Inside: Learn the timelines of the IEP Evaluation Process, including how to interpret some of the IEP assessments and get ready for your IEP eligibility meeting.

For me, both as a Special Education Advocate and a Parent, I find the hardest part of the IEP process to be the IEP eligibility evaluations.

For each re-evaluation, my son (or my clients) may receive upward of 10-12 assessments. That’s a dozen protocols I have to look up, read and understand.

Then, by the time another 2-3 years goes by, the IEP team has completely changed. Many evaluators have their favorite IEP evaluations to do, so the IEP evaluations and IEP evaluation reports are different.

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IEP Present Levels

It makes it darned near impossible to be able to compare apples to apples, and know what your child’s baselines are from one IEP evaluation report to the next.

But, that being said, I love a good IEP evaluation report. The IEP assessments or evaluations provide objective data to determine if a student is eligible to receive special education services and what the areas of need are.

1. IEP Evaluation Process

Here is how the IEP Evaluation Process goes, and timelines. Keep in mind, states may have different timelines for IEP testing. A state can do more than what IDEA calls for, but they cannot do less.

  1. Child or Student is referred for IEP Evaluations. Today, the request for IEP evaluations is done by a parent. But, a teacher, caregiver, school staff….anyone can request IEP evaluations for a child. The school district is bound to Child Find.
  2. Sometimes, a district will have a “pre” meeting to discuss the evaluation request. This is not a required component of IDEA.
  3. The district decides to evaluate or refuse to evaluate the child. This may be done in that “pre” meeting listed above, or by a school staff member. Since the child does not have an IEP team in place yet, this is not a team decision.
  4. If they decide to evaluate, they send a “Permission to Evaluate” form to the parents.
  5. If they refuse to evaluate, they send a PWN with this decision to the parents. The parent then should read and use their procedural safeguards.
  6. The IEP Evaluation Process should be 60 days. I have been at workshops where our State Department of Education people said, they interpret this as: “The parent should have the evaluation report in-hand by Day 60.”
child completing an IEP evaluation

The evaluation results should be the driving force in developing a solid Present Levels section of the IEP.

2. Interpreting IEP Evaluations

But what are those evaluations? And what evaluations should you ask for?

States are given a lot of flexibility in deciding which IEP assessments to use.

The assessment used should:

  • be appropriate in determining a suspected area of need
  • normed for your child’s condition or culture
  • provide objective data relating to your child’s strengths and/or areas of need

I rarely recommend that parents request specific evaluations or assessments.

Disclaimer: I am not a neuropsychologist, nor do I play one on the internet. I always recommend that you ask the actual person who did the evaluations on your child to sit with you and explain them to you.

Parent Training is a section of the IEP and you should ask for it if you need it. It is essential to begin to understand these scores if you are going to be a meaningful IEP team participant.

3. IDEA and Evaluations

Here is what IDEA says about Initial Evaluations. I have another separate article on IEP Re-evaluations.

(a) General. Each public agency must conduct a full and individual initial evaluation, in accordance with §§300.304 through 300.306, before the initial provision of special education and related services to a child with a disability under this part.

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(b) Request for initial evaluation. Consistent with the consent requirements in §300.300, either a parent of a child or a public agency may initiate a request for an initial evaluation to determine if the child is a child with a disability.

(c) Procedures for initial evaluation. The initial evaluation—

(1)(i) Must be conducted within 60 days of receiving parental consent for the evaluation; or

(ii) If the State establishes a timeframe within which the evaluation must be conducted, within that timeframe; and

(2) Must consist of procedures—(i) To determine if the child is a child with a disability under §300.8; and (ii) To determine the educational needs of the child.

4. Does the School Have to Follow Specific IEP Testing Procedures?

Mostly, no. However, IDEA is pretty comprehensive about the IEP testing parameters.

