See below for answers to these common questions regarding Educational Evaluation. Please remember that there is no charge for an initial telephone consultation regarding concerns about your student's school performance. Because each student's situation is unique, a brief conversation can help steer you to the most relevant information when considering evaluation.

  • What will it accomplish to get an educational evaluation?
  • What does this have to do with ADHD?
  • What is the testing like?
  • Who will do the evaluation?
  • How do I handle this with my child?
  • How much will this cost?

What will it accomplish to get an educational evaluation?

What will parents and teachers get out of an evaluation?

  • Parents seek evaluation for a variety of reasons. Often there is a central question driving the request: Does she have a Learning Disability? Is he really on grade level? Should we expect more—or less—from him? Why do we have such a hard time over the homework issue? Is the school right when they say there is nothing to worry about? Is the school right when they say there is a problem? Does he have what it takes to be successful at a particular school? It is our goal to answer your questions, either with fairly definitive data that makes things clear or simply by getting a better, broader, more accurate understanding of a student’s learning pattern that can lead to new approaches and ideas. We often find that, while there is a specific question behind the request, there is much, much more that is gained from the evaluation. Since a parent’s initial focus is on the central question, we encourage parents to read the follow-up report more than one time. Initially, the focus is almost always on the referring question, but revisiting the report a month or two later often allows parents to better understand what they observe on a day-to-day basis through a more informed lens.

How will my child benefit from an evaluation?

  • Nearly all students leave the evaluation process with a renewed sense of confidence and motivation. Within a short time of meeting, most students are engaged and enjoying the process. Since they get immediate feedback on all they do, there is no anxiety in waiting for results. When students do well on a task, naturally they are pleased to know that. Interestingly, when they do poorly on a task, they are rarely surprised: they have been living with their learning style and history all along. When we say, for example, that it seems the student is having a lot of trouble remembering a list of facts or numbers presented out loud, they usually recognize this as what they go through at school. They feel validated when we acknowledge how hard a task is for them, and they are encouraged when we then talk about the strategies they can use to work around or even conquer this challenge.

Can my child get extra time on SAT’s and other tests if I have this done?

  • One of the most common reasons parents request private educational evaluations is to establish eligibility for accommodations on SAT’s and other College Board tests. While such recommendations may result from the assessment, we cannot guarantee in advance that they will be found to have an eligible learning difference or a specific need for such accommodations. If there is a well-documented history of prior testing, we can be more confident of the possible findings. We cannot, however, guarantee that the College Board, which has final authority over granting of these accommodations, will agree. In most cases, we do not think it is a good idea to enter into evaluation with the exclusive goal of getting extended time or other modifications—for two reasons. First, we can’t guarantee that will be the result and would not want parents or students to feel the evaluation was “unsuccessful” if that is not the outcome. Second, and more important, we believe in most cases that you will get more out of the evaluation if you are receptive to a wide array of information that can come from the process rather than seeking a specific outcome such as “extended time.”

Will my child qualify for services from this?

  • Whether a student qualifies for services in the school setting depends on the results of assessment, whether they meet the criteria laid out in state and federal guidelines, and the student’s school performance. Under the law, there are currently two sets of criteria for determining eligibility for services and accommodations. The first way that a student can become eligible is by qualifying for special education services. While there are many categories of students who are entitled to special education services, in order to be eligible for special education as the result of a Specific Learning Disability, a student must demonstrate at least average cognitive ability, a processing problem that interferes with the student’s academic learning, and a significant lag in academic achievement in reading, written language (not just spelling), or math. The academic gap must be explained by the processing problem, not by a second language complication or school history issue.
  • The second avenue for obtaining accommodation and services is through the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504. This is commonly called a “504 Plan.” Again, there are many disabilities that qualify for accommodations under this legislation, but we will focus on students with learning disabilities. A student must demonstrate a learning challenge that significantly interferes with performance in the learning environment, but if that student’s learning needs can reasonably be met within the regular education program if given certain accommodations such as extended time, modified texts, and similar modifications, then the school will recommend that a 504 Plan be developed to authorize those services.

Could this result in my child getting placed in Special Education if I don’t want that?

