IEPs & 504 Plans

5 School Assessments Your Child May Be Entitled To

If your child is struggling at school, do you know where to turn for answers? And solutions? Most school districts offer these five assessments — but only to caregivers who request them, in most cases. So get to know your child’s rights and read on to determine whether to request one of the following evaluations.

Teacher working with parents on medication monitoring
Teacher shaking hands with family

According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), every child in the United States has the right to a “fair and appropriate education.” This definition is intentionally vague, however it’s clear to all education experts that a child struggling with learning is entitled to a formal school assessment designed to identify the sources of his challenges and point the way toward appropriate accommodations for academic success.

A formal school evaluation critically analyzes many aspects of a student’s functioning in the school environment, such as IQ, memory, cognitive functioning, executive functioning, reasoning, verbal and non-verbal communication, behavior, and math, reading, and/or writing skills. The testing’s breadth often hinges on the parent concerns shared with the school, as well as areas of concern or weakness identified by teachers and other school staff.

When performed thoroughly and effectively, a formal school assessment should offer educational insights and strategies to address the student’s individual needs at school.

The following assessments are used when a student is struggling at school — not just with learning, but with behavior and meeting expectations, as well.

1. Educational/Academic Evaluation

When a student is struggling academically or has been diagnosed with a disability already, that child should absolutely undergo a formal educational evaluation at school. This evaluation measures current academic capability and performance, as well as other skills necessary for school success. It assesses for specific learning disabilities when suspected, as well.

A school evaluation will not result in a diagnosis — that is left for the medical professionals. If you suspect ADHD, learning disabilities, or other conditions, you will need a private evaluation to receive an official diagnosis. Many parents request a formal school evaluation immediately after receiving a diagnosis of ADHD from their pediatrician or family doctor. Having that private diagnosis may help to speed up the process.

Parents do not pay for school evaluations. They are free of charge.

When to Request

If your child’s school performance is troubling — she may be bringing home notes from the teacher frequently, barely passing, not completing assignments, not improving with informal accommodations from their teacher, struggling to understand the material or keep up, or emotionally distraught over school — it’s time to request a school evaluation. Many parents first seek a diagnosis when their child is struggling with academics, behavior, or social skills. Then they pursue accommodations and/or special services to help their child succeed at school.

How to Request

Write a letter requesting an evaluation of your child. Address it to the Director of Special Education Services or the Director of Student Services because, as Mary Durheim says in her book, Making the System Work for Your Child, “It’s often a waste of time to send the letter to the child’s teachers, guidance counselor, or principal.”

Here’s a sample letter you can use as a template when writing your own letter to request a school evaluation.

[Date]

Dear Mr./Ms. [name]:

I would like to request an evaluation of my son/daughter [full name and student ID# or date of birth] for his/her eligibility for special education provisions (IDEA) and/or Section 504 accommodations. I have been concerned that he/she is not progressing well in school and that he/she may need some special help in order to learn. He/she is in the [grade level and name of current teacher].

During the last two years, both of his/her classroom teachers have noted that he/she has substantial problems completing assignments, problems with excessive motor behavior, and impulsivity. Please note that Dr. Verywell Qualified [your doctor’s name] has recently evaluated and diagnosed my son/daughter as having Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Because Dr. Verywell Qualified [your doctor’s name] is concerned that his/her ADHD is resulting in decreased alertness and impairment in school performance and learning, he/she requested us to pursue these school-based evaluations, in order to get my son/daughter the help he/she needs.

I understand that the evaluation is to be provided at no charge to me. My reasons for requesting the procedure are [keep this paragraph short, but give one or two specific reasons for your concern about your child].

I would appreciate meeting with each person who will be doing the evaluation before he/she tests my child so that I might share information about [child’s name] with him/her. I will also expect a copy of the written report generated by each evaluation so that I might review it before the [IEP or 504 Plan] meeting.

It is my understanding that I have to provide written permission for these tests to be administered, and I will be happy to do so upon receipt of the proper forms and explanation of the process.

Please contact me at your earliest convenience so that we may begin the next steps in planning for an evaluation.

Sincerely,

Parent

If you have any evaluation and/or diagnosis reports already, include them with your letter to request an evaluation.

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.

The Tests

A school evaluation typically includes an interview and observation by a school psychologist and written tests. The tests are standardized, meaning they are administered the same for everyone and scored based on a predefined scale. This allows the evaluator to compare your child’s functioning to a baseline — in this case, a neurotypical (“normal”) student of the same age/grade and gender. Hearing and vision tests are typically performed first, to be certain a deficit in one or both of those areas is not causing your child’s school struggles.

