Getting an Evaluation for a Child With Special Needs

The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) entitles qualifying children with disabilities to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). An evaluation supports your child's education by determining if your child is eligible to receive any special services under IDEA.

Understanding the evaluation process

An evaluation is used to determine if your child is eligible to receive special education and related services. As a parent, understanding the process will help you advocate for the best interests of your child.


The first step in the evaluation process is a referral. When a child has an obvious disability or when a parent or teacher notices that a child is not progressing at the same rate as his peers, this information is given (usually in writing) to the school system. Sometimes the referral is made by a doctor or child care provider. After the referral is made, a screening committee will meet to determine whether the child needs a full evaluation.


If the screening committee decides an evaluation is necessary, the school will request your written consent to begin an initial evaluation. You have the right not to consent to the evaluation or to withdraw your consent at any time. If you decide to go ahead with the evaluation, it is generally completed within sixty days of the consent (although time frames vary by state).

Evaluation process

The evaluation is a series of tests and assessments the school system will use as they try to determine whether your child qualifies for special education. Your child has the right to be evaluated in her native language or by other means (such as American Sign Language) if needed. Your child may be assessed in these areas:

  • Cognitive abilities. This includes intellectual abilities, such as your child's ability to reason, remember, and understand.
  • Behavior. The ability to pay attention, the quality of your child's relationships with children and adults, and behavior at home and at school.
  • Physical abilities. This includes an assessment of your child's health, including vision, hearing, communication abilities, and the ability to move purposefully.
  • Development. The child's progress in a number of areas such as understanding and responding to language, social and emotional abilities, and mobility.

Evaluation procedures

Your child will be evaluated by qualified professionals, such as a special educator, a school psychologist, or a speech pathologist. Your child may be given several different types of assessments, and they will use several means to get a well-rounded picture of your child.

Evaluations in DoD schools

The DoD Educational Activity (DoDEA) school system follows the same guidelines established by the IDEA. Child Find is a program used in DoD schools to help identify children (birth to age twenty-one) who may be eligible to receive early intervention or special education and related services. If a formal assessment is necessary, a Case Study Committee (CSC) will meet to guide the process and determine your child's needs. As with public schools, your input is an essential part of the CSC. The DoDEA Special Education website can provide additional information.

Your role in your child's evaluation

You are an important part of your child's evaluation team. The IDEA requires that parents be included in every step of the evaluation process. To make the most of your role in this process:

  • Share information about your child. Your input assists the school in having a complete picture of your child's capabilities.
  • Stay informed. The school should provide you with information that outlines your rights in the special education process, which will help determine your actions if you disagree with an evaluation and help you understand your rights to mediation and a due process hearing.
  • Ask questions about the evaluation. Do not be afraid to speak up if you have questions or concerns about your child's evaluation before, during, or after the evaluation. Questions you might want to ask before the evaluation include:
  • What tests will be used and why were they chosen?
  • How will the test information be useful in developing an education plan for my child?
  • Will I or my child's teacher be interviewed?
  • What type of information will I be asked to provide about my child?
  • Will my child be observed in the school setting, in community settings, or at home?

A folder or notebook can hold copies of all correspondence and any other papers you get from the school during the evaluation process. You should also keep copies of evaluation results, medical records, and other relevant information.

Evaluation results

Once the evaluation is complete, the school will schedule an eligibility meeting. You will meet with a team of professionals to discuss the results and whether they indicate that your child has special education needs. If the eligibility committee determines your child is not eligible for special education services, you must be notified in writing.

  • If you disagree with the results, you may choose to request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE). You may ask the school to pay for the IEE. The school may grant your request or it may initiate a hearing to determine if its evaluation was appropriate. Either way, you have the right to have your child tested at your own expense and the school must consider those results, as long as the new evaluation meets the school's criteria for testing.
  • Individualized Education Program (IEP). If the committee determines that your child needs special education and related services, the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team must meet within thirty days to write an IEP for your child. This plan outlines your child's educational goals and what special education services will be used to help your child reach those goals. The evaluation results will help the team determine the best ways to help your child learn.

For even more support and information, you can contact Military OneSource at 1-800-342-9647 and ask to speak with an EFMP Specialty Consultant. You should also reach out to the EFMP program at your installation.


Find programs and services at your local installation.

View a directory of installations

Service members, family members, surviving family members, service providers and leaders rely on Military OneSource for policy, procedures, timely articles, cutting-edge social media tools and support. All in one place, empowering our military community.