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Special Education Evaluation

Special Education Evaluation

By Dr. Kenneth Shore

In an effort to identify students with educational disabilities, school districts seek information from a variety of sources, including standardized tests, teachers’ judgments, classroom performance, and parents’ observations. School staff review this information on a continuing basis and determine which students should be evaluated by the school for a potential disability. If your child is referred for evaluation, a school official, usually the principal, will contact you to set up a meeting to explain the reason for the referral, the evaluation procedures, and your due-process rights. The school district is obligated to give you this information in writing (in your native language). If you do not receive this information, request it. The principal will then ask for your written consent to conduct the evaluation. The evaluation cannot proceed without your signature (unless a judge so orders, a rare occurrence). Your consent at this point only permits the school district to evaluate your child. Placement in a special education program is a separate step requiring further written consent. You can request an evaluation of your child through a letter to the principal. While the school is not obligated to honor every parent request for an evaluation, it must at least review your child’s educational status and determine whether he appears to have an educational disability. If so, the district must conduct the evaluation. If not, the district may refuse your request although it must tell you why in writing. If the district does not evaluate your child, you of course have the option of having your child evaluated privately and then having the results considered by the school district. At what point should you request an evaluation of your child? This decision should be based on your and the teacher’s observations. Give weight to the views of an experienced teacher. Her understanding of appropriate age- and grade-level norms and her review of standardized test scores may tell her that your child is performing well below expectations. She may point to reversals in your child’s reading or writing (although these are not uncommon in kindergarten through second grade). She may observe that in reading your child is not breaking the code as his classmates have already done. She may note that your child has problems copying from the board and cannot stay on a line when he writes. Or she may tell you that your child doesn’t retain information such as letter sounds or math facts. But don’t discount your own observations. You may be getting signals that are not apparent to the teacher that your child is struggling in school. He may resist going to school in the morning or may take an inordinate amount of time to complete homework or may have mood changes which coincide with school attendance or may exhibit sleeping or eating problems. Of course, before you go the route of evaluation for special education, you will want to work with the teacher first to try to resolve the problem.

The Special Education Evaluation Process

The purpose of the evaluation is to determine whether your child has an educational disability and, if so, to provide a suitable school program. The testing itself will not help your child but it can help you understand why your child is having difficulty and how he can progress. The evaluation will be conducted by a group of professionals—a multidisciplinary team. The name and composition of this evaluation team vary from state to state but the evaluation usually assesses the same areas. A school psychologist will evaluate the student’s reasoning abilities through an intelligence test and assess his social and emotional status through observation in the classroom, testing, and talking with him. The evaluation team may also include a learning specialist, who will evaluate the student’s academic skills and learning style and look for evidence of a learning disability. A school social worker may meet with the parents to elicit their perspective and gain an understanding of the child’s developmental history, family background, and social adjustment. The school nurse may test vision and hearing. A medical examination will also be conducted although parents have the option of having this done by their child’s physician. The evaluation team may determine that other evaluations, for example, a psychiatric or neurological evaluation, are needed to further understand the student’s difficulties. After completing its evaluations, the evaluation team will review the results and determine whether the child is eligible for special education. The team will arrange a meeting with the parents and the teacher to share the evaluation results. If the student is found to qualify for special education, the evaluation team may assign a specific name to his problem. In many states, a student must be formally classified as having a specific disability to receive special education. Think of this classification as a passport to getting needed help for a student. While states vary in their classification systems, the following is a typical list of disabilities which might be used by a state:

  • auditorily impaired
  • autistic
  • cognitively impaired
  • communication impaired
  • emotionally disturbed
  • deaf/blindness
  • orthopedically impaired
  • other health impaired
  • preschool child with a disability
  • social maladjustment
  • specific learning disability
  • traumatic brain injury
  • visually impaired

To be classified as having an educational disability, a student must meet the criteria specified in the state regulations. If you have concerns about the appropriateness of the recommended classification for your child, review these regulations carefully and make your views known to the school. Parents often fear that the label will stigmatize their child. School districts are sensitive to this concern and most make efforts to minimize the negative effects of the label by keeping it confidential and not drawing attention to the student’s special education status. In deciding whether to agree to the classification, parents need to balance the potential influence-shaping impact of the label against the benefits of special education made possible by the classification. If the student clearly needs individualized instruction, the advantages of special education usually outweigh the risks of bias from the classification. The student’s special education status may even qualify him for advantages later on, including waiving of certain high school graduation requirements, taking the Scholastic Achievement Test with additional time, or receiving special consideration when applying for college admission. Federal law requires that school districts reevaluate all special education students every three years to determine whether they still require special education. If the answer is yes, the special education program is either continued as is or revised in accordance with the student’s educational needs. If the answer is no, the student is “declassified,” meaning the classification is removed from his records, and he receives only regular education services.

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East Windsor, NJ 08520
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