The evaluation analyzes some or all of the following areas, depending on the child’s challenges, parents’ concerns, and teachers’ input:

  • Intelligence
  • Executive functioning
  • Processing
  • Attention
  • Memory
  • Visual-spatial functioning
  • Communication/language skills
  • Emotion and mood
  • Sensory integration/processing
  • Motor skills
  • Academics

When ADHD is suspected, the following are often used in school testing:

The Time Required

A guardian must sign a consent form before the school evaluates a child. From that moment forward, 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. Usually this happens because the school wants more information to help determine 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, including:

  1. Samples of homework and classwork
  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)

The Outcome

When the assessment is complete, the evaluator (usually a special education teacher) will score the tests and questionnaires, compile the data from all professionals involved in the evaluation, and make determination regarding eligibility for services.

You should receive copies of all test results and the school psychologist’s report from meeting with and observing your child. Ask for these if they aren’t offered to you. The assessment results should also be explained to you in a way you can understand.

The process from there is determined by the evaluation’s final determination. Your child may qualify for a 504 Plan, an IEP, or no services or accommodations at all. Your next steps are based on that determination.

 

2. Occupational Therapy Evaluation

While parents can specifically request an occupational therapy evaluation at school, separate from the Educational/Academic Evaluation described above, the request for this assessment is often made by the educational evaluation team based on observing specific concerns in the areas of handwriting, motor coordination, sensory processing, planning and organization, self-regulation, and daily life skills (like tying shoes).

An occupational therapy evaluation can provide a great deal of insight on struggles and weaknesses in these areas, as well as strategies to address identified difficulties at school.

The Tests

An occupational therapy evaluation at school will include clinical assessments and observations by the school district’s licensed occupational therapist.

The Outcome

When the evaluation is complete, the occupational therapist will score the assessments, analyze the information gathered, and report the following:

  • The clinical impressions of level of functioning and areas of weakness
  • Proposed treatment goals and treatment plan for school services

The OT may submit insights and suggested accommodations to your child’s classroom teacher(s), work with your child on OT needs in the classroom, work with your child 1-on-1 for OT, or a combination of all of these options, if determined necessary.

 

3. Speech-Language Evaluation

Many children with ADHD also have speech-language delays and/or disorders. While parents can specifically request a speech-language evaluation at school, separate from the Educational/Academic Evaluation, the request for this assessment is often made by the educational evaluation team based on observing specific concerns in the areas of language and communication skills. Your child’s school may offer this evaluation, or you may have to do it privately.

The Tests

A speech-language evaluation is performed by the school’s speech-language pathologist, or SLP, who has a master’s level education in the field.

Potential areas of evaluation include:

  • Oral motor assessment
  • Articulation
  • Expressive language
  • Receptive language
  • Speech production and fluency
  • Auditory skills
  • Understanding of grammar and syntax
  • Word retrieval
  • Understanding instructions, especially as they increase in length and difficulty
  • Social language

The Outcome

When the evaluation is complete, the speech-language pathologist will score the assessments and report the following to the school evaluation team:

  • The clinical impressions of oral motor, language, communication, and processing functioning
  • Proposed treatment goals and treatment plan for school services to develop skills for more effective communication and language skills, if determined necessary

4. Response to Intervention (RTI)

“Response to Intervention (RTI) is a multi-tier approach to the early identification and support of students with learning and behavior needs,” as defined by the RTI Action Network, a Program of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. It’s designed, they say, “for use when making decisions in both general education and special education, creating a well-integrated system of instruction and intervention guided by child outcome data.”

As an attempt to ensure that there is no delay in providing services to young children at crucial developmental stages, the 2004 amendment to IDEA included Response to Intervention (RTI), which gives school districts the ability to provide remedial services in areas such as speech, language, and reading without having to go through the evaluation and IEP process.

When to Request

The RTI model is one of prevention, calling for universal screening to identify all students at risk for learning difficulties, through a component of both IDEA and Section 504, called “Child Find.” Therefore, RTI isn’t requested by parents, though it is often the first process implemented by schools when parents request an educational evaluation from the school. It can also result in the identification of the need to evaluate without parental request.

How to Request

Parents don’t request RTI. It’s a process of intervention offered to particular students by the school. However, parents should be aware of RTI and not allow schools to use it instead of the full evaluation when that is requested.

The Tests

All students are to be screened through brief assessments in the areas of reading, writing, math, and behavior three times per school year. Those identified as “at risk” for learning and/or behavior difficulties are then provided interventions.

The Time Required

RTI is an ongoing process. Once a student is identified as an “at risk” learner, he or she is moved to Tier 1 of RTI, which provides supplemental instruction in the general education classroom. This tier should not exceed eight weeks. Students who show significant progress are returned to the general education program.

