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Special education: The evaluation process

The special education evaluation process focuses on two questions. First does the child have a physical or mental impairment that limits educational success or a major life activity? Second, does the child need special services because of his or her disability?

The evaluation process is conducted at the request of the school or the child’s parent. The evaluation team must include a classroom teacher, a school psychologist, a school administrator, and other education professionals. The evaluation process includes conferences with the student and his or her parents as well as observations of the student in a variety of settings. The team will also examine examples of the student’s performance, looking at test results, classwork, and behavior, among other things. Once the evaluation team completes its assessment, the members will develop a comprehensive evaluation report that presents their findings and offers the student an eligibility classification. Parents will have a chance to review the report and give feedback and request additional evaluations.

IDEA requires extensive procedures against the misclassification of students. Schools and districts must establish a mechanism for parents to object to any identification or placement decision. Parents must also be notified of any changes in their child’s placement and may request their child’s records. If a parent disputes an evaluation or placement, he or she can request an impartial hearing with representation by counsel.

If a student needs special education, the school will develop an individualized education plan (IEP). The IEP is the blueprint of the student’s special education services. It must include a description of:

  • Levels of performance
  • Annual goals
  • How progress toward the goals will be measured
  • Any special education services and supplementary aids
  • Participation with general education students
  • Participation in state and district-wide tests
  • A description of courses, once the student turns 14, he or she will take to reach his or her post-secondary goals.

The IEP is developed by a team, which must include a classroom teacher, a special education teacher, a school administrator, and a parent. The team is required to meet annually to discuss goals and services, and the resulting IEP will detail all special education services, including when the services will start and stop and how often they will take place.



This piece is based on the full examination of special education prepared for the Center for Public Education by Ulrich Boser, a freelance writer and a contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report. His work has appeared in SmithsonianSlate, and the Washington Post.

Posted: October 15, 2009

©2009 Center for Public Education

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