Special Education Referrals- Part 2: Clarifying the Evaluation Process

Table and chairs in a conference room

Evaluation Process Begins- Courtesy of Jeffrey Beall

There are different avenues for reaching the evaluation process. However, most referrals for special education are generated by the school’s pre-referral team. After the specified time of the intervention phase, the pre-referral team meets again to review the data. It is at this meeting that the team makes the recommendation to either continue with the interventions (if they are working) or refer the student for a special education evaluation (if the interventions are not being successful). As the child’s parent, you play a vital role in this decision-making process.

What happens after the pre-referral team recommends an evaluation?

After the pre-referral team has gathered data supporting the need for a special education evaluation, the student’s file is usually handed over to the school psychologist. Please be aware that there may be procedural differences in your state and even differences between individual school districts. However, major components of the evaluation process are mandated by federal regulations and are fairly consistent across districts and states.

The school psychologist may attend the final pre-referral team meeting and have paperwork ready to review with you if the recommendation of the team is to proceed with testing. However, in my experience, there is usually a follow-up meeting scheduled with the evaluation team or paperwork is mailed home if the evaluation team is in agreement with testing.

Who is on the evaluation team and how is this team different than the pre-referral team?

The evaluation team consists of you, your child’s teacher, the special education teacher, the school psychologist, and any other individuals who may have information about your child’s difficulty in school.

The pre-referral process is handled by general education, whereas, the decision to evaluate is made by a special education team. This team is sometimes referred to as a Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team (MDT or MET). While members may serve on both the pre-referral and evaluation teams, the purpose and function of the teams are very different. The pre-referral team does not make the decision to evaluate. This is the decision of the evaluation team.

What are the forms to begin the evaluation?

There are a number of forms that you may receive when the evaluation team recommends testing. The form that officially begins the evaluation is the consent form where you give permission for the proposed testing. Without parental consent, the team cannot proceed with the evaluation (34 CFR § 300.300). At this stage, you are not agreeing to special education services. You are only providing consent for the testing indicated on the evaluation plan. The evaluation plan should either be listed on the consent form, or it may be explained on a form called a Prior Written Notice (PWN).

The PWN is used to explain and document any changes or decisions made by the evaluation team. The PWN can also be used to document a refusal to do something. It provides you with justification for why the team is proposing or rejecting a certain action. You will, most likely, receive several more of these forms so it is important that you understand them. (See Special Education Lingo for more information.)

You may also receive a form asking for information regarding your child’s health and developmental history. This is a routine part of most evaluations. The school psychologist needs this information in order to explore all factors that could be interfering with your child’s learning.

Finally, you should receive a copy of your Procedural Safeguards. These are your rights as a parent of a student being evaluated for special education. You will be offered these rights again and again. Just make sure to save one copy. It does not upset anyone if you decline to take additional copies and probably saves many trees.

I signed consent for the evaluation. Now what?

The evaluation team has 60 days from the date that you provide consent in order to complete the evaluation (34 CFR § 300.301(1)). Testing is scheduled during the school day. Depending on the number of tests that will be administered and the age of your child, it may be spaced out between multiple days.

At some point within the 60 day time limit, you should receive an invitation to a meeting to review the results of the evaluation. This meeting is often referred to as an eligibility determination meeting. The invitation does not mean that the evaluation has been completed. I generally send out invitations several weeks before the meeting to ensure that the time works for the parent and other members of the team.

Who will be at the meeting?

You should expect your child’s classroom teacher, the special education teacher, the school psychologist, and any other members of the team who completed testing to be in attendance at this meeting (34 CFR § 300.308).

What happens at the meeting?

The school psychologist generally facilitates this meeting. Results of the testing will be reviewed and you should receive a copy of the evaluation at no cost to you (34 CFR § 300.306). I typically have the report ready to give to parents at this meeting. However, I know many psychologists who use this meeting to review test results and go back to write the evaluation report later. Either way is fine, as long as you receive a copy of the report. The report should include a signature page or eligibility page, that all of the members of the team sign at this meeting.

If your child is found eligible as a student with a disability in need of special education services, the special education teacher will schedule a meeting to create the Individual Education Plan (IEP). Some special education teachers coordinate with the school psychologist beforehand in order to bring a draft of the IEP to the eligibility determination meeting. (See Understanding My Child’s IEP for more information.)

If your child is not eligible for special education services, the team will discuss strategies to help with the concern. (See What if My Child Doesn’t Qualify for Special Education? for more information.)


Students are referred for an evaluation because there is a problem. The purpose of the evaluation is not to determine if there is a problem; this has already been established. Rather, the purpose is to determine if the problem is because the child has a disability. This article reviewed the evaluation process and the procedures that you can expect if your child is referred for an evaluation. See Understanding My Child’s Evaluation Report for more detailed information about the report.


Visit http://idea.ed.gov/explore/home for federal regulations governing special education.

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