Because these students are complex learners, special education teachers must fully understand their strengths and weaknesses before they can be effective with their instruction.
One tool available to these teachers is special education assessment.
It’s not just teachers who depend on assessments to identify their students’ strengths, weaknesses, and progress, however.
Parents, specialists, and counselors, too, rely on these assessments.
As a means for systematically collecting and interpreting a wide variety of information, assessments can inform any number of decisions related to:
Assessment, which is also known as evaluation, may be looked at as a problem-solving process that involves several ways of collecting information about a student for the purpose of making decisions.
For this reason, assessment plays a foundational, if not critical, role in special education.
Expert Tip: Don’t confuse the term “assessment” and “testing.” While the two are related, they don’t mean the same thing.
Testing refers to the administration of specifically designed and (usually) standardized educational and psychological measures of behavior.
While testing is a part of the assessment process, assessment itself involves several different methods of evaluation; only one of which includes tests.
It’s only after a full and individual initial evaluation has been done that a determination can be made as to whether the child has a disability. At this point, the child will be deemed eligible to receive special education and related services.
Thankfully, there are programs such as Positive Action that offer teachers excellent teaching strategies for students with special needs. These strategies, along with an evidence-based SpEd curriculum, can be crucial in helping students thrive.
Many parents and educators alike struggle with the issue of evaluating children to determine their eligibility for special education services.
Consequently, it’s a huge relief for parents when they know their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Understanding the process can make it that much easier to ensure their child receives the appropriate services he or she requires.
“A State educational agency, other State agency, or local educational agency shall conduct a full and individual initial evaluation before the initial provision of special education and related services to a child with a disability.” - Section 1414 (a), IDEA
In addition to being full and individual, therefore, a child’s initial evaluation must be focused on that child, and only that child.
The following components must be present in an assessment before the presence of a suspected disability can be determined:
During the collection stage, background information on a child is traced and gathered from sources such as observation, school records, teacher reports, and parent intakes.
Multiple sources of information are required because IDEA doesn’t consider a single procedure or group-administered instruments, such as large-scale tests, enough to:
Instead, a full and individual evaluation conducted on the child will collect data related to his or her:
Once data from various sources have been collected, an analysis is conducted to process and understand the patterns present in the child’s social, educational, developmental, medical, environmental, and emotional history.
In addition to the variety of approaches used to collect data for analysis and evaluation (such as interviews, observations, curriculum-based assessment, and tests), IDEA also requires that schools use technically sound instruments and processes.
Technically sound instruments are those assessments that have been shown to be valid and reliable through research. For assessments and other evaluation materials to qualify as technically sound processes, they must be:
A review of the existing evaluation data on the child is then carried out to determine the child’s educational needs, as well as to determine if there’s enough information to support his or her eligibility for special education.
This review may conclude that additional information is needed before any determination can be made.
Once a child’s academic, cognitive, emotional, intellectual, perceptual, psychological, language and medical development are evaluated, a determination about the presence of a suspected disability can be made.
Such a determination is followed by recommendations related to the educational placement and program that need to be made out to the parents, teachers, and the school.
If, however, additional data is needed before a determination is made, the public agency charged with the evaluation will identify what’s needed to determine:
Sometimes, the parents of a child with a disability will disagree with the results of their child’s evaluation as received from the public agency (this could be the school’s student study team or special education department).
If this happens, the parents have the right to obtain an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE). An IEE is an evaluation conducted by a qualified examiner who isn’t employed by the public agency responsible for the child’s education.
In the event that a parent asks for an IEE, it’s the responsibility of the public agency to provide them with information about where they might obtain the IEE.
According to IDEA, having a disability doesn’t automatically qualify a child for special education.
Rather, the child must not only have a disability that falls under a specific disability category, they must also need special education and related services by reason thereof.
The specific disability categories that IDEA lists can be found in the table below:
IDEA Disability Categories
Visual impairment (blindness included)
Specific learning disability
Other health impairment
Traumatic brain injury
Therefore, before any special education and related services are provided to a child, an initial assessment must be done. IDEA requires this evaluation to:
There are several reasons a special education assessment is conducted:
IDEA is quite particular about covering children who, by reason thereof or due to their disability, need special education and related services.
This is because there are many children with disabilities that don’t necessarily require extra educational assistance or individualized educational programming.
Such children may be eligible for protection given by other laws such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. A child with a 504 plan still receives needed assistance to address disability-related educational needs—just not under IDEA.
Before a child can be identified as needing to receive special education services under IDEA, either the parents or the school system must ask that the child be evaluated.
Toequest an evaluation, parents must call, email, or write the child’s teacher, school’s principal, or the Director of Special Education in the school district.
If it’s the school system that is requesting evaluation, they must ask, in writing, for permission from the parents. The parents must then give informed written permission before any evaluation is conducted.
If it is established that services for a student with special education needs are required, consider using Positive Action as your special education curriculum.
Compared to other SpEd curriculums, Positive Action provides the most content and meets the highest number of state and national standards. You’ll also benefit from more support, training, and learning resources than from any other curriculum.
Don’t hesitate to get in touch with the team at Positive Action to see how well this program can work for you and your students with special needs.