  • In a word, no. For the most part, parents are not required to accept a particular special education service if they do not want it. There are many parents who prefer their child remain in regular education while they provide some of the necessary remedial supports privately; this is an excellent combination for some and for those who can afford to do so. If you have the evaluation done privately, you do not have to share the results with the public school, though we recommend it. If you do have a private evaluation and share it with the school, they are legally obligated to take it into consideration in their own assessment: they cannot say that they don’t take “outside” evaluations. They are not compelled to follow the recommendations from a private specialist, but they must at least provide their basis for their contrary decision, which you have the right to appeal. Some private schools require that you share results of evaluations if it is their admission policy.
  • There are rare situations in which the public school will take a stand and indicate that they believe a student is being deprived or his rights to an appropriate education by a parent who refuses special education services. In the case of private evaluations, it would be remarkable to think that we would draw that conclusion if the public school program itself has not already asserted it, so you should not be in for any surprises.

Won’t this result in my child being “labeled?”

Lack of school success automatically leads to “labeling,” and unfortunately, it is often the child himself who first applies that label. Often the label is “stupid,” “bad,” or a similar, unhelpful judgment. An accurate label is productive because it helps “contain” the problem something that is definable and approachable and has proven strategies for improvement.

What does this have to do with ADHD?

Can this tell me if my child has ADHD?

  • Only a medical doctor or a clinical psychologist can diagnose ADHD. An educational psychologist or a learning disability specialist cannot make such a diagnosis. However, because ADHD is prevalent among children that are referred for learning evaluations, much good insight can come from the eyes of educational specialists trained in evaluation. A learning specialist may be able to recommend a variety of interventions that could be useful in addressing symptoms of ADHD without the need for establishing a formal diagnosis. If ADHD is suspected, it may be useful to have the educational evaluation conducted with the participation of a clinical psychologist, either alone or in combination with a learning specialist. While a physician can diagnose ADHD, most pediatricians have only modest experience with the other educational considerations relevant to ruling out other possible explanations for behavior. Because pharmaceutical treatment (most often, stimulant medication) is well documented to have extremely high effectiveness in addressing diagnosed ADHD, ultimately a prescribing physician such as child psychiatrist may be an important member of your team.

Will an evaluation that points to ADHD lead to medicating my child?

  • Schools are not allowed to require a student to take medication for ADHD regardless of a diagnosis. Only a parent, with the support of a doctor, can authorize medication as a treatment. If an evaluation does point to or establish a diagnosis of ADHD, there are usually many other interventions that can and should be employed before taking the step of medication trials. Changes in home routines, school behavioral plans, curriculum, and outside supports can all contribute to great gains without the use of medication. Medication offers the advantage of immediate behavioral changes in most students and is proven to be highly effective, so it is good to have an open mind to this as a potential treatment.

What is the testing like?

How long does it take?

  • This depends on the scope of the evaluation. A screening may take only an hour or two of testing time, an assessment of a single area of learning (such as reading) may take two to four hours, and a typical overall evaluation for the assessment of possible learning disabilities will typically require five or six hours of evaluation time. Parent should be aware that for every hour of contact with a student in the testing process, another hour of scoring, interpretation, development of recommendations, and report writing is involved. Most evaluators break things up into sessions of one to two hours each, normally on different days in reasonably close succession.

What tests are used? How do you determine which ones?

  • Nationally standardized testing with high validity and reliability is the cornerstone of educational evaluation. When cognitive ability is measured, most often a psychologist will use a form of the Wechsler intelligence tests suited to the age of the subject, and an educational specialist is most likely to use a combination of subtests from the Woodcock-Johnson Test of Cognitive Abilities. For assessment of academic learning, the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement or the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test is often used. Other standardized tests may be used in each of these areas as an alternative or as a supplement to these tests. In some cases, diagnostic evaluation may also include a selection of informal tasks selected to observe a student’s response to specific processing demands or achievement. A diagnosis is never made on the basis of a single test.

What is the difference between cognitive and achievement testing?

  • Cognitive testing assesses a student’s ability to remember, reproduce and problem-solve using novel and previously learned knowledge and stimuli. Generally, cognitive tests sample visual, language and psychomotor skills, drawing from a student’s prior learning experiences and ability to deal with new tasks. These types of tests look at the underlying processes that facilitate and support learning. In contrast, academic tests are focused on students’ school-related learning. Academic testing measures a student’s skills in a variety of academic areas, including reading decoding, reading comprehension, math calculation and reasoning, and written language skills. Clinical observations and diagnostic teaching may also reveal specific subsets of skills where the student struggles or excels. All formal testing measures are administered in a standardized manner, which allows the student’s performance to be compared with a normative sample of age or grade peers.