  • (a) Notice. The public agency must provide notice to the parents of a child with a disability, in accordance with §300.503, that describes any evaluation procedures the agency proposes to conduct.
  • (b) Conduct of evaluation. In conducting the evaluation, the public agency must—
  • (1) Use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental, and academic information about the child, including information provided by the parent, that may assist in determining—
  • (i) Whether the child is a child with a disability under §300.8; and
  • (ii) The content of the child’s IEP, including information related to enabling the child to be involved in and progress in the general education curriculum (or for a preschool child, to participate in appropriate activities);
  • (2) Not use any single measure or assessment as the sole criterion for determining whether a child is a child with a disability and for determining an appropriate educational program for the child; and
  • (3) Use technically sound instruments that may assess the relative contribution of cognitive and behavioral factors, in addition to physical or developmental factors.
  • (c) Other evaluation procedures. Each public agency must ensure that—
  • (1) Assessments and other evaluation materials used to assess a child under this part—
  • (i) Are selected and administered so as not to be discriminatory on a racial or cultural basis;
  • (ii) Are provided and administered in the child’s native language or other mode of communication and in the form most likely to yield accurate information on what the child knows and can do academically, developmentally, and functionally, unless it is clearly not feasible to so provide or administer;
  • (iii) Are used for the purposes for which the assessments or measures are valid and reliable;
  • (iv) Are administered by trained and knowledgeable personnel; and
  • (v) Are administered in accordance with any instructions provided by the producer of the assessments.
  • (2) Assessments and other evaluation materials include those tailored to assess specific areas of educational need and not merely those that are designed to provide a single general intelligence quotient.
  • (3) Assessments are selected and administered so as best to ensure that if an assessment is administered to a child with impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills, the assessment results accurately reflect the child’s aptitude or achievement level or whatever other factors the test purports to measure, rather than reflecting the child’s impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills (unless those skills are the factors that the test purports to measure).
  • (4) The child is assessed in all areas related to the suspected disability, including, if appropriate, health, vision, hearing, social and emotional status, general intelligence, academic performance, communicative status, and motor abilities;
  • (5) Assessments of children with disabilities who transfer from one public agency to another public agency in the same school year are coordinated with those children’s prior and subsequent schools, as necessary and as expeditiously as possible, consistent with §300.301(d)(2) and (e), to ensure prompt completion of full evaluations.
  • (6) In evaluating each child with a disability under §§300.304 through 300.306, the evaluation is sufficiently comprehensive to identify all of the child’s special education and related services needs, whether or not commonly linked to the disability category in which the child has been classified.
  • (7) Assessment tools and strategies that provide relevant information that directly assists persons in determining the educational needs of the child are provided.

Whew! That’s a lot. Take time to digest it all, as your child goes through this process.

5. Common Educational Assessments

There are very common evaluations that are done in schools. Here are some of the most common. I put their nicknames behind them since they are more Special Education Acronyms for all of us to learn.

Wechsler Intelligence Scale (WISC-V)

  • aka “the wisc” (note: do not confuse the wisc with the wiat, which is below)
  • Measures a student’s cognitive ability; identify and diagnose intellectual and learning disabilities; measure the ability to analyze and synthesize information, quantitative reasoning and induction, and visual working memory; Evaluate cognitive processing strengths and weaknesses; Assess giftedness and the impact of brain injuries
  • Who usually conducts: School psychologist.
  • Report: It usually looks at three intelligence quotient (IQ) scores: verbal IQ, performance IQ, and full-scale IQ. The subtests within these areas often provide good information about a student’s strengths as well as areas of need. Dig deep into the subtest results as they contain a lot of good information.
  • More added weirdness: this is a test that you can have your child take a course and prepare for; yes, many parents treat these like the SAT.

Wechsler Individual Achievement Test-WIAT

  • aka “the wiat” pronounced like the boy’s name-Wyatt
  • WIAT-4 features new subtests and expanded scoring capabilities, including composites for Phonological Processing, Orthographic Processing, Writing Fluency, and an Orthographic Processing Extended Composite*
  • The included Dyslexia Index Scores support efficient, reliable screening.
  • New: Phonemic Proficiency – measures speed and accuracy of phonological manipulation
  • New: Orthographic Fluency – measures speed of irregular word reading
  • New: Decoding Fluency – measures speed of pseudoword reading
  • New: Sentence Writing Fluency – measures speed of sentence composition
  • New: Orthographic Choice* – measures recognition spelling skills

Woodcock-Johnson Psychoeducational Battery

  • aka “woodcook johnson”
  • Measures Individual educational achievement; very common test for full IQ score, but not without flaws; Includes diagnostic utility for learning disabilities, giftedness, and non-English speaking populations
  • Who conducts: Usually special-education teacher.
  • Data: Test includes mandatory sections and optional subtests. The scores are then combined into composite scores. The identified areas help the IEP team look at specific areas of need, which then help create meaningful IEP goals.
  • Added weirdness: There are actually courses online and in-person, that parents sign their kids up for, to prepare for this test. In other words, they want their kids to test as gifted.

