“Child Find” is the term used to define the obligation of public schools to look for struggling students that might have a learning disability. Despite that obligation, most school assessments are initiated due to parental requests. If you suspect your child’s struggles with school, anxiety, depression, or school refusal may stem from an undiagnosed learning disability, you should request your school conduct assessments. From the time you request assessments your school has fifteen days to prepare an “assessment plan.” The plan is a simple one-page document that identifies the areas for assessment and the classification of who will conduct the assessments. The assessor has the right to choose what “instruments” they will utilize. Most initial assessments will include some or all of the following:
Health – Hearing and Vision testing conducted by a school nurse (If there are more substantial health issues providing diagnoses and supporting medical records is appropriate)
Cognitive – Measures of cognitive ability, commonly referred to as intelligence. While we commonly think of IQ as a single measure, there are several different components of cognitive ability. Discrepancies between these components, like visual/special, fluid reasoning, verbal, working memory, and processing speed can tell a lot about how a student learns and challenges they may face. These tests are usually required to be performed by a School Psychologist at a minimum.
Academic – Tests measuring the basic areas of learning, reading, writing, math, oral expression, general knowledge. Discrepancies between academic levels and cognitive abilities can be an indicator of a learning disability. This testing is typically conducted by a special education or resource teacher.
Speech and Language – Tests that can range from articulation issues, expressive and receptive language problems, to pragmatics and social communications. Common disorders like autism, PDD-NOS, and dyslexia often can be identified by assessments falling under speech and language. These tests should be conducted by a Speech and Language Pathologist.
Motor Development – Gross and fine motor issues which can impact balance, coordination, object manipulation, writing, and perception. These assessments will be conducted by an Occupational Therapist.
Social/Emotional – These assessments are often in the form of questionnaires filled out by parents, teachers, and the student and evaluated by a psychologist or school psychologist. They are designed to identify emotional issues like anxiety and depression as well as social issues like aggression and withdrawal.
Adaptive/Behavioral – Tests of functional abilities and behavior problems that may impact a student’s learning and development. J May be conducted by a psychologist, school psychologist, or a board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA)
Transition – Assessments that target a student’s level of preparation for transitioning from K-12 school to post-secondary education, jobs, and independent living. Typically used after a student turns 14-16 to draft a transition plan to support these important areas.
Once you approve and return the signed assessment plan, the school has sixty days to complete the assessments and hold an IEP meeting to consider the assessments and determine eligibility for services, supports, and accommodations under the IDEA or section 504. A school may not conduct assessments without a parent’s approval. Once eligibility is established under the IDEA, schools are legally required to assess students with IEPs every three years. This “triennial” pattern of assessments mandated by the law. However, parents are empowered to request assessments “not more often” than annually. It is important to realize that the law requires the school assess in every known or suspected area of disability. Many different areas are commonly tested, and you can specify the areas you want to be evaluated. But, you don’t have to be an expert in assessments, just lay out your area of concern. Use examples of deficits or challenges that are impacting your child at school, or while doing homework to place the school on notice of the type of issues that require further examination.
Good, thorough assessments are the key to crafting appropriate services and supports to allow a student with a learning disability to succeed in school.