Understanding the Learning Disability Assessment Process

Schools use these tests to decide if children should get special ed services

Students taking a test in a classroom
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The first part of determining whether your child has a learning disability is the testing process. The learning disability testing process usually begins when a child has problems with academics or behavior in school.

Typically, when a child has problems learning to read, write, perform math skills, understanding spoken language, or expressing himself, a learning disability may be a possible cause.

In most cases, a parent's first encounter with special education happens when a child is not progressing and a learning disability is suspected. Usually, parents notice early signs of a learning disability and contact the school for assistance.

How Schools Kickstart the Process

As part of the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, schools are required to implement a system of interventions before evaluating a child for a disability. This process is called response to intervention, or RTI. Initially, teachers may meet with the parent and implement interventions before referring a child for learning disability testing. In fact, all of the decisions regarding testing or educational program planning for children with disabilities take place during a process of formal meetings, sometimes called Individual Education Program (IEP) team meetings.

If the parent and educators suspect a disability, they begin the testing process.

Testing is necessary for children suspected of having a learning disability because learning disability testing is required by federal and state regulations to determine eligibility for special education. In addition, learning disability testing provides important information about the child's suspected disability, and if the child qualifies, the testing provides specific data for use in developing an IEP.

What Happens During the Waiting Period

Learning disability testing is a complex process of gathering information in all areas related to a student's suspected learning disability. Federal regulations require that no more than 60 days should elapse from the time a student is referred for testing until the time the IEP is developed. To a parent, those 60 days of waiting for learning disability testing can seem like an eternity. What goes on during that time period?

Depending on the area of disability and the unique questions surrounding each child, the learning disability testing may include a review of educational records, observations of the child, review of student work, or medical, vision and hearing tests. School officials may also collect a ​developmental and social history of the child and evaluate the child's fine and gross motor skills. Other areas to be assessed include adaptive behavior, speech, and language.

During the waiting period, the child may also take intellectual ability or "IQ" tests, academic skills tests, social and emotional testing, behavioral testing and psychiatric testing (in rare instances).

Who Conducts Testing for Learning Disabilities?

Testing may be provided by a variety of professionals as needed by the IEP team. These professionals include teachers, educational diagnosticians, school psychologists, speech pathologists, medical professionals, occupational and physical therapists, and counselors.

In many cases, the evaluators issue written testing reports of their findings that are shared by the team. Some school districts provide testing results in one integrated report rather than individual reports from each practitioner. When possible, it is helpful for evaluators to attend IEP team meetings to share their results with team members and ask questions. As always, parent input and participation is very important to the IEP team decision-making process.

Using Test Results to Make Educational Decisions

IEP team members review the information from the testing results and use the findings to determine if the student's scores and other test results meet eligibility criteria for a learning disability established by the state.

If the child qualifies, they determine the diagnosis, develop an IEP and determine what specially designed instruction is needed.

In contrast, if the child doesn't qualify, they determine what other program supports or instructional interventions are available for assistance.

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