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Learning Disabilities

The Evaluation Process: What to Expect

eval processThe Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that all children being considered for special education services be evaluated in an individualized and nondiscriminatory way. This means that all tests are given to your child alone with the test giver, rather than given in a group. The term “nondiscriminatory” means that the tests must be fair (or valid) when given to children of the same background as your child. Also, tests must be given in your child’s primary language or method of communication. IDEA also says that the evaluation will be done at no cost to you.
Below are some answers to common questions about a special education evaluation.

When Is the Evaluation Done?
The initial special education evaluation must be done no more than 60 days after you give consent for the evaluation. Unless the safety of your child or other children is in question, your child should stay in the same classroom that she was in at the time she was referred for a special education evaluation.

A child already receiving special education and related services must be re-evaluated at least every three years, unless you and the school agree that an evaluation is unnecessary. The re-evaluation can take place sooner, if you or the school staff makes a request.

Who Does the Evaluation?
The evaluation is conducted by a group of individuals — including you. This group should include:

  • you, as the parent or guardian
  • at least one of your child’s general education teachers
  • a special education teacher or special service provider related to your child’s area of need (such as a speech/language therapist, physical therapist, occupational therapist)
  • someone from the school district who is qualified to provide or supervise special education services within the school
  • someone who is qualified to explain the test results and what the results mean to your child’s education and/or an interpreter, if you feel you need one
  • any person with special knowledge of your child or expertise in an area that would be helpful in understanding your child
  • your child, if you and the other team members believe this is appropriate (usually onsidered for children in middle school or older)
  • What Are the Steps?

    1. Gather information.
    2. Decide if the child has a disability and is in need of special education and related services.
    3. Develop the child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).

    When gathering information about your child’s learning needs, a variety of measures must be used to decide whether your child has a disability or needs special education services. While there are no specific test or tests that are required, tests and measures should be selected based on your child’s strengths, weaknesses, and the suspected disability, and may include any of the following:

  • Tests
  • Your child may be given tests to assess how much she has learned or may learn in the future. Tests used in the evaluation are usually “standardized” in that they are given in the same way to everyone. Tests may also be “norm-referenced,” meaning that your child’s test results may be compared to other children of the same age or grade.

  • Observations
  • Your child may be observed at school, at home, or in the community. These observations should show how he typically behaves in ordinary situations and places.

  • Response to Intervention
  • Your child’s response to scientific, research-based interventions may be used to determine whether your child has a learning disability. “Research-based interventions” are instructional strategies that have been shown to be effective in several sound research studies. For example, direct instruction in phonics (letter-sound associations) may be used to teach a child who cannot read new words or a child may be rewarded for raising his hand rather than interrupting the class when he needs help. There should be a record of the interventions that were tried by the school showing how well your child responded to each intervention. This is a fairly new process which is called “Response to Intervention” or “RtI”.

  • Interviews
  • You, other family members, teachers, and other school staff may be asked to provide information about your child. Your child may also be asked about her interests or feelings about school.

  • Medical Information
  • A doctor, nurse, or other medical expert may be asked to provide information about your child’s health and well being.

    Once information has been gathered about your child, you and the IEP team will create together an individualized education plan (for children ages 3 and older) or an individualized family support plan (for children younger than 3 years).

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