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EVALUATING CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES
IN PENNSYLVANIA AND MOST STATES
A MDE is used to find out if a youngster needs or continues to need special education, and, if so, the types of services the child should receive. The evaluation or re-evaluation must be provided at no cost to the child or family. An MDE is "multi-disciplinary" and uses a "team" approach - that is, several methods are used by a group of people to do the evaluation. No one test (such as an IQ test), or one person, can determine your child's needs. The parents are part of the MDE "Team."
The purpose of the initial MDE is to gather the information necessary to determine whether the child has a disability that affects his or her learning, and to design a program in which the child can make real progress. A child can be determined to be eligible for special services even if he or she has been progressing from grade to grade. The purpose of a re-evaluation is to determine if the child still needs special services, and whether the child is making reasonable progress towards his or her goals - and, if not, what changes are needed.
As with children of school age, MDEs for children below school age must determine whether the child is eligible, and what services the child needs. Children over age 3 must be evaluated within 60 days. The evaluation should include the child's level of functioning in each of the following areas of development: cognitive; physical (including hearing and vision); communication; social and emotional; and self care. With the consent of the parents, the evaluation should include an assessment of the family's strengths and needs with respect to helping the child to develop.
CAN MY CHILD BE EVALUATED OR RE-EVALUATED WITHOUT MY CONSENT?
Written parental consent is needed before an initial MDE can be conducted. The District must notify the family in writing of a proposed re-evaluation. The notice must include, among other things, the basis for the proposed evaluation; the parents' right to review the child's school records; the procedures and specific types of tests that will be used; and approximately when the tests will be given. The district cannot conduct an initial evaluation or a re-evaluation if the parents refuse consent. However, the district can conduct a re-evaluation if the family does not respond to the notice. If parents refuse to consent to the initial MDE or re-evaluation, the district can ask a hearing officer to order it. (See ELC's Fact Sheet on Due Process Procedures in Pennsylvania for more details on the hearing system). A district can review the existing data on a child, and can administer a test or evaluation that is given to all children, without parental consent.
WHEN SHOULD I REQUEST AN MDE FOR MY CHILD?
If you think your child has a disability and needs special education, you should ask the school district to give your child an MDE.
If your child is already in special education, does not seem to be making progress, and you're not sure why, you may want to ask for a re-evaluation to help decide whether changes need to be made to the program. In addition, if the district is proposing a significant change in your child's program or placement, including a suspension of more than 10 days in a row or 15 days in a school year, it must first conduct an MDE.
Under state law, re-evaluations must be conducted every two years.
HOW DO I GET AN MDE FOR MY CHILD?
Send a written note to your child's principal, asking for an MDE and giving your consent for the evaluation or re-evaluation to take place. Keep a copy for yourself. If you make the request verbally, the District is supposed to give you a form and tell you to put your request in writing. A school district must evaluate (or re-evaluate) your child within 60 school days of your written consent to the evaluation. If the district doesn't comply with these requirements (including the timeline), you can request a pre-hearing conference, a hearing or file a complaint with the Division of Compliance (see ELC's Fact Sheet on Due Process Procedures in Pennsylvania for more details).
WHAT TYPES OF TESTS WILL BE USED?
There are no specific number or types of "tests" that must be given to a child as part of an evaluation or re-evaluation. But the IEP Team (which includes the parents) must make sure that certain kinds of information are available, and are considered, during the evaluation or re-evaluation process: evaluations and information provided by the parents; current classroom-based assessments and observations; and information from the teachers and therapists. The IEP team must also decide if additional information is needed to determine whether the child has a disability (or continues to have a disability) and needs special services; the child's present levels of performance and educational needs; and whether any additional services are needed for the child to meet the measurable annual goals set out in the IEP and to participate, as appropriate, in the general curriculum offered to all students. If the IEP Team decides that no additional information is needed to determine if the student continues to be eligible for special education, the district must tell the parents and explain why. In that situation, the district must also tell parents that they can request further assessments if the parents think they are necessary.
WHAT'S DONE WITH THE RESULTS?
The Team reviews all the information and writes a summary Report, sometimes called a "Comprehensive Evaluation Report" or CER. The Team recommends whether the child should receive special education and the type and amount of services needed (the IEP Team makes the decision). You must be provided with a copy of the Report within 15 days after it is completed.
You have the right to disagree with the Report, and to say why. For example, you may believe the wrong tests were used, that the results are inaccurate or that other information is needed to help design a good program.
TO HELP DESIGN A GOOD PROGRAM FOR YOUR CHILD, THE MDE SHOULD ANSWER, AT LEAST,
THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS;
q Does your child qualify for special education services?
q In which areas does your child have problems?
q In which activities does your child succeed and what are his or her strengths?
q What is your child's learning style (e.g., does he or she learn best through repetition? By having material
presented in multiple ways?)?
q What are your goals and priorities for your child?
q What specific specialized instruction should be used to help your child learn?
q If your child already receives special education, has he or she made meaningful progress towards program goals? If not, why and what changes should be made to the program?
q If your child has behavior problems, under what circumstances do those problems occur? How can problems
be avoided, and what should happen when problems do occur?
q What types of related services are needed (such as speech, physical, occupational or counseling services)? Does your youngster need special equipment or other assistive technology? Does your child need Extended School Year (ESY) services?
q What kinds of extra help will your child (and teaching staff) need for your child to succeed in the regular
WHAT ABOUT INDEPENDENT EVALUATIONS?
If you feel that the evaluations done by the school do not answer these questions, or if you disagree with the answers provided, you can ask that an independent evaluation of your child be done at school district expense. Or, you can pay for the independent evaluation yourself, and ask to be reimbursed. If school officials don't agree to pay, a hearing must be scheduled. Regardless of who pays, the results of all independent evaluations must be considered by the MDE Team.
Prepared by the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania (8/99)
Education Law Center Web Site http://www.elc-pa.org/
Also see the Pennsylvania School Reform Network (PSRN) at http://www.psrn.org/evaluation.html
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Revised: January 01, 2013 .