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Indiana Protection & Advocacy Services

IPAS > Special Education > Identification - The Evaluation Process Identification - The Evaluation Process

Who decides if your child is eligible for special education?

A multidisciplinary group called a Case Conference Committee (CCC) makes all decisions about a child's special education. A parent is a full member of the IEP team and has the right to attend and participate in all IEP team meetings and case conferences about their child.

511 IAC 7-41-3 Case Conference Committee participants

For each CCC meeting, the public agency must designate a representative who is:

  • knowledgeable about the availability of, and has the authority to commit, resources of the public agency;
  • qualified to provide or supervise the provision of specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of students with disabilities; and
  • knowledgeable about the general education curriculum; and

The public agency must ensure that the case conference participants include the following;

  • The designated public agency representative
  • One (1) of the following;
    1. The student's current teacher of record.
    2. In the case of a student with a language or speech impairment only, the speech-language pathologist.
    3. For a student whose initial eligibility for special education and related services is under consideration, a teacher licensed in the area of the student's suspected disability.
  • Not fewer than one (1) of the student's general education teachers, if the student is or may be participating in the general education environment. For purposes of early childhood, a general education teacher may be:   a general education;
    1. teacher who provides services to nondisabled students in the public agency's preschool program; or
    2. kindergarten teacher who provides services to nondisabled students if the student is of kindergarten age; or
  • An individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results, who may be a member of the CCC.
  • The parent of the student less than eighteen (18) years of age; or
  • The student of legal age as defined in 511 IAC 7-32-91; unless the parent or student of legal age chooses not to participate

What is the timeline for getting a child evaluated for a disability?

In order for a child to be eligible for special education and related services, the child must first be determined to have a disability. Parents, teachers, or other school officials who suspect that the child may have a disability would request that the child be evaluated by a multi-disciplinary team to determine if the child has a disability and needs special education or related services as a result of the disability. IDEA requires that a child be evaluated within 50 instructural days after parents have granted consent for the evaluation. States may establish shorter or longer timeframes through legislation or regulation, and those timelines are binding.

Exceptions exist if the child moves from one district or state to another district or state after the evaluation was requested, or if the parent refuses the evaluation. Under those circumstances, districts are required to show sufficient progress to complete a timely evaluation.

What methods are local educational agencies (LEAs) allowed to use to identify a child as having a specific disability?

Almost half of the students identified as being disabled under IDEA are placed in the category of 'specific learning disability.' IDEA allows local districts significant new flexibility in developing appropriate methods of determining whether a child has a specific learning disability-this helps eliminate out-of-date testing methods and can proactively identify children with disabilities before they begin to struggle academically. However, states are prohibited from requiring that LEAs routinely use an IQ test as part of the determination of specific learning disabilities. States and LEAs are encouraged to employ research-based practices, especially models using response-to-intervention strategies, to reveal specific learning disabilities. The Department of Education provides guidance and technical assistance to states and LEAs on using effective, scientifically based research to build effective models of identification practices.

Must all children with disabilities participate in state assessments?

Under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), states and local schools are held accountable for making sure thatall children-including children with disabilities-are learning. Children with disabilities must be included in the assessment system and schools must report their results through NCLBs yearly progress structure. IDEIA requires that the IEP Team determine how the child with a disability is assessed, not whether the child is assessed. Children learn in different ways, with different methods of instruction and assessment. The IEP Team must identify the accommodations that are necessary, how to instruct the child, and how to assess the child. A child with a disability can take the regular state assessment; the regular state assessment with appropriate accommodations such as Braille, additional time, or having the instructions read to the child multiple times; an assessment aligned to grade level standards; or an alternate assessment aligned to alternate achievement standards. Varied assessment opportunities ensure that all students with disabilities can be assessed appropriately.

Should all states have alternate assessments?

Yes. IDEIA allows states to develop appropriate alternate assessments aligned to grade level standards so students with disabilities can have their knowledge tested. Since 1997, IDEA has required that all states have alternate assessments. In 2004, IDEA was updated to allow states to develop alternate assessments tied to alternate achievement standards to allow maximum flexibility for students with disabilities. All decisions about assessments must be made by the child's IEP Team.

How is a child assessed for special education services?

Assessment tests are used to determine what kind of educational services are needed.

The tests recommended by the IEP team are implemented after parental consent is granted. The school system is responsible for getting and paying for all the assessments recommended by the IEP team, which must be performed and interpreted by qualified professionals. The assessment stage is finished when the IEP team meets again to review the assessments, decides if your child meets eligibility for services, and what services he or she needs.

The purpose of an educational assessment is to determine your child's current academic levels in areas like reading, math, spelling, and language. Tests in this phase are designed to find out what difficulties your child is having in school. Other assessments, including psychological, speech, language, vision and hearing tests, are designed to find out why your child is having problems in school. The type of special assessments that should be performed depends upon the suspected disability or disabilities.