What is the timeline for an evaluation?

  • This can vary widely. It is important to realize that a good evaluator may be booked well in advance and that a comprehensive evaluation can require up to a half of a full week’s work to complete, so you can not expect to get an evaluation done on short notice in most cases. College Boards have specific deadlines for submission of materials for consideration for accommodations, and a last-minute application can hurt your chances for accomplishing this. When there is no earlier history of an evaluation of a learning problem, these agencies look with suspicion on last-minute submissions. We recommend you begin the process not less than six months in advance of those deadlines.

How often do I need to have this done?

  • Evaluations are generally considered valid for three years. Assessments may be conducted more frequently in academic areas or to determine progress and growth. Colleges and universities may also request an updated evaluation if the student was not tested using adult measures.

Who will do the evaluation?

Is it good to have a second opinion?

  • Assessments done in the public school will always be done by multiple professionals, while private assessments are done with one or multiple evaluators. As a general rule, a “second opinion” is not needed if the results of the assessment are in line with others who know the child. However, it may be warranted if the parents or professionals who know the child significantly debate the results of the initial assessment.
  • A relatively inexpensive way to take better advantage of diagnostic information is to share it with other professionals who know the student. The basic information derived from testing is subject to different interpretation, and thus a “second opinion” about the results of the testing rather than a second opinion based on new testing may prove helpful.

How do I handle this with my child?

What do I say to my child about the upcoming evaluation?

  • A student should know that he or she is going to do a variety of activities that look at the way that his or her brain works and how he or she is doing in different learning areas. Explain that all people, including adults, have strengths and weaknesses, and that the assessment will look at determining what those are. Stress that these tests are not like tests at school because these include working directly with an adult, and most students find the activities fun and interesting. They should know that the results are confidential, but not secret, and they will get feedback all along the way as to how they are doing. Also, ensure that the student feels comfortable asking the evaluator any further questions that he or she might have about the process or results.

Should my child attend the conference?

  • Please talk to the professional(s) conducting the evaluation about the best way to communicate results of the assessment to the student. Most students will get considerable feedback on their performance during the testing process and may not need a separate conference to receive results. In other cases, an individual meeting between the student and the evaluator can be useful as follow-up. In some cases, it may be deemed important for the student to be present among the adults who are participating in the conference, but more often than not, this is unnecessarily uncomfortable for the student and should be handled separately.

Should I tell my child his or her IQ?

  • Each family will need to assess this question individually. At the least, a student should have a general idea about how they fared compared to the general population, and often, providing specific numbers adds credibility to this information to the student. If the results are “good,” it is usually a confidence booster to hear it. If they are low or reveal concerns, the student may be better off not hearing specific numbers and rather being part of a broader discussion about what has been learned and how a student and family can respond. In some cases, when results are high and students are given numbers without a good dose of broader perspective about implications for learning, a student might take a high IQ as permission to “slack off.”

How much will this cost?

What do you charge?

Are there alternatives that would make it less costly?

  • As explained above, the public school is required to provide assessment at no cost to parents when a specific learning problem is suspected. However, when a student is not in the public school, when the public school has chosen not to take an evaluation further, or when it is otherwise appropriate to turn to private evaluation sources, it will likely be at the family’s expense. By taking time to share prior evaluation results and a good accounting of the current situation, it may be possible to tailor an evaluation more precisely to the referring concern and avoid other testing that may be optional. In some cases, it may be appropriate to approach an evaluation in stages: first a screening to get initial data and then follow-up evaluation as suggested by the results of the screening. However, it is important not to take a “piecemeal” approach to testing, which can result in greater cost ultimately, and more importantly, a spotty set of data that may not lead to the most accurate or effective conclusions.

Can insurance cover the cost?

  • Unfortunately, in most cases insurance will not cover the cost of educational evaluation. It is rare that an educational specialist will be covered, while psychological services are sometimes covered. However, many insurance companies limit reimbursement for psychological services to treatment only, not to evaluation.

© Mark A. Carey, M.A., and Kaulele Education Services, Inc. 2010