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The School Proposes an Evaluation Plan

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Once the school receives the request for evaluation of a child for a disability, it must send back an evaluation plan in writing to the parents for approval and consent. This evaluation plan should outline what methods, tests, or other tools, will be used to evaluate for the disability, and the plan will identify the individual providing the evaluation and that individual's credentials.

pen and listIDEA requires that schools use a variety of tests; they cannot just use one test. The evaluations must be given in children's native language, and they cannot have been designed in such a way that children from one cultural background will have a strong advantage over those from another background so as to be discriminatory. All evaluations need to be administered by professionals who have expertise in that particular area. All proposed tests must also be considered to be valid, which means they actually and accurately measure the type of disability problems the assessment team is looking to measure. Finally, the selected tests should address all major aspects of the proposed disabilities. The school cannot pick out one or two areas of disability to test for if there may be multiple possibilities. Disability evaluations should include psychological tests, such as intelligence or "IQ" tests, as well as tests measuring abilities and achievements in specific content areas like reading, writing, and math.

These tests generally have both oral and written components, and are administered individually to the child by a Psychologist.

In addition to test performance, evaluations also take into account a child's behaviors, including the child's social skill with peers, classroom behavior, and signs of emotional problems. This behavioral information is usually gathered by having the child's parents, teachers, and other professionals who work with the child write reports or fill out questionnaires about the child's behavior which then become part of the record.

Evaluations also take into account medical information that may be relevant to the child's learning abilities, such as major medical problems, vision level, and hearing ability. Most of the time, the school nurse will screen students for vision and hearing problems, but parents may have more detailed and thorough medical reports and should be certain to submit any relevant medical reports from the child's doctors to the school evaluator so that they can become part of the child's formal record.

On an as-needed basis, the evaluation may also include additional assessments performed by specialists relevant to the child's suspected disability, for instance, a speech and language assessment.

Parents, in their role as advocates for their children, should take care to carefully review the proposed evaluation strategy and think carefully as to whether it appears comprehensive enough to adequately capture the nature of the child's issues. As special needs evaluation is a technical field and parents will not necessarily understand the rationale behind test choices, parents may wish to consult with a private psychologist, a family doctor or other specialists who know the child to learn their view of the proposal. Caregivers can also ask to meet with the special education representative at the school to discuss the proposed evaluation.