Those who do not make adequate progress during Tier 1 will be moved to Tier 2 and provided increasingly intensive small-group instruction in their area(s) of need. Tier 2 is longer, but should last no longer than a grading period. Again, students who show significant progress are returned to the general education program.

Students who show too little progress during Tier 2 are moved up to Tier 3, individualized intensive interventions. If they don’t meet progress goals during Tier 3, they are referred for a comprehensive educational evaluation. The data collected during all phases of RTI can be used to make an eligibility decision for special services and accommodations under IDEA.

The Outcome

The outcome of this process should be the support and instruction your child’s needs to achieve academic success, without falling behind.

5. Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA)

School expectations include a lot more than just good grades. Behavior at school is a fundamental component of “academic success.” A Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) is used to determine why a student has particular unwanted or inappropriate behaviors — understanding the triggers and reasons behind behaviors is an essential first step toward changing those behaviors.

When to Request

Is your child struggling to follow the school’s behavior guidelines? Is he getting in trouble frequently at school? Are the school’s tactics used to address problem behaviors ineffective? Is your child experiencing a lot of school-related stress? If so, it’s time to request a Functional Behavior Assessment.

How to Request

Here’s a sample letter you can use as a template when writing your own letter to request a FBA.

[Date]

Dear [name of Special Education Director]:

My child, [full name and student ID# or date of birth] attends [school name]. [child’s name]’s behavior is beginning to interfere with his/her ability to learn and meet expectations. Here are the reasons for my concern:

[List your specific behavior concerns, such as]

  • He/she does not know how to appropriately manage emotions.
  • He/she flees the classroom when stressed or overwhelmed.
  • He/she is frequently hitting peers.
  • He/she is avoiding classwork.
  • He/she is disruptive when finished with classwork.
  • He/she tears up papers when frustrated.
  • He/she talks too much during class.

Please conduct  a functional behavior assessment (FBA) for [child’s name]’s, under the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This letter serves as my formal request and grants consent for the school to conduct an FBA.

I understand that a professional team will be assembled to conduct and review the FBA and develop an appropriate behavior intervention plan (BIP) for [child’s name]’s. I expect to be an active participant on the team for both the assessment of behavior and to develop the BIP.

I hope that this request can be expedited as [child’s name] has already been punished for behavior on [number of times] occasions this school year. [If your child has been suspended, note the number of times and dates.]

Please contact me at your earliest convenience so we can begin the functional behavior assessment process and address [child’s name] behavior more effectively.

Sincerely,

Parent

The Tests

The functional behavior assessment does not include any testing, but often includes classroom observation by the behavior specialist who will be facilitating the assessment meetings and process.

The FBA team should include:

  • Behavior specialist (most school systems have these professionals on staff)
  • Parent(s)
  • Classroom teachers
  • Special education teachers
  • Other school personnel that work with your child frequently (guidance counselor, speech therapist, occupational therapist, school psychologist, etc.)
  • Principal and/or Vice-Principal
  • Your child (when appropriate)

The Time Required

It could take a few weeks to complete an FBA and draft and implement the Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP). Sometimes it’s difficult to align team members’ schedules.

The behavior specialist will first observe the student in the classroom. Then the FBA meeting can take place, which will last 1-4 hours, depending on the number of behaviors to analyze and each individual member’s ability to agree. From the outcome of the FBA, a BIP is drafted and distributed for implementation at school.

The FBA requires a fixed structure for the meeting — in essence determining the who, what, when, where, and why for each behavior. The meeting should:

  1. List and describe the inappropriate/unwanted behaviors, including what they look like specifically. Also note if there is aggression, violence, or destruction of property and if the behavior is a danger to self or others.
  2. Determine where each behavior is and isn’t happening.
  3. List the frequency of occurrence.
  4. Discuss who is involved when each behavior takes place.
  5. Discuss any potential environmental factors that lead to the behavior.
  6. Identify possible perceived functions for each behavior.
  7. Talk about the antecedents (what happens immediately before the behavior) and consequences (what happens immediately after the behavior).
  8. Define appropriate evidence-based strategies to effectively address the function of each behavior.

The Outcome

Once the FBA is completed, a Behavior Intervention Plan should be created. This document should identify each behavior listed in the FBA, and the associated strategies to be employed when these behaviors occur. Each intervention should focus on skill development when applicable, as that will be more successful in changing the behavior than simply behavior management.

Educators should track the goals and measurements for the BIP to monitor the effectiveness of the interventions and further identify which strategies are effective, and which strategies need to be modified. The FBA should be regularly updated and fluid.

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