What rights do you have at the evaluation stage?

  • Timelines-The IEP team must complete the evaluation (initial meeting, assessment, and review) within 60 calendar days of receiving a written referral.
  • Consent-Before your child may be assessed by the school system, you must agree to the assessments. If you do not consent to the assessments, the school system can request a due process hearing. If there is a hearing, the administrative law judge will decide if your child should be tested.
  • Participation-You have a right to be notified in writing 10 days in advance of any IEP team meetings. You also have the right to participate in all IEP team meetings about your child. If you do not receive notice 10 days prior to an IEP team meeting, you can decide to go ahead with the meeting anyway, or you can ask that the meeting be rescheduled. If the meeting is rescheduled, the IEP team must give you 10 days notice. If you ask that the meeting be rescheduled because you did not get 10 days' notice, the IEP team cannot go ahead and meet anyway. If it does, you can make a complaint or request a hearing, and the IEP team will have to meet again with you present. Even if you do get a 10-day notice of the meeting, you can ask that the meeting be rescheduled if you are unable to attend the meeting. You should ask to participate by speakerphone if you are unable to attend in person.
  • Free Evaluation-Any evaluations recommended by the IEP team must be provided at no cost to you.
  • Independent Evaluation-If you disagree with the testing done by school system personnel, you have the right to an independent evaluation paid for by the school system. You can ask for this independent evaluation from your child's principal or from the special education director in your school district.

    IMPORTANT NOTE: If the school system thinks that it's testing is appropriate (accurate and performed correctly), it may refuse to pay for the independent evaluation. In this situation, the school system would have to ask for a due process hearing and tell the administrative law judge why it's testing is appropriate. If the hearing officer agrees with the school system, you will have to pay for the independent evaluation yourself. The school system may not unreasonably delay either providing the independent evaluation or requesting a due process hearing. You always have the right to get an independent evaluation of your child at your own expense. The IEP team must consider, but does not have to accept, the findings of any independent evaluation. But, if the IEP team does accept the findings of an independent evaluation you obtained for your child, then you can ask the school system to pay you back for the cost of the evaluation (reimbursement).

  • Due Process Hearing-If you disagree with any actions of the school system, you may ask for a due process hearing.

What are common problems at the evaluation stage?

Although problems can come up for children with all types of disabilities, problems frequently occur for children with emotional disabilities or learning disabilities.

Emotional disturbance (previously called seriously emotionally disturbed):

The term "emotional disturbance" refers to children with emotional or behavioral disabilities. The children have a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree, which adversely affects educational performance:

  1. An inability to learn which cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory or health factors;
  2. An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers;
  3. Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances;
  4. A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression; or
  5. A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.

The term also includes children who are schizophrenic, but does not automatically include children who are socially maladjusted.

This is an educational definition and not a medical definition. The term "emotional disturbance" includes both children who have psychiatric diagnoses and other emotional problems that affect their education, like anxiety, school phobia, inability to get along with others and depression.

Four common problems come up in applying the definition of "emotional disturbance." First, many children with recently diagnosed emotional disabilities are excluded from special education by school systems-- the school systems often argue that the condition has not been exhibited "over a long period of time," disqualifying them from services.

The school may also solely use grades to determine if the condition "adversely affects educational performance." This is illegal, but may occur if a child with an emotional disturbance is performing at or near grade level.

Third, there is no definition of "socially maladjusted" in the law. Some school personnel take the position that children with certain psychiatric diagnoses, such as conduct disorder, are socially maladjusted and not "emotionally disturbed." However, a child has an emotional disturbance if he or she meets the definition, regardless of the child's technical diagnosis.

Fourth, some school systems mistakenly think that they do not have to pay for psychiatric evaluations. This is incorrect. School systems may not have to pay for treatment by a psychiatrist, but they do have to provide or pay for a psychiatric assessment if it is necessary to determine a student's disability or educational needs.

Learning disabilities:
The term "children with specific learning disabilities" is defined as: "children who have a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations."

Such disorders may include perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. The term does not include children who have learning problems which are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.

Problems may emerge when deciding if there is a "severe discrepancy" between achievement and intellectual ability in at least one of the following areas: oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skills, reading comprehension, mathematical calculation, or mathematical reasoning. Schools may not always define the term "severe discrepancy" the same way. Many require a child to be two years behind grade level, but this is problematic for children who are just starting school. Children should not be forced to fail before they qualify for academic help. You should object and request a hearing or mediation if this arbitrary standard is used to exclude your child from special education - they are against Federal and state law.

How can you help the professionals who evaluate your child?

Psychiatrists, psychologists, and other medical professionals may not be familiar with how schools define "emotional disturbance" and "specific learning disability." Show these definitions to professionals who evaluate your child before they write their reports, so they will be able to describe your child in the language used by the school system.