Evaluations vs. IEP Meetings – A Very Important Distinction

A client recently told me they received a notice for an “evaluation meeting”.  Huh?  I asked, do you mean an IEP meeting?  The client wasn’t sure because the notice said just that – evaluation meeting.


Since I figured school districts are trying to confuse parents by using the terms “evaluation” and “IEP meeting” interchangeably, let me clarify the difference between the two for everybody.

What the law says

IDEA is very specific about what an “evaluation” is and what an “IEP meeting” is.  And they are in separate sections of the statute.  Here is what that law says:

Evaluation, 20 U.S.C. §1414(a), (b), and (c)

Initial evaluation: “A State educational agency, other State agency, or local educational agency shall conduct a full and individual initial evaluation . . . before the initial provision of special education and related services to a child with a disability under this subchapter.”  20 U.S.C. §1414(a)(1).

In other words, before a student can receive special education and related services for the first time, the school must conduct an initial evaluation of the child.  This is part of their “Child Find” responsibility if someone suspects that the child has a disability that impacts their education.

The next few subsections discuss the procedures used and the purpose of an initial evaluation (“to determine [eligibility]  within 60 days of receiving parental consent for the evaluation”) and parental consent.

Reevaluation: “A local educational agency shall ensure that a reevaluation of each child with a disability is conducted . . . if the local educational agency determines that the educational or related services needs, including improved academic achievement and functional performance, of the child warrant a reevaluation; or if the child’s parents or teacher requests a reevaluation.” 20 U.S.C. §1414(a)(2).

Thus, re-evaluation of a child must occur if the school believes a change in services is necessary or if a parent or teacher requests it.  Here is a very important part:

Reevaluation MUST occur at least every three (3) years, but not more than once a year, unless the parents and school agree that reevaluation is not necessary.

20 U.S.C. §1414(a)(2)(B).

What does an evaluation involve? “In conducting the evaluation, the local educational agency shall use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental, and academic information, including information provided by the parent (to determine if there is a disability and what will be necessary in an IEP); shall not use any single measure or assessment as the sole criterion for determining (disability or the education program); and use technically sound instruments that may assess the relative contribution of cognitive and behavioral factors, in addition to physical or developmental factors.”  20 U.S.C. §1414(b)(2).

What the heck does all that mean?

It means that the school must use valid testing methods and get input from the parents and others who know the child in performing the evaluation.  The school can’t simply rely on what the teachers say.

This is where the trouble starts, because schools think that they can conduct an “evaluation” or “reevaluation” by simply having a meeting.  They can’t.

Let’s continue.

IEP Meeting, 20 U.S.C. §1414(d)

IEP Meeting:  The IEP Team (parents, at least 1 gen ed teacher who knows the child, at least 1 special ed teacher who knows the child, a representative of the school district who knows the resources available, a person who can interpret evaluation results, and possibly others) must assemble to develop an IEP for the child.  20 U.S.C. §1414(d)(1)(B) and (C).  This is an IEP meeting.

The Team must meet to ensure that an IEP is in effect for each child with a disability in the school district by the beginning of the school year in the Fall.  20 U.S.C. §1414(d)(2)(A).    The IEP meeting must occur “periodically, but not less frequently than annually, to determine whether the annual goals for the child are being achieved.”  20 U.S.C. §1414(d)(4)(A).

So, hopefully you’re still with me.  And you can see that the law is crystal clear that an evaluation is something different than an IEP meeting.

So why are schools getting this mixed up (maybe on purpose)?

One sentence in IDEA may be the culprit:

“To the extent possible, the local educational agency shall encourage the consolidation of reevaluation meetings for the child and other IEP Team meetings for the child.”  20 U.S.C. §1414(d)(3)(E).

The statute doesn’t explain what a “reevaluation meeting” is, but I think it refers back to the section quoted in Reevaluation above, namely a meeting to determine if a reevaluation is needed.  It is not a meeting where an evaluation takes place, but rather to decide if one is necessary.

Nevertheless, ASK the school what they mean by an “evaluation meeting”.  Ask them if they mean a meeting to decide whether reevaluation is necessary or if they mean an IEP meeting or a combined meeting.  And, as always, DO IT IN WRITING!

If you want further information on this, get our book SchoolKidsLawyer’s Step-By-Step Guide to Special Education Law or contact us for a consultation.



11 thoughts on “Evaluations vs. IEP Meetings – A Very Important Distinction”

  1. I’m a special ed parent and and SLP who was previously in private practice doing IEEs. Now I am in the schools because it fits our family scheduling needs. I think the confusion lies in the wording and a lack of explanation for the parent. In both CA and WA where I have worked, an evaluation meeting is a meeting to discuss the evaluation results, not to determine if an eval is necessary. Then if the team (evaluators and parents) determine a child qualifies for SPED an IEP is held.

