[August 12, 2022: First published. December 26, 2023: Updated to include additional information about comorbidity and republished.]

Whether your child is receiving an initial evaluation for eligibility or being reevaluated at a later date, the evaluation must be a comprehensive evaluation.

What is Comprehensive?

In the case of initial evaluations, §300.301(a) of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) is your go-to regulation:

"Each public agency must conduct a full and individual initial evaluation, in accordance with §§300.304 through 300.306, before the initial provision of special education and related services to a child with a disability under this part."

What is a comprehensive evaluation? Look to 300.301(c)(2):

"The initial evaluation—Must consist of procedures—(i) To determine if the child is a child with a disability under §300.8; and (ii) To determine the educational needs of the child."

Needs Can't Be Addressed If They Aren't Identified

In order to develop an education plan that addresses the needs of a child, the needs have to be identified in full. More on this at §300.304(1)(ii):

"In conducting the evaluation, the public agency must—(1) Use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental, and academic information about the child, including information provided by the parent, that may assist in determining—(ii) The content of the child’s IEP, including information related to enabling the child to be involved in and progress in the general education curriculum (or for a preschool child, to participate in appropriate activities)."

For example:

In 2016, during a meeting at an elementary school presented its evaluation, I stated that the evaluation was not comprehensive. The school principal stood up and stated, "We only test for eligibility".


If a school only tests for eligibility, it could stop its evaluation as soon as it identified one issue. For example, under this thinking, the minute the school's testing provided enough data to show the student is a student with a specific learning disability related to reading, the school could stop testing—and completely miss data indicating the student might have other areas of need, such as auditory processing, visual processing, Dyscalculia, and so on.

Too often, there is more than one thing at play.

What is Comorbidity?

In her article "Autism and Comorbid Mental Health Issues", Vanessa Tucker stated there is no "neatly wrapped box into which we can place all children and youth." In the context of her article, this statement spoke to categories of eligibility, but it fits when talking about evaluations, too. The struggles children face typically come in pairs, groups, and so on, hence, they exist together. The are comorbid.

The American Psychiatric Association's definition of SLD provides an example of comorbidity within this area of eligibility:

"An estimated five to 15% of school-age children struggle with a learning disability. An estimated 80% of those with learning disorders have an impairment in reading in particular (commonly referred to as dyslexia). Dyslexia is highly prevalent affecting 20% of the population. Dyslexia affects male and females equally. There is a high comorbidity of specific learning disorder with other neurodevelopmental disorders (such as ADHD) as well as anxiety."

In the example shared previously, of the principal stating the school only tests for eligibility, I asked for more testing.

Within three weeks of the initial evaluation, a reevaluation was done and additional areas of needs were identified.

As the year progressed, and more areas of concern emerged, I again stated the initial evaluation wasn't comprehensive (nor was the reevaluation three weeks later).

The school did another evaluation and additional areas of need were identified.

All of this came after the school district denied the child an evaluation three times between first and sixth grades, and repeatedly cited good grades among the reasons not to evaluate.

Good Grades Can't Be Used To Deny Evaluations

Neither grades nor severe discrepancies can be used to deny evaluations.

If grades are brought up, head to 300.101(c)(1), which states:

"(c) Children advancing from grade to grade. (1) Each State must ensure that FAPE is available to any individual child with a disability who needs special education and related services, even though the child has not failed or been retained in a course or grade, and is advancing from grade to grade."

If discrepancies are brought up, head to §300.307(a)(1): :

"A State must adopt, consistent with §300.309, criteria for determining whether a child has a specific learning disability as defined in §300.8(c)(10). In addition, the criteria adopted by the State—(1) Must not require the use of a severe discrepancy between intellectual ability and achievement for determining whether a child has a specific learning disability, as defined in §300.8(c)(10)."

However, discrepancies are evidence that there is an issue, which means if a discrepancy comes up during an evaluation, it needs to be probed. For more information, has an excellent article on the discrepancy model.

In addition, in the case of specific learning disabilities, the school psychologist is required, under §300.304(b)(2) to:

"Not use any single measure or assessment as the sole criterion for determining whether a child is a child with a disability and for determining an appropriate educational program for the child."

If there is an issue, one assessment or evaluation isn't enough to determine the appropriate education program.

The following is from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). It appears in an 8.3.17 Notice of Complaint it issued in response to a complaint I filed. It hits upon both the state and the federal:

"Evaluation/Reevaluation/Eligibility- Procedures: The 2006 implementing regulations, at 34 C.F.R. § 300.304 and 34 C.F.R 300.310, and the Virginia Regulations, at 8 VAC 20-81-70.B.14 states that this requirement are met: Each child is assessed by a qualified professional in all areas relating to the suspected disability, including, if appropriate, health, vision, hearing, social and emotional status, general intelligence, academic performance, communicative status, motor abilities, and adaptive behavior. This may include educational, medical, sociocultural, psychological, or developmental assessments. a. The hearing of each child suspected of having a disability shall be screened during the eligibility process prior to initial determination of eligibility for special education and related services. b. A complete audiological assessment, including tests that will assess inner and middle ear functioning, shall be performed on each child who is hearing impaired or deaf or who fails two hearing screening tests."

Trust Your Gut

If your parent radar is going off, insist your input be taken into consideration and insist on a comprehensive evaluation. If "no" continues to be the answer to your evaluation requests, ask for an Independent Educational Evaluation.