You’ve requested IEP evaluations. But what happens next? Learn how the process unfolds in clear, easy-to-understand language.
What Happens After You Request IEP Evaluations?
Just a reminder: nothing on this website or in this article is considered to be or should be construed as legal advice. I am not a lawyer and am not qualified to provide legal advice. Any action you do or do not take when advocating on behalf of your child’s education is, as always, your own.
First things first, there is no one single set of guidelines for this process that applies to all fifty states and the Department of Defense Education Action schools. That’s the truth of the matter. What happens in Maine is not legally required to happen in Massachusetts, Virginia, or California.
Each state has developed its own timelines and guidelines about how the IEP process unfolds, from initial referral to testing to eligibility meeting to creating that first IEP.
Things You Need to Know About the IEP Process Generally
Language matters, as it always does in special education. It’s how everything is determined, starting when you request IEP evaluations.
First, know what kind of “day” you’re dealing with:
- day: any day of the year, including weekends, federal holidays and when school is not in session
- business day: Monday to Friday, excluding weekends and federal holidays
- school day: Monday to Friday, excluding weekends, federal holidays and when school is out of session
Each step in the IEP process is based on elapsed time, so knowing what kind of days you’re dealing with is important.
Understanding the stage names of the process is also vital.
Being referred for a special education assessment doesn’t mean that your child will be tested. And then, if they are assessed, that doesn’t mean they’ll be eligible.
Referring Your Child for Special Education Testing
If you suspect that your child is struggling in school but don’t know why, you might want to ask the school to test them.
You should make this request in writing. Send it in via email with a read receipt enabled to secure a timestamp and get notified when it is opened. This starts your paper trail.
Once the school receives your request, they have a certain number of days to consider and respond. This is typically at least 10 school days but could be more depending on where you are located.
The school should inform you, in writing, about their decision.
The school might opt to test your child, in which case you will need to provide your written consent. There will likely be a meeting to discuss the testing plan: which assessments will be used, why they are using them, what areas cover.
However, the school could decline to test your child. If they do this, you can appeal. You can also pursue private testing at your own cost.
The IEP Testing Process
If your child is going to be tested by the school, there are a few things to consider.
First, the tests should be wide-ranging – in other words, they should be varied to cover different areas of potential need and assess skills in different contexts. There shouldn’t just be one test, observation, or measure used.
Second, the assessments should cover all areas of suspected need. This means that if you are referring your child due to reading concerns, they shouldn’t just be tested in reading. There could also be assessments in speech and language, IQ, processing, and executive function. All of these could be impacting your child’s ability to read!
No one test or measure should determine your child’s eligibility for special education. Instead, you should compile all the data into a learner profile, and identify your child’s relative areas of strength and weakness.
Testing should be finished within a certain number of days, outlined in your state’s special education laws. Once the tests are complete, you move on to eligibility.
Finding a Child Eligible for Special Education
A common misconception is that all children with disabilities are eligible for an IEP. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
In order to be found eligible, your child must meet certain criteria.
- They must have one of 13 “covered” disabilities, as outlined in IDEA.
- The disability must adversely impact their education
- That the child needs specially designed instruction in order to make progress in school
This decision will happen at a meeting with parents, teachers, school admin, and sometimes district-level admin.
Everyone should walk through all the data, each assessment, slowly. Every piece of information should be considered to determine the educational impact.
There should be a robust discussion about the next best steps for your child.
Finally, the team will determine if your child meets the eligibility criteria in one or more IEP categories. This is typically completed by using a checklist of yes/no questions. Often, particular questions need to be answered a certain way in order to meet the criteria. In other categories, a certain number of questions need to be “yes” answers. Again, this differs for each of the eligible categories.
Moving on to the Initial IEP Creation
If your child is found eligible, there should be another meeting scheduled fairly quickly. Your state’s laws outline exactly how many days can pass between the eligibility meeting and the first IEP meeting.
At this meeting, you’ll review the assessments again and talk about they shed light on how your child learns. You’ll pinpoint the areas of need, develop goals and determine where specialized instruction will take place.
What to Remember When You Request IEP Evaluations
This whole thing is a process. It’s not magic and it’s not fast.
Schools stick to their timelines and deadlines pretty closely. Very few things will happen quickly or early. Expect to wait very close to the full amount of time between steps.
You are an equal member of the IEP team, even when it doesn’t feel like it. Yes, the school does seem to have a very good hand: they did the tests, they know the educational jargon, they have (hopefully) read special education laws.
But you have a trump card: consent.
Without your consent, testing doesn’t happen, meetings aren’t scheduled, and plans aren’t put into action. So, take your time, read carefully, and ask for help when needed.