Thinking about Special Education: Getting a Referral for Evaluation

You feel your child is struggling in school. You’ve tried to ask your child about school, but they only get upset. When you talk to your child’s teacher about his or her progress, they agree with you that your child is having a hard time in class. Your child’s teacher has suggested that you think about special education services. What do you do now?

The first step is to get a referral for an evaluation. This evaluation is like a review, and it will help you and your child’s school figure out if special education services could help your child in class. You can work with your child’s teacher to ask someone from the school to make a referral for your child, or you can make your own referral if needed.

Not sure what to write in your request? Our friends at Massachusetts Advocates for Children have put together this Sample Letter: Requesting a School Evaluationthat gives you an idea of what to include. You can also write your own – there is no need to use fancy wording in your request!

Once the request has been made, either by the school or by you, the school must contact you within 5 school days to ask for your permission to start the evaluation. They’ll send you a consent form, and if you and your child are ready to get the evaluation done, you can sign and return it.

If you want to meet with the school first to learn more about the evaluation, you can ask for a “pre-evaluation conference”. This might be a good idea if you want to talk with the school about the reasons for the referral, what will happen during the evaluation, and see who will be working with your child to complete the evaluation.

After the consent form is signed and returned, the school team will complete the evaluation within 30 school days. During the evaluation the school will:

  • Review the history of your child’s progress in school
  • Watch how your child behaves in class
  • Ask your child questions about how he or she is doing in school
  • Test certain areas, based on the kinds of struggles you and your child’s teacher have noticed
    • Areas like communication, feelings and behaviors, hearing, vision, memory, and more

When the evaluation is done, the school will share the report with you and invite you to attend an eligibility meeting with the school team. Curious about what happens at this meeting? Visit our Exceptional Lives IEP Guide for more information on what to do next.

The Exceptional Lives team is available to answer any questions you may have along the way. Give us a call at 1-844-628-4866 or send us an email at

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