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Evaluation for Special Education Services

*Note: This process is similar in all states, but this post refers in detail to Ohio's*

The school team has agreed to complete an evaluation for your child based on the results of the suspected disability meeting. You should receive a Prior Written Notice (PR01) from the district confirming that the district will initiate the evaluation.

The next step in the process is to complete the referral paperwork, the evaluation plan, and sign consent for the evaluation.

In Ohio, the referral form (PR-04) includes: demographic data, the reason for the referral, and a small amount of background information - educational history (grades, performance on state-mandated assessments and progress monitoring assessments, and intervention history and data), attendance information, and medical information.

The next and most comprehensive step of the paperwork process is to create the plan for the evaluation. In Ohio, the possible areas of assessment listed on the planning form are:

  • Information Provided by Parent - this is any information the parent would like to include in the report; often this information is obtained from a parent interview or parent questionnaire.

  • General Intelligence - this is an IQ test

  • Academic Skills - this is the assessment of achievement in academic areas

  • Classroom Based Evaluations and Progress in the General Curriculum - a fancy way to say "teacher interview and grades"

  • Data from Interventions - in an ideal world, this should be a summary of the interventions attempted in the MTSS process, including progress monitoring data. In the real world, that doesn't often happen, particularly after elementary school.

  • Communicative Status - this usually refers to a speech/language screening or evaluation, but sometimes districts just have the teacher fill out a checklist of skills

  • Vision and Hearing - this is a vision and hearing screening completed by the school nurse - it should be current within 6 months of the evaluation

  • Social Emotional Status - usually rating scales, such as the Behavior Assessment Scale for Children (BASC-3) that compare a child's emotions, behavior, social skills, and adaptive skills to their typical peers. Completed by the parent(s) and teacher(s), and sometimes by the student.

  • Physical Exam/General Health - medical form completed by the physician confirming any relevant medical diagnoses.

  • Gross Motor - usually assessment by a physical therapist or adaptive physical education teacher; another one where sometimes districts just have the gym teacher fill out a checklist of skills

  • Fine Motor - usually assessment by an occupational therapist; yet another one where some districts just have the teacher fill out a checklist of skills

  • Vocational/Transition - for students approximately middle school or above - most commonly the Employability and Life Skills Assessment is used to determine a student's skills in areas that would be necessary to be a good employee in the real world

  • Background History - it makes no sense for this to come so far along in the planning form (it should be right by parent information) - this is in-depth educational history, family history, and medical history. Some information is pulled from the student's school record, and much is pulled from the parent interview/questionnaire.

  • Observations - a classroom observation of the student - required if the evaluation is considering a category of Specific Learning Disability and for all preschool evaluations. It is best practice to do a classroom observation for all evaluations, but sometimes there just isn't enough time.

  • Behavior Assessment - these are included when there is a specific negative behavior that the team would like to discover the function of and create a behavior intervention plan to address (e.g. lighting fires, instigating fights, skipping class, etc.)

  • Adaptive Behavior - usually rating scales, such as the Vineland-3, used to identify problems with social, communication, and/or daily living skills. Required if the evaluation is consider a category of Intellectual Disability. Really should be included for all Autism cases too.

  • Braille Needs - self-explanatory - this is for visually impaired or deaf-blind students

  • Audiological Needs - again, self-explanatory - this is for hearing impaired or deaf-blind students

  • Assistive Technology Needs - this is an under-utilized category. Particularly in the last 5 years, there are a lot of new technological developments to help address all kinds of different learning difficulties. Districts are slowly beginning to have Assistive Technology Specialists on staff.

  • Other: ______ - Not often checked, but we have sometimes used this box for Executive Functioning

Someone from the district, usually the School Psychologist, should review the plan for your child's evaluation with you in detail. It is not necessary to complete all areas of assessment for every child. Areas of assessment should be curated depending on your particular concerns and the reason for the referral.

After reviewing the planning form with you, the district will ask you to sign the consent form (PR05) for the evaluation. The date you sign the consent form, the clock starts ticking. The district has 60 days to complete the evaluation from that day.

During the 60 days, your child will likely be observed in their classroom and pulled out of class to undergo various assessments (IQ. academic achievement, etc.). The amount of time the assessments take can varies widely, but is usually about 3-4 hours. Due to large caseload numbers and managing multiple buildings, most psychologists will not tell you the specific date/time they will be pulling out your child for testing. Once you have signed the consent paperwork, it is a good idea to brief your child on what is happening and let them know that the School Psychologist may be coming to pull them from class to do some brain games and academic activities.

You will likely also receive a parent questionnaire, social/emotional rating scales, and possibly adaptive behavior rating scales to complete as a part of the evaluation. The School Psychologist will also usually send these out to teacher(s). They may be on paper or sent to you through e-mail. The sooner you're able to get these back, the better, as it may help the process move along more quickly.

Once all of the assessments are complete and forms/rating scales have been returned, the School Psychologist will compile a comprehensive report reviewing the results of the evaluation. The "team" will then meet to discuss the results of the evaluation. Legally required team members for this ETR (Evaluation Team Report) meeting include: the parent, a district representative (principal), the School Psychologist, a Regular Education Teacher, and an Intervention Specialist.

Sometimes, especially at the middle/high school level, it is difficult to schedule a time that works for all team members. The Regular Education Teacher is the most likely person to not be able to attend or have to come late/leave early because they are teaching. For students middle school and above, as long as the teacher(s) have provided information in the report that is reviewed by the team, it is generally okay to excuse them from attending.

After reviewing all of the information in the report, the team will then have a discussion regarding the eligibility determination - that is, whether or not your child qualifies for special education services. The three factors that will be discussed when weighing eligibility are:

  1. Whether the child's poor performance is due to lack of instruction, limited English proficiency, or lack of preschool pre-academics.

  2. Whether the child meets state criteria for having a disability.

  3. Whether the child demonstrates needs to a degree that requires specialized instruction.

The responses to all of these items must be YES in order for your child to qualify.

All team members must then sign the last page of the document indicating whether they agree or disagree with the eligibility determination. You are allowed to disagree as long as you provide a statement of disagreement.

In most cases, all team members will agree with the determination and sign the final page. Once that page is sign, the clock starts ticking again and the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) must be completed within 30 days. The next part of our series will discuss the IEP in depth.

In cases where the parent does not agree with the district's determination (typically they think their student should have qualified and did not), they have the right to request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) at the expense of the district. We will discuss IEEs in a future blog post.

Phew! What a process!! What questions do you have for us?

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