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When Should a Parent Request an Evaluation from a School Psychologist?

what does a school psychologist do

The content in this article refers to public and charter schools in the United States. 

If your child attends a private school or a school outside of the United States, you can ask the school about their policies related to the matters discussed in this article.

Why would a parent request an evaluation from the school psychologist?

If your child has ongoing academic, behavioral, or social-emotional challenges in school, you have the right to request an evaluation from the school psychologist.

Evaluations consist of data collection such as IQ testing, academic testing, behavior rating scales, teacher and parent input, classroom and testing observations, and a review of medical and educational records. Student input can be included as well.

therapist and boy

Indications that your child may benefit from an evaluation include one or more of the following (over a prolonged period):

  • challenges related to reading, writing, and/or math progress
  • difficulty following rules and/or routines at school, leading to disciplinary actions, phone calls home, etc.
  • anxiety or depression interfering with the ability to complete school assignments or perform well in school
  • challenges related to inattention or hyperactivity, interfering with educational progress
  • challenges completing assignments in class
  • low test grades
  • challenges with peer interactions affecting school-functioning

Why do school psychologists complete evaluations?

School psychologists complete evaluations to:

  • gather data to determine what is impacting your child’s progress
  • make recommendations to the school team to assist your child with being as successful as possible in their educational environment 
  • determine whether your child meets criteria for an educational disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

What is IDEA?

IDEA is a law that ensures students with an educational disability receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) tailored to their individual needs.

Educational disabilities frequently assessed by school psychologists include learning disabilitiesautismattention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)emotional disabilities, and intellectual disabilities.

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For more about the disabilities that school psychologists can evaluate, read: How Do You Know if Your Child Needs an IEP at School or visit IDEA.ed.gov.

What is special education and an IEP?

If the school psychologist’s evaluation determines that your has a disability impacting educational progress, the school will likely recommend special education services and an Individual Education Program (IEP).

The IEP contains specific goals for your child based on their areas of need. The school must implement your child’s goals with instructional methods designed to meet your child’s individual needs (e.g., specially designed instruction).

If your child needs accommodations (e.g., extended time to complete tasks, movement breaks) or modifications (e.g., reduced assignment length), those are also listed in their IEP.

Who implements your child’s IEP?

The school often assigns a special education teacher to implement the goals in the IEP and to ensure the student is receiving their accommodations and modifications.

Sometimes IEP goals are implemented by other school personnel as well. For example, a school counselor or speech-language pathologist may implement a social skills goal. 

However, it is the responsibility of your school or district’s special education department to ensure adequate implementation of your child’s IEP.

You are part of your child’s IEP team and have the right to express concerns, make suggestions, and ask questions about their educational program. You also have the right to reject the IEP or parts of the IEP.

IEP meeting

Other members of the IEP team may include but are not limited to the school counselor, the school psychologist, a school administrator, a special education teacher, and a general education teacher.

If you feel the school team does not take your concerns and questions seriously, you have the right to request assistance from the director of special education.

Related Article: 22 School Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Additional Information on the Delivery of Special Education Services to Students: 

Special education looks very different than it did in the past.  Students can often remain in a regular education classroom while receiving support from a special education teacher.

Depending on the severity of the disability, the school may recommend a placement change to a smaller class setting.

In certain cases, the school will request that you give permission for the school psychologist to evaluate your child for an IEP, even though you have not requested it.

The school may request an evaluation if they have ongoing academic, behavioral, or social-emotional concerns for your child.

Once your child has an IEP, the school should call an IEP meeting with you once a year to review your child’s strengths & needs and make any necessary changes.

However, if you (or the school) have concerns about your child’s educational program or progress, the IEP team can meet at any time to discuss possible changes or additions to the IEP. 

Students also receive re-evaluations every two to three years depending on their disability category. A reevaluation may occur sooner than expected if the parent or school team requests one.

An evaluation or re-evaluation that includes tests or assessments of the student can only be completed with a permission form signed by the parent.

Side-Note: Some children have IEP’s for disabilities or needs that a school psychologist does not examine. Examples include speech and language impairments, hearing or visual impairments, and physical needs. 

