IEPs & 504 Plans

Step 4: How to Request a Special Education Assessment

The classroom strategies the teacher implemented aren’t working. Your child is still doing poorly. If you think it’s time to apply for accommodations and services to facilitate learning with ADHD or LD, here’s the first step to getting started: requesting a special education evaluation.

A young girl thriving in school after her parent made a request for a special education evaluation
Smiling young girl in red shirt, holding pen in classroom

Parents should understand that getting academic services isn’t a given. The school sometimes determines that a child is not eligible for services (see Step 6). A parent should also be clear that the school isn’t assessing your child for ADHD, LD, or something else, but determining if he is eligible for accommodations and services.

To get the ball rolling, send a letter to your district’s head of special education, with a copy to your child’s principal. Some schools have a 504 or IEP application available online or in the guidance counselor’s office that you may need to fill out and include with your letter.

1. Include any backup documentation — a diagnosis from a doctor, notes and e-mails from your child’s teacher, and copies of schoolwork or exams that you have put in your file.

2. Explain your child’s academic challenges and the measures the teacher and you have taken.

3. Request an assessment for a suspected LD, as well as social or emotional challenges or speech and language problems, if appropriate. Remember that accommodations can also address behavioral problems that prevent your child from learning in the classroom.

4. Send the letter by certified mail or hand-deliver it and request a receipt. You need documentation that it was received, so the process can go forward.

Should I apply for a 504 Plan or an IEP?

You do not need to choose between an IEP or a 504 Plan at this point. When the school evaluates your child for services, the school team will determine which law and services best apply to your child.

I have requested that my child be evaluated for services. Is there any reason why they wouldn’t evaluate him?

Parents, a child’s doctor, or even school staff (with a parent’s consent) can refer a child for an evaluation. The only way a district may refuse to conduct an evaluation when one is requested is if they decide to go through a process called “response to intervention,” which determines whether a child with a specific learning disability responds to a scientific, research-based intervention. This may delay evaluation as the school tries different interventions. If they don’t work, the school must evaluate your child.

If my school does go ahead with the evaluation, what are the next steps?

You must sign a consent form before the school evaluates your child. From the moment you sign the form, the school has 60 days to determine whether services are appropriate. Sometimes a school doesn’t meet that deadline. If your child is not assessed within that time frame, contact the superintendent of your school district. If you do not receive an answer, call or send a letter to your state’s Department of Education.

Schools may request a conference with parents and teachers before completing, or agreeing to complete, the evaluation. This is usually because they want more information to decide whether a child needs special education or related services or accommodations. If your school requests a conference, it’s important that you attend. Bring documentation to back up your request for the evaluation:

1. Samples of homework

2. Report cards

3. Teacher communications

4. Copies of tests

5. Doctors’ reports, including recommendations for testing (if you have an official diagnosis and the doctor has suggested an evaluation)

6. Previous testing results (if applicable)

Invite the medical professional who diagnosed your child to the conference with you. He can answer detailed questions that the accommodation team may have. If he can’t attend, invite a good friend or relative to the meeting. He or she will provide moral support, contribute to the discussion, and offer further insights as to why your child should have an evaluation.

What kinds of things will they assess my child for?

It depends on which types of problems you and the school district have observed. If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, the assessments will be different than they would be for a child who has been diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. Assessments can cover health and development, intellectual abilities, motor abilities, vision, hearing, language function, general abilities, academic performance, social and behavioral issues, and/or self-help and vocational abilities and interests. The assessment should be comprehensive enough to identify all of your child’s special education needs.

When the school accepts your request for an evaluation, you will receive an assessment plan, which outlines all of the evaluations that will be done. You can request specific assessments if they are not included in the plan. If the school district does not have the personnel to complete a specific assessment that is deemed appropriate, they must request an outside professional to complete the assessment. The school district must pay for these services. Parents should not be charged for any part of the assessment.

The school didn’t schedule a pre-assessment conference for my son, but I would like to talk to someone about him before he is evaluated for services. Can I do that?

If you did not have a pre-assessment conference, you can request to meet with the person responsible for implementing the assessment and share information about your child — test scores, report cards, teacher communications, and doctors’ reports. This information will be made part of the assessment.

You have the right to receive a copy of the complete assessment. The sample letter requesting services also asks that you receive a copy of the assessment. You might need to follow up on this request to be sure you receive a copy before any meetings about specific services and accommodations are scheduled.

Then you wait until the school sends you a letter to schedule a meeting to discuss their assessment conclusions and recommendations for services and/or accommodations.

1. Your child has been formally diagnosed with ADHD or an LD

2. Your child is receiving informal accommodations implemented by his teacher but isn’t showing signs of improvement, or is not improving enough

3. Your child struggles to keep up with schoolwork, isn’t completing assignments, or doesn’t seem to understand the material in one specific academic subject or in several areas

4. Your child is in danger of failing

5. Your child is emotionally distraught over school

Click here for Step 5: Evaluate Your Options.

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