Assessments and Eligibility

An assessment is an evaluation process that usually involves tests, interviews, and observations designed to identify your child’s strengths and evaluate specific issues related to school performance. For example, if you suspect that your child has speech and language problems and you request an assessment of those issues, a speech and language professional will participate in the assessment. The assessment results may also identify the types of special education services your child needs.

Requesting an assessment

A parent, teacher, or other service provider, such as a school psychologist or even your family physician, can request an assessment (called a “referral for assessment”). A referral for assessment must be in writing and should be addressed to the local educational agency (LEA), usually your local school district.

A letter requesting an assessment should state:

  • your child’s full name;
  • your child’s date of birth;
  • your name, address, and phone number;
  • whether your child is currently enrolled in school and, if so, the name of the school;
  • whether your child has ever received special education services; and
  • that your child is having learning problems that you think might require
  • special education services and that you want an evaluation.

Deliver the request for assessment to your child’s teacher or school principal. If your child is not enrolled in school, address it to your school district’s director of special education. If you do not find anything called “Special Education” in your school district’s phone book or website, look for something like “Programs for Exceptional Children” or “Student Services,” which is often what special education departments are called. Be sure to keep a copy of your referral letter with the date of delivery to the school district.

After the referral for assessment

+ 15 days

Once the school district receives the request for assessment, it must give you a proposed assessment plan within 15 days. The plan must specify the types of assessments to be conducted. It must also state that no special education services will result from the assessment without your consent in writing.

+ 15 days

Once you receive the school’s proposed assessment plan, you may review it to decide whether to consent to the plan. If you agree to the plan, you must sign

and return it to the school district within 15 days.

+ 60 days

Once the school receives the signed assessment plan, it has 60 calendar days to conduct the assessment and hold a meeting to discuss the results of the testing. If the school term ends or a vacation of more than 5 days occurs during the assessment period, the non-school days do not count toward the 60-day time period.

Deciding eligibility for special education

After you have agreed to an assessment plan, the school district should begin the assessment and schedule a meeting with you to discuss the results. As a parent, you may be asked to participate in testing by answering additional questions about your child’s functioning at home and at school. You have the right to request a copy of the assessment results in your native language.

You also may request that the written results be given to you before the meeting, to give you time to review them and prepare any questions. At the meeting, the evaluators and professionals who work with your child will present the results of the testing and will give their opinion on whether your child should be considered eligible for special education.

As a parent and member of the team, you should also be asked to give your opinion. The final decision as to whether your child is eligible for special education is a team decision.

Services offered if eligible

Part of the eligibility determination involves deciding which disability category applies to a child based on the results of the assessment. However, regardless of which disability category applies, a child who is determined to be eligible for special education may receive any of the special education services and supports that are provided by the school district. For example, the team may decide that a student is eligible for special education because of an emotional disturbance. However, there may be indications from the assessment that the student needs help with speech and language, too. This student may receive speech and language therapy in addition to counseling services and any other service or support that addresses a need identified through the assessment.

After the school district’s decision:

If the school district believes your child is not eligible for special education services based on its assessment:

  • You can agree with the school district and no special education services will be offered to your child,


  • You can disagree. If you disagree with the school district’s assessment, you have the right to request an independent assessment from qualified specialists, at public expense. This request should be made in writing and directed to the school district.

If the school district believes that your child is eligible for special education services based on its assessment, the school district will probably propose a plan, called an Individualized Education Program (IEP), for services for your child. Click to learn about IEPs.


Once your child is receiving special education, the school must reassess your child every 3 years. These reassessments are called triennial reviews. If necessary, a teacher, parent, or caregiver may request a reassessment sooner.