaluation, it is your property and the results need not be shared with the school-based team.
  6. If parents request an IEE at the district’s expense, the district must, without unnecessary delay, either initiate a due process hearing to prove that its original evaluation is appropriate, or ensure that an IEE is provided at the district’s expense.
  7. If you share the results of the IEE with the team or if the school pays for the evaluation, the team must “consider” the results and recommendations when making decisions regarding your child’s educational program.
  8. If new to a school system, consider informing your child’s school of past evaluations, services, and supports.
  9. Prior to the IEP meeting, provide the school with copies of the evaluations you plan to discuss.
  10. Inform school personnel of any services your child receives independently, outside of school. Ask that providers collaborate so everyone is on the same page.
  11. Understand that the end result of the evaluation process is a team decision regarding eligibility and services.
  12. You are a key member of the team and your input is valuable.

Adapted from A Web Guide to the Special Services Partnership, published by SPED*NET Wilton (CT) and available online at www.spednetwilton.org. Kessler, a former criminal appellate attorney, is Executive Director of SPED*NET and a Contributing Editor of Smart Kids.

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