How to Get a Core Evaluation Completed Through Your School District

core evaluation - Girl writing a book with a pencil.


Posted in: Grade School, You & Your Family

Topics: Learning + Attention Issues

Este artículo está disponible en español.

How do you get a core evaluation completed through your local school district?

Well, the short answer is, “You ask for it.” However, if you’re a parent who has tried to get an evaluation completed through your school system—or is currently going through that process—you might be saying, “It’s not quite that simple.” And you might be right.

So, what are the facts? Anyone is eligible for a public school-based evaluation, regardless of income or whether your child actually attends public school. That is, if your child is age three or older but not yet in school, she is entitled to a fully funded evaluation through your public school system. Even if your child has been suspended or expelled from public school, he is still eligible for a full evaluation at the school system’s expense. This also means that if your child is going to a private school, he is eligible for any type of evaluation that the public school system can provide. For example, Nicole, who was in ninth grade at a private Catholic school in a neighboring town, received a full evaluation through her town’s public school system for possible learning problems and/or depression. One of her teachers then attended the team meeting to serve as a liaison between the private school and public school special education staff. A team meeting consists of all of the participating school staff who have completed aspects of the evaluation and/or would be responsible for helping the child (in addition to the parents and child, when appropriate).

The first step in obtaining your child’s testing evaluation through the public school system is to make a referral, or request for testing, to the special education department. Call the special education office for the school district about your request, and then follow up that request in writing. The school should call you upon receipt of your request for evaluation; state law may require that the school district respond within a certain time frame, although it can vary from state to state.

Because you may not know what kind of evaluation your child needs, it’s often best to start with what may be termed a pre-evaluation conference. This is a meeting between you and at least one member of the special education team, usually the chairperson, to talk about your concerns. You will discuss the kinds of testing to be performed, and who will perform the evaluations at the school. Though the specific types of evaluations may vary from child to child, you should always request that a full intelligence measure be given in order to get an estimate of your child’s potential. Schools will not always perform intelligence testing, but it is essential for figuring out your child’s areas of relative strength and weakness.  Appropriate tests to request could include the following:

  • Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-5) if your child is between the ages of 6 and 16 years.
  • Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI-4) if your child is between the ages of 2 and 6 years.
  • Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale for Children (WAIS-4) if your child is 16 years or older.
  • Differential Abilities Scale (DAS-II) if your child is between the ages of 2 ½ and 16.

The exact test used for your particular child should be at the discretion of the evaluator, and if school personnel do not have the ability to perform such testing, the district can always send you to an outside evaluator at the school’s expense.

A pre-evaluation conference clarifies information, and allows you to get to know at least one member of the special education staff before testing has started. With more information, you and your child are better prepared for what to expect—and therefore more comfortable with the process as a whole.

Regardless of whether you’ve had a pre-evaluation conference, the school district must send you advance written notice of the kinds of testing evaluations it plans to perform, as well as the procedural safeguards available to you (e.g., your rights to reject testing, confidentiality of student records, etc.). Be aware that you have the right to consent to some evaluations but not to others. For example, you may agree with the need to do a speech and language evaluation, but not an occupational therapy evaluation. You may also request that additional evaluations be performed if the school’s proposal does not cover all the areas in which you suspect your child has needs or concerns.

Once you agree with the school’s proposal, you must give written consent before the school will begin testing. Federal law states that the evaluation be completed within a reasonable period of time following receipt of parental consent; the law of your state may specify a particular number of days within which the school must complete all necessary evaluations.

Your child must be assessed in all areas of suspected weakness or disability—thus, depending on the concerns that initiated your request, more than one type of testing may be needed. Often the school system will provide a multidisciplinary evaluation, which is a comprehensive assessment that usually includes several of the following types of tests:

  • Intelligence testing: This provides an estimate of your child’s potential for learning. All other test scores from the school’s team evaluation should be compared to your child’s estimated potential in order to find relative strengths and weaknesses. This then helps to determine the need for services from the school.
  • Educational/achievement testing: This is testing performed in various subject areas—such as reading, math, and writing—to see at what grade level your child’s skills are.
  • Emotional/behavioral testing (sometimes called “psychological testing”): A psychologist should perform this evaluation, which includes an assessment of your child’s emotional, social, and behavioral functioning. This could include class observation, recess/lunchtime observation, parent and teacher rating scales, child self-report tests, and projective tests such as the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), drawings, or sentence completion tests.
  • Speech and language testing: This evaluation assesses your child’s ability to speak clearly, and to understand and express himself through language. Social communication skills called “pragmatics,” which include eye contact, initiating social contact, turn-taking in conversation, and gestures, should also be assessed.
  • Occupational therapy testing: An occupational therapist will observe and evaluate your child’s fine and gross motor skills, visual-spatial/visual-motor skills, sensory processing/integration skills, and general self-help skills.
  • Physical therapy testing: This evaluation is usually necessary for assessing your child’s balance, gross motor coordination, muscle strength, and movement.
  • Home assessments: An assessment of pertinent family history and home situation factors—such as parental divorce, living arrangements, and the like—is often done as part of the school district’s evaluation. Home visits are sometimes made by a special education team member, and the child’s complete developmental history is taken through parent interviews. Estimates of adaptive behavior at home, school, and in the community are also made using interviews and certain measures such as the Vineland or ABAS.
  • Vision/hearing/general health assessments: Though most pediatricians will perform these evaluations, the school system is available to perform vision screens, hearing tests, and physicals for children.

Getting a core evaluation completed through your local school system is a right available to you and your child. Make sure you know your rights (your school is required to provide you with a copy of your legal rights), and work with your child’s teachers and special education staff to determine what type of evaluation is necessary. Once the evaluation is completed, make sure to attend the team meeting that will review the results and determine your eligibility.

Share on Social Media

Was this post helpful?

Ellen Braaten, PhD

Ellen Braaten, PhD

Ellen Braaten, PhD, is executive director of the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program (LEAP) at  Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), an associate professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, and former co-director for the MGH Clay Cente...

To read full bio click here.