“What Constitutes an Appropriate Educational Evaluation”
Heather M. Hulse, JD, MA, MS
School Districts are obligated to evaluate students for special education needs if there are indications that the student has a disability that is negatively impacting the student’s ability to make meaningful educational progress. Pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), this evaluation must be sufficiently comprehensive to evaluate the student’s complete educational needs. It is important for parents to understand they types of assessments available in order to understand their child’s complete educational needs.
When evaluating a student for special education needs, it is almost always imperative to assess the student’s cognitive functioning. In order to determine a student’s educational needs, it is necessary to understand their educational potential. Most student’s cognitive functioning can be assessed using either the Weschler’s Intelligence Scale for Children, Fourth Edition (WICS-IV) or the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Cognitive Functioning. However, it may be necessary to use other tests of cognitive functioning, particularly if a student is very low functioning and/or non-verbal.
It is also critical to assess a student’s academic achievement in order to determine the student’s academic needs and whether there is a learning disability present. Typically, a student’s academic achievement can be adequately assessed using either the Weschler’s Individual Achievement Test, Second Edition (WIAT-II) or the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Academic Achievement. Once again, however, other assessments may need to be utilized in cases of students functioning at a very low level.
If there are demonstrated or expected social/emotional needs, an evaluation should consist of tests of social/emotional functioning. These should include rating scales provided by parents and/or guardians, as well as teachers and related service providers. Clinical interviews and personality assessments may also need to be utilized.
In situations where a student is demonstrating behavioral difficulties, it is imperative to conduct a functional behavioral assessment in order to properly determine the function of the student’s behavior. In order to appropriately do this, it is necessary for the student to be formerly observed in a variety of settings over a period of time.
For students that are demonstrating difficulties with organization and work completion, an assessment of their executive functioning should be completed. There are objective tests of executive functioning, such as the BRIEF, that can and should be used.
If there are any concerns regarding related services, such as speech/language, occupational therapy, and physical therapy, the school district’s evaluation should also include these evaluations.
It is also important to note that even where school districts have included assessments in areas of educational need, these may not always be comprehensive and/or interpreted accurately. It is suggested that parents pay careful attention to the results and ask questions regarding the results when they do not have a full understanding.