Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

8 Evaluation Essentials for Parents in Special Education

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

8 Evaluation Essentials for Parents in Special Education

Article excerpt

Evaluations are a major part of the special education experience. The purpose of evaluations, aside from determining eligibility for special education, is to inform parents, teachers, and other specialists how a student's disabilities may be affecting his or her ability to learn and interact socially with peers. This information is important in providing a road map for the student's special education Team to develop an effective Individualized Education Program (IEP). The evaluation process should be an ongoing and interactive experience, with parents and professionals seeking the answers to questions that will benefit the student and provide guidance to the school personnel who work with the student.

Evaluation reports are not always easy to understand, however. When parents are exhausted and grasping for answers, they can read reports with complicated charts, vague statements, and confusing statistics, and still not fully understand their child's needs. Unless the report clearly describes the meaning of the testing data and includes recommendations that are practical and comprehensive, an evaluation can be unhelpful and possibly even damaging if it misleads parents and teachers as to the true nature of the problems a student faces.

We have read many evaluation reports and seen our share of both good and bad ones. From our experience, we have compiled eight essential elements to review:

1. PERSONAL DATA

A report should begin by providing information about the student beyond just a name, date of birth, and gender. Why has the student been referred for the evaluation? Are there observed personality traits that make the particular evaluation relevant? Usually this information is supplied through questionnaires filled out by parents and teachers, and can provide important clues about the student to the examiner before the formal testing begins.

We tell parents to be sure that they recognize the child being described in this section and agree with the reasons for the referral. Once we had an evaluation performed by a psychologist working from teacher and parent questionnaires who misinterpreted the answers and created a profile for our son that bore no resemblance to him. The resulting evaluation was invalid and time was wasted while it was done over. Although this is a rare event in our experience, an accurate description of the student is an important first step in any evaluation.

2. EVALUATION GOALS

An evaluation is performed to answer one or more questions about the student being tested. For an initial eligibility evaluation, one question might be: "Are there cognitive and/or academic weaknesses that would indicate a specific learning disability?" Relevant questions for an educational evaluation might be: "To what degree do the student's learning problems affect his or her ability to function in school?" and "What are the student's cognitive and academic developmental levels?" Other types of evaluations should have similar goals specific to the tests being administered.

Whatever the goals, the report should state up front the purpose and reasons for the evaluation as it applies specifically to the student being tested. While this might seem obvious, many reports we have read fail to state their goals in a clear manner, and some don't state a goal at all. This is unfortunate, since without clearly stated goals, how can parents, or even the examiner, know if the evaluation has achieved its purpose?

3. REVIEW OF EXISTING DATA

The federal special education law, IDEA, requires that the student's Team and any qualified examiner review previous relevant evaluations, including those performed by independent evaluators and supplied by the parents. An evaluation report should acknowledge this data and indicate whether the current testing confirms or contradicts the previous data and conclusions.

4. BEHAVIORAL OBSERVATIONS

An important part of an evaluation is the examiner's observations of the student both before and during the test. …

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