An evaluation can help you understand what kind of help your child needs. Getting an evaluation is also a necessary step to accessing certain supports and services in school.
Every child is eligible for a free evaluation through their local public school district. This is a right protected by law under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (also called IDEA). Even children who are attending private schools or who have been expelled are entitled to this free evaluation.
You can ask the school for an evaluation (here is a sample letter to use) or the school psychologist may suggest it to you. Once your child has been referred for an evaluation, there will be a meeting with a team of people to decide what should happen next. This team will include you, your child’s teacher, a special education teacher and a school psychologist. During this meeting you will discuss why an evaluation could help your child and what specific kind of evaluation would be appropriate.
Below is a list of the most common kinds of evaluations:
- A Functional Behavior Assessment (or FBA) is used to determine why a child might be acting out in class. During an FBA the school psychologist or a behavioral specialist will gather information about a child’s behavior from in-class observation and interviews with the child, their parents and their teachers.
- A psychological evaluation is used to learn more about a child’s behavior, emotions and social skills. Psychological evaluations are typically provided by a school psychologist. They use standardized assessment tools and include information from the child, their parent and their teachers.
- A psychoeducational evaluation is used to learn more about a child’s cognitive ability (or how they think and process information) and academic skills. Psychoeducational evaluations are provided by a school psychologist. They use standardized assessment tools and include information from the child, their parent and their teachers.
- A neuropsychological evaluation is used to develop a detailed profile of how a child learns. This evaluation goes into greater depth than a psychoeducational evaluation. It may examine a child’s intellectual functioning, academic achievement, language and visual-spatial development, memory skills, attention, organization skills and planning skills. It may also review how the child thinks and feels. A neuropsychologist or psychologist can provide a neuropsychological evaluation using standardized assessment tools and information from the child, their parent, and their teachers.
- A speech and language evaluation is used to assess how a child understands, processes and uses speech and language. These evaluations are conducted by speech-language pathologists using standardized assessment tools and information from the child and their parent.
- An occupational therapy evaluation is used to evaluate a child’s motor skills, visual and sensory processing, and self-regulation ability. An occupational therapist can conduct this evaluation using standardized assessment tools and information from the child and their parent.
Choosing a private evaluation
You can also decide to get a private evaluation with a specialist from outside the school. This is sometimes called an independent educational evaluation (IEE). You might decide to get a private evaluation if:
- You prefer to have your child evaluated by a specialist who does not work within the school district
- You think the evaluation done by the school may not have been thorough enough
- You disagree with the results of a previous evaluation
- You want the results of the evaluation to stay confidential
While private evaluations may be more thorough, they don’t guarantee that your child will be able to access more services. While the school is required to consider the results of an independent evaluation (if you want to share them), the school is not required to accept the independent evaluator’s findings or recommendations.
The school district may also pay for an independent educational evaluation. Read more about IEEs, including getting an IEE at the public expense, at Understood.org.
Accessing support and services
After you’ve gotten an evaluation, schools will use the results to determine if your child is eligible for specialized support from the school. These supports may be organized under a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP), a Section 504 accommodations plan, or an Individual Education Plan (IEP).
Most states have a Parent Training and Information Center that can help you with any questions you may have about the laws in your state.
Return to Connect to Care for more information about getting kids help.