If you have any of these concerns, connect with your child’s doctor and school for recommendations to the appropriate professionals. 

Additional Information About Requesting an Evaluation for Behavioral Concerns in School:

If your child’s behavior appears to interfere with their educational progress, you can request a functional behavior assessment (FBA) as part of your child’s evaluation. 

If your child already has an IEP, you can still request an FBA.

An FBA consists of a psychologist or behavior specialist collecting data through observations, parent or teacher interviews, etc., to understand the purpose of your child’s behaviors and make appropriate recommendations.

classroom observation

Related Article: Top Five Reasons for Behavior Problems in Kids.

How can your child’s school support their needs without an evaluation from the school psychologist?

When a student is having consistent challenges related to academic progress, behavior, etc., the school team sometimes suggests interventions before referring the student to the school psychologist.

If interventions are effective, the school may decide they can support your child without an IEP. They may decide that your child does not need an evaluation from the school psychologist at that time. 

You have the right to agree or disagree with the recommendation to wait for an evaluation while interventions occur.

Sometimes, school psychologists can make a more informed decision about your child’s need for an IEP after seeing their response to an intervention.  

If the school implements interventions to support your child, ask:

  • what strategies or programs will they use with your child
  • who will implement the interventions
  • is there anything you can do at home to support the interventions
  • are the interventions evidence-based
  • how will the school monitor your child’s progress during the intervention(s)
  • who will monitor their progress
  • how often will you be informed about your child’s progress
  • how long will the intervention(s) last

You can ask an educational advocate for help:

  • An advocate can provide suggestions or insight to the parent and school team before, during, or after the evaluation process. 
  • They can come to school meetings or IEP meetings with you.
  • You can look for an educational advocate in the Yellow Pages. You can also conduct a Google search or contact the National Disability Rights Network to ask for help locating an advocate.

What is the difference between an IEP and 504 Plan?

Sometimes, the school team determines that your child has an educational disability and needs accommodations and/or modifications in school but does not need an IEP. In this case, the school will recommend a 504 plan.

A 504 plan (also called a Chapter 15) is a legal document that describes the accommodations and modifications available to your child. 

For example, a child diagnosed with ADHD may have the following accommodations listed in their 504 plan: 

  • allow movement breaks 
  • chunk work into manageable steps
  • allow test-taking in a location with reduced distractions
  • allow extended time to complete work
  • seat away from potential distractions

If you think your child might need an IEP or a 504 plan to meet their needs in school, you have a legal right to request an evaluation to determine the presence of an educational disability. 

Put your request in writing (email or hand-written) and give it to the school counselor, principal, special education director, or similar staff member. 

Your letter may look something like the one below:

Date: 10/10/22

I formally request an evaluation for my child Jane Doe (DOB: 11/3/13) to determine whether she needs an IEP or 504 plan to meet her educational needs. 

I have concerns with Jane’s progress in school related to _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

I look forward to hearing from you regarding the next steps in the evaluation process. 

Thank you!

Jane’s Parent


Recommended Article: How Do You Know Whether Your Child Needs an IEP at School?

Should you request an evaluation from someone outside of the school?

If you notice symptoms of ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, speech-language impairment, or an emotional disability, request that a community clinician (e.g., a child psychologist, pediatric neurologist, developmental pediatrician, or psychiatrist) evaluates your child. 

You can ask your child’s primary doctor for a referral or find a provider on your child’s insurance website. 

This evaluation would be separate from the one the school psychologist completes. 

A disability determined in the school setting is an educational classification, but it is not a diagnosis. 

What are the benefits of two evaluations?

  • A diagnosis from an outside clinician can lead to services in the community (e.g., counseling, social skills groups, behavior support, etc.).
  • In some cases, an outside diagnosis can help the school psychologist determine whether your child meets criteria for an educational classification (educational disability) and needs an IEP or 504 plan.

If you do not have insurance, your child should be entitled to free or low-cost insurance through your state. Contact 1-800-318-2596 or visit healthcare.gov to find out about applying for insurance.

Education and Behavior – Keeping Adults on the Same Page for Kids!

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