The contents in this article refer to public schools in the United States. If your child attends private school or school outside of the United States, speak to your child’s school to find out if their policies for addressing the matters discussed in this article are the same or different.
When Would You Request an Evaluation by a School Psychologist?
If your child is having ongoing academic or behavior problems in school (e.g., consistent poor grades over time, frequent disciplinary action or consistent phone calls/notes home over a prolonged period of time) you have the right to request that your child receive a psycho-educational evaluation by a school psychologist.
While evaluations by school psychologists are, in part, done to determine eligibility for special education, they can also provide you with a lot of specific information about what may be interfering with your child’s learning or behavioral progress and whether or not your child meets criteria for a disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA is a four-part piece of American legislation that ensures students with a disability are provided with a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that is tailored to their individual needs..
Disabilities looked at by school psychologists often include learning disabilities, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), emotional disabilities, and intellectual disabilities. For more about the disabilities that school psychologists evaluate for see 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 your child is found to have a disability, the school may recommend special education services and an Individual Education Program (IEP) for your child. In an IEP there will be specific goals for your child to work towards. Many times, children are provided with specific accommodations and/or modifications, also outlined in their IEP. The goals and accommodations/modifications should be specific to your child’s needs. A special education teacher often implements the goals in the IEP. Sometimes goals are implemented by other school personal (e.g., if your child has a social skills goal, this may be implemented by a school counselor); however, ultimately your child’s IEP should be overseen by the special education department. You are part of your child’s IEP team and have the right to express concerns, make suggestions, and ask questions about the program. You also have the right to reject the program or parts of the program that you are uncomfortable with.
Related Article: 21 Accommodations Available to Your Child with Special Needs
Special education looks very different than it did in the past. Children can remain in a regular education classroom, while receiving support from a special education teacher. Depending on the severity of the disability, a placement change to a smaller setting may be recommended. You as the parent do not have to agree to a placement change, but you certainly may want to if you believe it will benefit your child.
Side-Note: Some children have IEP’s for disabilities or needs that are not examined by a school psychologist. Examples include speech and language delays, fine and gross motor delays, hearing or visual impairments, and physical needs. If you have any of these concerns for your child, talk to your child’s doctor and school to be directed the the appropriate professionals.
What Else can Be Done Besides Requesting an Evaluation?
Many times schools suggest that they try a variety of strategies/interventions first, either behavioral, academic, or both (depending on your child’s specific needs), before moving to a full evaluation by a school psychologist. During the intervention period, the school may recommend holding off on a full evaluation. They also may recommend holding off if your child is making progress with strategies in place. You as the parent have the right to agree or disagree with the recommendation to hold off on the full evaluation. In some (not all) cases, school psychologists need to see how your child performed when certain strategies/interventions were in place, in order to make an informed decision about whether or not your child truly has disability.
You should be on the same page with your child’s school. For example, if they are implementing a plan to support behavior, you should be familiar with the plan. You can implement a similar plan at home if your child is having behavior difficulties there as well. If the school is going to implement academic strategies with your child, find out what strategies they will be implementing, how often, by whom, and if there is anything you can try at home to help your child’s progress. Ask if the behavior/academic strategies they are using are evidence-based, how progress will be monitored, and how you will be kept informed regarding your child’s progress.
You can also talk to an educational advocate to see how they can help you with your situation. An advocate can provide suggestions or insight to the parent and school team. This can be done before, during, or after the evaluation process. Often times they will come to school meetings and/or IEP meetings with you. You should be able to find an educational advocate in the Yellow Pages, by doing a Google Search, or by contacting the National Disability Rights Network, who may be able to help you find one in your area.
If behavior problems are a serious concern and you are requesting an evaluation (or if your child already has an IEP), you can also request a functional behavior assessment (FBA). An FBA consists of a psychologist or behavior specialist observing your child in the classroom and obtaining input from the staff, in order to try and understand the purpose of the behaviors your child is exhibiting, and make appropriate recommendations. To gain a deeper understanding of FBA’s see Top Five Reasons for Behavior Problems in Kids.
If your child has a diagnosis from a doctor or psychologist from an evaluation done outside of school, and is found to be in need of accommodations in the school, but is not found to be in need if an IEP, he may be eligible for a 504 plan. A 504 is a legal document that describes the accommodations available to your child. An example would be a child diagnosed with ADHD who is allowed breaks or has work chunked into more manageable steps. If you think your child might need a 504 plan, request a meeting with the school counselor, teacher, and principal to discuss your concerns and whether or not a 504 plan might be appropriate. For more on IEPs and 504 Plans see How Do You Know if Your Child Needs an IEP at School?
If you have not done so already, it is helpful to have a child evaluated by an outside doctor like a child psychologist, developmental pediatrician, or psychiatrist if he is getting an in-school evaluation by a school psychologist for a disability such as ADHD, autism, or an emotional disability. You can often get a referral from your child’s primary doctor or find a provider on your child’s insurance website. If your child is found to have a diagnoses by an outside doctor, ask the doctor if he knows how you can get services outside of school to help your child (e.g., counseling, social skills groups, behavior support), if you are interested in that type of support. Also, having a diagnosis from an outside doctor is helpful to the school psychologist when he/she is trying to make determinations about whether your child meets criteria for a disability under IDEA.
If you cannot afford or do not have insurance for your child, your child should be entitled to free or low-cost insurance through your state, which would cover outside evaluations and counseling with very little or no cost to you. Contact 1-800-318-2596 or visit healthcare.gov to find out about applying for insurance.
If your child already has an IEP and you have concerns about academics or behavior, it is important to call a meeting with the IEP team to discuss what additional measures can be taken to support your child (e.g., change in interventions being utilized, additional accommodations, FBA, etc.).
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Rachel Wise is a certified school psychologist and licensed behavior specialist with a Master’s Degree in Education. She is also the head author and CEO at educationandbehavior.com, a site for parents, educators, and counselors to find effective, research-based strategies that work for children. Rachel has been working with individuals with academic and behavioral needs for over 20 years and has a passion for making a positive difference in the lives of children and the adults who support them. For Rachel’s top behavioral strategies all in one place, check out her book, Building Confidence and Improving Behavior in Children, a Guide for Parents and Teachers.