Evaluation is the process for determining whether a child has a disability and needs special education and related services. It’s the first step in developing an educational program that will help the child learn. A full and individual initial evaluation must be done before the initial provision of any special education or related services to a child with a disability, and students must be reevaluated at least once every three years.
Evaluation involves gathering information from a variety of sources about a child’s functioning and development in all areas of suspected disability, including information provided by the parent. The evaluation may look at cognitive, behavioral, physical, and developmental factors, as well as other areas. All this information is used to determine the child’s educational needs.
Why have an Evaluation?
A full and individual educational evaluation serves many important purposes:
1. Identification. It can identify children who have delays or learning problems and may need special education and related services as a result.
2. Eligibility. It can determine whether your child is a child with a disability and need special education and related services.
3. Planning an Individualized Education Program (IEP). It provides information that can help the parent and the school develop an appropriate IEP for the child.
4. Instructional strategies. It can help determine what strategies may be most effective in helping the child learn.
5. Measuring progress. It establishes a baseline for measuring the child’s educational progress. The evaluation process establishes a foundation for developing an appropriate educational program
What measures are used to evaluate a child?
No single test may be used as the sole measure for determining whether a child has a disability or for determining an appropriate educational program for your child. Both formal and informal tests and other evaluation measures are important in determining the special education and related services your child needs.
Testing measures a child’s ability or performance by scoring the child’s responses to a set of questions or tasks. It provides a snapshot of a child and the child’s performance on a particular day. Formal test data is useful in predicting how well a child might be expected to perform in school. It also provides information about unique learning needs.
Other measures of a child’s growth and development, such as observation or interviews with parents and others who know the child, provide vital information on how the child functions in different settings and circumstances.
Evaluation also includes other types of information such as:
• medical information
• comparisons of the child’s progress to typical expectations of child development
• observations of how the child functions in school, at home, or in the community
• interviews with parents and school staff
As a parent, you have a wealth of information about the development and needs of your child. When combined with the results of tests and other evaluation materials, this information can be used to make decisions about your child’s appropriate educational program.
What types of tests are available?
There are many types of tests that are used to measure student progress. Here are a few important terms parents may need to know.
Group Tests: Group achievement tests may not be used to determine eligibility for special services. They furnish information about how a child performs in relation to others of the same age or grade level, but they do not identify an individual student’s pattern of strengths and needs.
Individual Tests: Tests administered individually to your child can clarify the special education and related services your child needs to progress in school.
Curriculum-based Assessments (CBAs) or Curriculum- based Measurements (CBMs). These types of tests are developed by school staff to examine the progress a child has made in learning the specific materials the teacher has presented to the class. They can be useful tools for teachers and parents in determining whether learning is taking place, but they must never be used to determine eligibility for services.
Standardized Tests. Standardized tests are rigorously developed by experts to be used with large populations of students. The tests are administered according to specific standards. Standardized tests can evaluate what a child has already learned (achievement), or predict what a child may be capable of doing in the future (aptitude).
Norm-referenced Tests. Norm-referenced tests are standardized tests that compare a child’s performance to that of peers. They can tell you where your child stands in relation to other children of the same age or grade.
Criterion-referenced tests. These tests measure what the child is able to do or the specific skills a child has mastered. Criterion-referenced tests do not assess a child’s standing in a group but the child’s performance measured against standard criteria. They may compare a child’s present performance with past performance as a way of measuring progress
What is Functional Assessment?
While tests are an important part of a full and individual evaluation, sometimes what children can do or need to learn is not reflected in their scores. A functional assessment looks at how a child actually functions at home, at school, and in the neighborhood.
Functional assessment for some students includes looking at reading, writing, and math skills. For others, evaluating whether the student is able to ride the city bus, dress independently, or handle money might be more appropriate.
What is Functional Behavioral Assessment?
• When a child has behavior problems that do not respond to standard interventions, a functional behavioral assessment can provide additional information to help the team plan more effective interventions A clear description of the problem behavior.
• Observations of the child at different times and in different settings. These observations should record (1) what was happening in the environment before the behavior occurred, (2) what the actual behavior was, and (3) what the student achieved as a result of the behavior.
• Positive behavioral interventions, strategies, and supports to address that behavior, and to teach behavior skills.
Once the functional behavior assessment has been completed, the results may be used to write a behavior intervention plan or to develop behavior goals for the individualized education program.
How are Evaluation Results Helpful?
After your child’s evaluation is complete, you’ll meet with a group of qualified professionals to discuss the results and determine whether your child has a disability under IDEA. The school must provide you with a copy of the evaluation report and a written determination of eligibility.
If the team determines, based on the evaluation results, that your child is eligible for special education and related services, the next step is to develop an IEP to meet your child’s needs.
The goals and objectives the IEP team develops relate directly to the strengths and needs that were identified through evaluation. It’s important for you to understand the results of your child’s evaluation before beginning to develop an IEP. Parents should ask to have the evaluation results explained to them in plain language by a qualified professional.
You will want to request the evaluation summary report before meeting with other members of the IEP team to develop the IEP. Reviewing the results in a comfortable environment before developing the IEP can reduce stress for parents and provide time to consider whether the results fit their own observations and experiences with their child.
When are Students Reevaluated?
Students receiving special education services must be reevaluated if conditions warrant a reevaluation, or if the child’s parents or teacher requests a reevaluation. The results are used to monitor the child’s progress in meeting the goals and objectives in his or her IEP The IEP team then decides if any additional data is needed to determine if the child continues to have a disability and continues to need special education and related services.