Obtaining a school evaluation for kids

with possible special needs

Beverley H. Johns Professional Fellow, MacMurray College



A formal evaluation is an essential first step in the special education process for a child with a disability. This initial evaluation of a child is guided by our nation’s special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Before a child can receive special education and related services for the first time, a school evaluation must be conducted to see if the child has a disability and is eligible for special education. There are several purposes of conducting this evaluation, which include determining if the child is a “child with a disability” as defined by IDEA, to gather information that will help determine the child’s educational needs and to guide decision-making about appropriate educational programming for the child.

There are two ways in which a child can be identified to receive an evaluation under IDEA: The school system may ask to evaluate your child or parents may request that their child be evaluated. Parents typically request this evaluation when they receive information from the school indicating that their child is failing classes--or if they notice that their child is struggling in school and doesn’t seem to want to attend classes. While parents may have tried to help their child, they are not sure why the child is not achieving.

It is important for parents to request a formal evaluation to determine the reason their child is not achieving. Parents should not wait because the earlier the evaluation is completed, the better chance for the child’s success. This article offers advice for parents requesting an evaluation under IDEA.






Do understand IDEA’s definition of disability

Before requesting an evaluation for your child, it is important to understand how IDEA defines disability. According to IDEA, “child with a disability” means a child who is evaluated and has one of the disabilities listed below and who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services.

IDEA lists different disability categories under which a child may be found eligible for special education and related services. These categories include: Autism, deafness, deaf-blindness, developmental delay, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairment, specific learning disability, speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury or visual impairment, including blindness.

Do act quickly

When you notice that your child is struggling in school, schedule a conference with your child’s teachers to determine what is happening in the classroom. Schedule a follow-up meeting if progress is not being made within 9 weeks.

Do request a case study evaluation

If progress is not being made, make a request for an official case study evaluation. This request must be made in writing and sent to the superintendent, school principal and special education director. Remember to sign and date the letter. Always keep a copy.

Do follow up

Your written request should be followed with a meeting or phone call to determine if the school will conduct the evaluation. If they decide not to conduct the evaluation, the district is required to provide a specific reason. You have the right to dispute this decision. Be sure to document in writing this call or meeting - and who you spoke with.

Do keep track of the timeline

If the school agrees to conduct the evaluation, continue to follow up to see what type of evaluation they will do and when they will be conducted. Most school districts have 60 days to conduct the evaluation - from the time they receive your written consent. However, be sure to check the IDEA rules as some states have varying timeliness for the completion of evaluations. Monitor this timeline closely.


Do not assume your child will outgrow the problem

Many kids who struggle in school have problems that require extra services and accommodations. Waiting to see if a child will outgrow these issues tends to be a waste of valuable time as your child continues to struggle in school.

Do not overlook the need to ensure a thorough evaluation

According to IDEA, a child’s initial evaluation must be full and individual, focused on that child and only that child. The school system is required to ensure that the evaluation is sufficiently comprehensive to identify all of the child’s special education and related services needs.

The evaluation must use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental and academic information about the child, including information provided by the parent.

When conducting an initial evaluation, it is important to examine all areas of a child’s functioning to determine not only if the child is a child with a disability, but also determine the child’s educational needs. This full and individual evaluation includes evaluating the child’s health, vision and hearing, social and emotional status, general intelligence, academic performance, communicative status and motor abilities.

Do not allow the school to stall

Some schools will try to talk you out of your evaluation request by saying they must first try a variety of interventions for a longer period of time. Do not allow this to happen. Remember that if your child continues to fall further behind, it will be very difficult to catch up, which could cause your child to dislike school even more.

Do not be swayed

If your school tells you, “We do not believe that your child needs an evaluation,” do not accept this response. While evaluations take time and cost money, they are your legal right under IDEA. Tell the school that you will consider filing a complaint or ask for a due process hearing if they refuse to conduct your child’s evaluation.

Remember that this is your child’s life and he or she needs help as soon as possible. Consequently, do not accept unnecessary delays in the evaluation process.


It is difficult for parents to watch their children struggle in school. However, parents should not feel alone. It is the job of the school to help your child. As a result, it is very important for parents to request an evaluation to determine the reason their child is not achieving. Parents should not wait to see if the issues resolve themselves with time. The earlier the evaluation is completed, the faster kids can obtain special education and related services, and the better chance for the child’s success.

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