Special Education Referral and Evaluation

  • Children may be eligible for special education services at birth. Identification of school-age children is usually based on the child’s performance in school.


    Before referring a school-aged child for an evaluation, the classroom teacher may plan strategies to see if his or her performance improves with simple changes in curriculum or environment. These are called “pre-referral interventions.” At least two pre-referral interventions must be tried and documented. If your child’s performance improves, an evaluation may not be needed. If problems continue, an evaluation will help identify more specific ways to help your child learn. A pre-referral intervention does not require parent permission. It is important for parents to know what interventions are to be tried and the amount of time that they will be attempted before it is decided if they are working or not.


    When classroom interventions are not successful, the classroom teacher may make a referral for a Child Study Team to consider whether the child should receive further evaluation. This team decides if there is evidence of a disability, if so, the areas to be evaluated and assessments to be completed.

    The referral is the starting point of the special education process. A referral is simply a request for an evaluation. This referral can be made by a parent or guardian, the classroom teacher, any member of the school district (public or private), a judicial officer, or a student (18 years or older, or an emancipated minor). A meeting may be scheduled to voice concerns.

    Parents may initiate a request for an evaluation. In order to do this, you could submit a written request for an evaluation to the school. If so, one copy of the letter should go to the school principal, school psychologist, classroom teachers and one should be kept for your files. This document should include the reason for the referral and details describing academic or behavioral concerns.

    You also may be asked to provide additional details regarding concerns about school performance. Once the request is made, the team will determine if an evaluation is warranted. 

    A referral does not mean the student has a disability. It is the first step to determine if concerns are due to a disability. Following the referral, the school district will invite you to an evaluation planning meeting. You will work with the school team to determine what areas will be evaluated, what tests will be used and who will do the testing. The evaluation cannot take place without your written consent. Once the school district receives consent, the evaluation must be completed within 30 school days.


    When an evaluation is recommended, it means that you or your child’s academic team of teachers feels your child may have a disability that is interfering with his or her ability to learn.

    The purpose of the evaluation is to determine if the student has a disability that qualifies them for special education and if they require specialized instruction to make progress in the general education curriculum. This starts with the evaluation of your child in all areas of concern. The evaluation should examine all areas of suspected disability and provide a detailed description of your child’s current educational performance and needs. This evaluation may include:

    • formal tests
    • informal measures
    • direct observations
    • educational history and
    • medical

    Several professionals may be involved, and may include, but are not limited to: the general education teacher, a special education teacher, the school nurse, the school psychologist, a speech-language pathologist, an adapted physical education teacher, occupational therapist, or physical therapist.

    Teachers can refer a student to a Child Study Team without your authorization; however, no special education evaluation can take place without your written consent. The school district will invite you to an evaluation planning meeting. You will work with the school team to determine what areas will be assessed, what tests will be used and who will do the testing. A  Prior Written Notice form requesting permission to evaluate your child will be sent to you for your signature, shortly after the evaluation-planning meeting.

    Once permission is received by the school district, they have 30 school days (not including holidays and weekends) to complete the testing. This time period is determined by state rules in order to provide schools with enough time to conduct an appropriate evaluation of your child’s needs.

    After the Evaluation

    After the evaluation, the case manager or school psychologist assigned to your child will contact you. This person will coordinate a date and time for you to discuss the results of your child’s evaluation with members of the evaluation team along with at least one classroom teacher. The student’s participation is determined on an individual basis and is up to you.

    The assessment results will be summarized in an evaluation report. You will receive a copy of the final report. Your child’s eligibility for special education services is determined by very specific criteria outlined by State and Federal Law.

    If your child is found to meet the eligibility criteria for any of the identified educational disabilities the evaluation team will develop an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

    If your child does not qualify for special education and still struggles in school, there are other options that may be available to him or her. General education supports include:

    • title services
    • student advocates
    • guidance counselors
    • 504 Plans
    • reading/math interventionists