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What is an evaluation for special education services?

Updated: May 15

Parents know it is time to take action when they see their child struggling with reading and spelling and falling farther behind their peers in school. But many are not sure what that action should be.

The first step is to ask your school for a comprehensive evaluation to determine if your child qualifies for special education services due to a specific learning disability like dyslexia.

When that request for evaluation, also called the initial referral, is made for special education services, it sets forth a lengthy special education process. That process begins with an evaluation completed by the child’s school district at no cost to the family.

This evaluation is critical to every step of the special education process moving forward.

Here are 3 reasons why the initial evaluation is so important:

1️⃣ In order to receive formal special education services and/or accommodations, your child must first be identified as having a learning disability or substantial impairment. The evaluation provides the school team the information it needs to identify your child as having a learning disability or impairment according to the criteria in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or according to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

2️⃣ This comprehensive evaluation provides information about your child’s cognitive processing and academic performance in a variety of areas. This helps the team understand exactly where your child's strengths and needs lie.

3️⃣ The team will also use this information to make important decisions about how to teach and support your child in school.

A school district’s evaluation should include testing that is individualized based on the concerns that you have brought to the team in your initial referral. For example, if you are concerned that your child’s reading, writing, and spelling delays may be a result of dyslexia the evaluation should include tests of phonological awareness and processing, auditory processing, rapid naming, and orthographic processing. If you aren’t sure if your school will be testing in these specific areas, don’t be afraid to ask! While the clinician will ultimately decide what tests to use, you may certainly request that certain areas be assessed for your child.

3 Parts of a School District Evaluation

Parents are often surprised to see that they receive 3 different reports regarding what they thought was one evaluation. While the district does complete one comprehensive psycho-educational evaluation, it is typically divided into 3 different parts.

Psychological Evaluation

A psychological evaluation is a set of assessment procedures administered by a licensed psychologist or credentialed school psychologist to obtain information about a student’s cognitive profile, learning, behavior, and/or mental health.

Educational Evaluation

An educational evaluation uses standardized tests that evaluate a child’s academic aptitude in several areas. Evaluators can use the child’s scores to determine if they are performing at, above, or below average for students at their age or grade level.

Socio-Cultural Evaluation

This part of the evaluation is used to shed light on any other situations in the child’s life that may impact their educational experience. The school social worker conducts this assessment to obtain social, developmental, adaptive, and health history.

A Few Notes About Private Evaluations

We recommend that most families start their pursuit of special education services with a district evaluation. Advocacy strategy for every situation is different, but generally, parents can save up to thousands of dollars by allowing the school district to conduct the initial evaluation. If there is reason to disagree with that initial district evaluation, parents have the right to request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) provided by a private clinician. See the chart below to find out more about the differences and similarities between a private and district evaluation.

Whichever evaluation is conducted for your child, it will provide important information that will drive decisions throughout your advocacy journey.


As an educational advocate with over a decade of experience, Lorraine and her team are here to answer your tough questions and share the possibilities that exist when you hire the right professional to advocate for your child.

Are you worried that your dyslexic child is falling behind in school? Are you ready to see your child learn and thrive? If so, we can help! Our advocacy practice has helped countless families transform the lives of their children, and create more peace and harmony at home.

While it isn’t always easy, it CAN happen, and we will support you every step of the way. Let’s Talk about how we can help your family!


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