What is an Evaluation?
Evaluation is the process for determining whether a child has a disability and qualifies for special education and related services. It’s the first step in developing an educational program that will help the child learn. Evaluation involves gathering information from a variety of sources about a child’s functioning and development 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 under and qualifies for special education and related services.
3. Planning an Individualized Education Program (IEP). It provides information that can help you and the school develop an appropriate IEP for your child.
4. Instructional strategies. It can help determine what strategies may be most effective in helping your child learn.
5. Measuring progress. It establishes a baseline for measuring your 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.
The school must conduct a full and individual evaluation that uses information from diverse sources, including formal and informal data. Tests are important, but 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.
As part of the evaluation, your child may undergo a psycho-education assessment. Psycho-educational assessment refers to the psychological tests used to analyze the mental processes underlying your child’s educational performance. Numerous tests exist. Some are better than others. As your child’s advocate, it is important to learn as much as you can about the assessment process before it begins. It is also important for your child to be as comfortable as possible with this process. The assessment is usually conducted over several days as it can be tiring for the child and should be conducted in the child’s first language, in a setting that he finds comfortable.
The assessment will likely include:
- an initial interview with you (with or without your child) to gather birth history, early childhood experiences, and general information on his difficulties. This is a good opportunity to ask questions about what tests will be done and why. Bring your questions written down so that you won’t forget something really important. Invite the child to voice his questions too.
- an interview with the child’s teacher. The assessor may observe the child in the classroom and in the playground.
- a review of your child’s academic records to get a framework for academic performance prior to testing.
- a battery of tests.
The aim of these tests is to discover three things: the child’s learning aptitude, level of achievement, and ability to process information: Learning aptitude is commonly called “IQ”. The tests will establish the overall ability to learn, and will also indicate how this individual learns best: by reading, by hearing information, or perhaps by handling actual objects.
Achievement tests discover what the individual has actually learned so far in school subjects such as reading, spelling, arithmetic, and general knowledge.
Information processing: the results of the aptitude and achievements tests may lead the psychologist to administer further tests, such as test of visual or auditory perception, or tests of long or short-term memory, which reveal the strengths and weaknesses in the way this child processes the information received through the senses.
How are evaluation results used?
When all the various tests and assessment are completed, your child’s evaluation results will be reviewed. You’ll meet with a group of qualified professionals to discuss the results and determine whether your child is eligible for special education and related services. The school must provide you with a copy of the evaluation report and a written determination of eligibility. 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 the evaluation process. 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 and 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.