Evaluations for Special Education

Private Anabaptist schools function with relative freedom, which includes the ability of parents and teachers to decide to individualize instruction at an intense level.  Within the public school, some individualization can happen within the general education classroom, but once there is significant departure from the general curriculum, the student must qualify for special education services to receive that support.

Evaluation Process

A full psychoeducational evaluation can include an intelligence (IQ) test, individualized achievement test, observations of the student, input and rating scales from parents and teachers, and more.  A team of school staff work together; the school psychologist generally has a prominent role, assisted by school counselors, special education teachers, and other staff.  Additional specialized assessments may be done by speech and language pathologists (SLPs—also known as speech therapists), occupational therapists (for fine motor skills such as cutting, handwriting, using buttons/snaps/zippers), and physical therapists (for gross motor skills such as walking, running, kicking/throwing/catching balls, mobility).  All of this data is compiled into an evaluation report, which is presented at a team meeting that includes the parents.

Special education is significantly more expensive to provide than general education, so whether a child is eligible can be a contentious issue.  If the child is “not quite struggling enough” to qualify, he may not get supports, despite struggling more than his peers.  Some districts have systems in place to provide support for students who are not eligible for special education, but this varies by district and by state.

Results of Evaluations

If the child qualifies for special education, an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) is written, typically by the special education teacher.  The IEP includes goals for the special education services, as well as any accommodations the student will receive in the classroom.  Depending on the child’s needs, he may not qualify for special education but instead for a 504 plan.  Named after Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a 504 plan provides accommodations without interventions.

Accommodations are supports that are provided within the general education classroom without changing the content of the curriculum.  A student with a visual impairment may use a magnifying tool, a student with ADHD may receive teacher guidance in writing down homework, and a student with dyslexia may do tests that are read aloud.  None of these accommodations change the substance of the curriculum. Rather, they allow the students to demonstrate their knowledge despite their disabilities.

Interventions, on the other hand, involve alternative instruction and a departure from the general curriculum, such as the Barton Reading & Spelling System for a student with dyslexia or an alternative math curriculum for a student with a SLD in math.

Private School Options

In some states, including Pennsylvania and Virginia, the public school district in which a student lives is required to provide a free evaluation upon parent request, even if the student attends a private school.  Other states, like Ohio, use a different method of diagnosing learning disabilities and therefore cannot provide the same type of evaluation for private school students.

The vast majority of educational evaluations happen within the public school system.  However, there are exceptions in which other services, typically within the medical or psychological field, can provide similar services.  I am doing public-school-style evaluations within the Lancaster/Lebanon Anabaptist schools in PA, and I have also seen neuropsychological reports that contain some similar testing.  While an evaluation is not required to receive help within our private schools, it can be an extremely beneficial for defining the problem and ensuring appropriate services are given.


I thought all school districts were required to provide these evaluations, until I consulted with a school in Ohio and realized that the Ohio districts appear to be avoiding this on a technicality.  I could be wrong about this, but it is my best understanding at this time.

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