Behavior Assessment System for Children (BASC)

  • aka “the basc”
  • Measures a student’s behavior and mental health, including how the student sees him- or herself as well as how parents and school staff view the student
  • Can differentiate between hyperactivity and attention problems
  • Identify behavior problems as required by IDEA, and for developing FBAs, BIPs, and IEPs.
  • Who usually conducts: Parents, classroom teacher, special-education teacher, and sometimes the student. This test requires multiple people filling out a questionnaire to look for patterns and concerns.
  • Report: These evaluations do not offer a diagnosis but instead look at life skills, social skills, social concerns, and attention. It may help identify mental-health concerns and/or behavioral issues.

Vineland Adaptive Behavior Rating Scale Scale

  • aka “the vineland”
  • measures a student’s functional skills, among other areas; Correspond scales to the three broad domains of adaptive functioning specified by the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and by DSM-5 – Communication, Daily Living Skills, and Socialization.
  • Who conducts: this is a multipart test and teachers and caregivers should complete a portion; this test actually has been normed to test ages 0-90!
  • Report: this test should identify functional living skills deficits, social skills deficits and other non-academic deficits if they exist

Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals (CELF)

  • aka “the celf”
  • Measures verbal and written language, which may also include articulation, semantics, and pragmatic aspects of speech and language in both expressive and receptive communication; includes Speech subtest and Pragmatics Activities Checklist
  • Two new index scores help you determine if a child has the language skills needed to transition to the classroom
  • Who conducts: Speech and language therapist (SLP)
  • Report: This test can direct the IEP team to develop goals and also accommodations such as books on tape or written (not verbal) instructions as well as for direct therapy with the SLP for both expressive and receptive language.

6. How to Prepare for an Evaluation Report Meeting

Some districts will hold a separate meeting to go over evaluation results. This most common if it is the child’s first IEP evaluations. It is less common to hold separate meetings for this in subsequent meetings.

  1. Commit to the IEP Process and Pace Yourself: Solid baselines and well-identified strengths and areas of need are the foundation of a good IEP. Without good evaluations, you won’t have good goals, and without good IEP goals, you won’t get good supports and services. This part is essential, so commit to it. This takes time. I wish I didn’t have to know it. But I do. And so do you.
  2. Print the IEP Evaluation Report: Yes, we’re a digital society. But, most of my clients say it’s easier to digest it on paper and use a highlighter and take notes on the report.
  3. Read the IEP Evaluation Report: Seems silly that I have to include this, but I do. And by read, I mean READ. Don’t skim. Don’t just jump to IQ scores and then call it a day. Yes, many parents do this. READ the report.
  4. Then read it again, with a highlighter: Highlight areas of concern that you have. Write in the margins, if you have questions. This should all be done before your meeting with the school personnel.
  5. Consider reading the test protocols online: You want to look at the protocols online. Was this test appropriate for your child? For example, if your child is autistic or non-speaking, was this an appropriate assessment? If you have concerns about reading ability, was this a reading-heavy assessment?
  6. Before you ask for raw data: Many parents want to ask for the raw data. What will you do with it? However, for some assessments, it is appropriate to pay a third party for their interpretation of the data. This might be a more affordable option if the school refuses an IEE and you cannot afford one.
  7. Attend the IEP Eligibility Meeting and Take Notes: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Try not to let yourself be intimidated or overwhelmed with data. It’s ok to not know this stuff. I’m not a school psychologist or an SLP, so why should I be expected, as a parent, to know how to interpret a WISC or a CELF?

If you need to digest the information separately, you can ask for two separate meetings. For the first one, depending on your state, they may not be required to convene the entire IEP team. It might just be the professionals who administered the assessments.

Note that this is NOT an IEP meeting.

This is just for going over the evaluation reports. I have addressed preparing for IEP meetings in several other posts.

School staff don’t know how to do your job, so you shouldn’t expect that you can do theirs. You are the expert in your child and what you are seeing every day.

But they should be the experts in interpreting this data and they are responsible for explaining it to you.

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