If you suspect that your child has a learning disability (LD), identification through a formal evaluation will help you know for sure. An evaluation will allow you to better understand your child’s strengths and weaknesses in learning, and may help to qualify your child for special education services. The evaluation process can be complicated, but NCLD is here for you with the top ten things parents need to know about LD evaluation.
1. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) grants parents the right to request a formal evaluation of their child at no cost. If you choose to make a formal request for evaluation, make sure you make your request in writing. (See a sample request letter.) If your child is enrolled in private school or home school, your local school district is still responsible for IDEA-mandated evaluation. Contact your local school district to start the process.
2. Some students may be referred for evaluation by their school. As a parent, you will receive written notice of this referral and must give your consent for the evaluation to proceed.
3. Parents can choose to have their child evaluated privately as opposed to asking the school to do an evaluation. If you choose to go this route, the school is not responsible for the cost of the evaluation. You can decide whether or not to share the results of a private evaluation with your child’s school.
4. Once it has been established that your child will be evaluated by the school district, the law requires that you be given a copy of the "Procedural Safeguards Notice," a written document outlining your legal rights to make sure your child receives the services he needs. Read this document carefully and become familiar with your rights—an informed parent is a powerful parent!
5. School districts are required by state and federal law to complete the evaluation in an established period of time. IDEA requires that an evaluation be conducted within 60 calendar days of receiving parental consent. Your state may operate on a different timeline—contact your local Parent Training and Information Center for more information.
6. IDEA sets specific requirements for evaluations. Your child’s evaluation must use a variety of different, scientifically proven procedures, tools, and strategies to examine all areas in which a disability is suspected. The evaluation cannot use any single measure or test as the sole basis for determining if your child has a disability. Existing data on your child—including data collected during pre-referral interventions or a Response-to-Intervention process—must be considered.
7. Your records play an important role in the evaluation process. Schools must also review evaluations and information provided by parents. You can provide prior teacher and parent reports, results from private screening or testing, information from private tutors or therapists, samples of school performance, and other documents. You may also be asked to fill out checklists and report observations of your child, and your own records can help you do this as accurately as possible. As the parent, you know your child best, and the information you provide is extremely important in the evaluation process.
8. The school’s plan for your child’s evaluation must be presented to you before the evaluation begins. As a parent, you have the right to object to certain tests or assessments and/or to request that additional tests or assessments be added to the plan. Use NCLD’s “Questions to Ask About Evaluation Plans” worksheet to help you better understand the evaluation plan for your child.
9. The school district is required by IDEA to provide you with a copy of the evaluation report. Make sure to request in writing a copy of the full evaluation report prior to any meeting so that you’ll have time to prepare your questions and recommendations.
10. Following the evaluation, your child’s school will set up an eligibility meeting (sometimes called an “Initial IEP Meeting”) where you and a team of qualified professionals will review the evaluation results and determine if your child is eligible for special education services.