    1. Agreed, however, that is now how it is being used in NJ, PA, HI, TN, and other places I have had cases. School districts are having “reevaluation meetings” to determine whether or not to do a reevaluation, when the statute requires a comprehensive reevaluation at least once every 3 years. In my opinion, schools are trying to avoid the expense of reevaluations by having such meetings and trying to convince the parents to waive the right to the evaluations. If the parents don’t know their rights and waive the reevaluations, often disabilities and/or the effects therefrom on the child’s ability to receive an education are missed and the child suffers.

    2. First, the filter through which you write paints a negative image of school systems and sets in motion damaging expectations on the part of parents i.e., what parents can expect is deception from schools. I have worked many years in public schools from special education teacher to special education director and now as consultant. I can assure you all school systems cannot be painted with the same broad brush just as all parents cannot be described as angry, demanding and unreasonable.
      Second, my interpretation of a notice stating the meeting is an evaluation meeting is not to determine whether an evaluation is required but rather to present evaluation results leading to whether the student is eligible for special education services.

      1. To respond: (1) The “filter” is based on nationwide experience as expressed through an organization (COPAA) that helps parents and children with disabilities; (2) the reality is that, while your specific experience may be different, the portrayal in this post is fairly consistent throughout the country (read a more recent Guest Post called “Special Education is a Hostage Crisis”); (3) the point of this article is that there is zero legal basis to hold a meeting regarding “evaluations” outside of an IEP meeting (see 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(1)(B)(v)) and, unfortunately, schools know this (or should) and also know most parents don’t know the law or their legal rights and use that to the parents’ disadvantage. My suggestion to you is to be a bit more objective about the IEP / evaluations process and not simply view this from the school’s perspective (funded by taxpayer dollars) or your own personal experience.

      2. Thank you for your honesty schoolkidslawyer! The rose colored glasses approach to parent education only succeeds in parents being blindsided by the snakes in the grass that are unfortunately in my experience are more common than not. Walking into a meeting expecting the worst and being pleasantly surprised is better than a lot of us have been through with our districts.

  2. I just got an Combined Developmental, Neuropsychological and educational Assessment as IEE from a psychologist who specializes in internationally adopted children who have been raised in institutions., trauma backgrounds and autism. My son is totally blind, autistic and has a disabling anxiety issue that has interfered with his learning for the 30 months I have had him.

    I requested a re-evaluation meeting 3 days ago to go over the doctors findings and recommendations. Is this the right request? All the evaluations are done. I know they are going to refuse almost all of the recommendations.

    This was an extensive, multi day assessment and showed Neurological, Centra Nervous System disorders , Trauma and so much more that was not known before because they have no experiences with these children. Add to the fact that my son is blind, autistic, traumatized and neglected. The recommendations were everything I have been fighting the district about since he started schooling. In fact, I fought with them just to get this Assessment done because he is a specialist with kids like me son to no avail. The district refused to even read any of the literature and case studies from this specialist that I presented to them right after adoption and every IEP meeting.

    I paid for this evaluation, airfare, hotel and meals myself. Because they should have done it right away. I could not wait any longer. Because of my son’s background, he needed this evaluation right after coming to America. Now we don’t really know his level of Mandarin language then (due to language attrition and only speaking a secondary language and not his native language. This specialist Was able to determine whether my son had neurological autism or institutional autism.

    The district did settle with me just before the due process was to happen and we came to an agreement. The district will contract with this doctor for a 2nd opinion via records review when they saw that this doctor offered it on his website. They will do all the testing in-district and send the results to this doctor. However, that is where they stopped reading the doctor’s website and put the offer on the table for me to end the due process. They failed to follow any of the instructions, including reading that the 2nd opinion is done an a case by case basis. So when the district went to send the doctor all of their testing results, he said my son is too complicated and needs to be seen in person. Indeed, it was the most complex case in his 30 years of this. Now, the district is saying the doctor refused so their obligation from the resolution is fulfilled. I see this as fraudulent misrepresentation. They also told me that if the school pays for it, they have to follow the recommendations. This was another ploy to get me to a resolution to end the due process and fraudulent misrepresentation.

    The specialist is Boris Gindis, Ph.D with BGCenter.com

    I am planning on getting an attorney.

    1. I am unable to offer you specific legal advice on this blog. I strongly encourage you to speak with an attorney on this issue in your local area / state. Good luck to you.

  3. Elizabeth, NJ is one of the places where these “Revaluation Meetings” are happening. Because they aren’t IEP meetings, they are denying parents support persons or advocates during them, and will reschedule the day of claiming they need to have their lawyer present if the parent has a family friend with them. They also are firm that these are NOT IEP meetings.

    1. Awful. I can’t give legal advice here, but you might want to contact one of my colleagues in north Jersey. John Rue is an excellent attorney. Lori Arons is also excellent. If you contact either, let them know that I sent you.

    1. Not sure of your question. An evaluation summary is the summary of a report generated from testing / assessing a child with a disability. The evaluation is used for determining either (a) initial eligibility for special education and related services; and/or (b) present levels of academic achievement and functional performance (PLAAFP) to determine necessary services for the IEP. It is not technically part of the IEP, but is a necessary component of developing an IEP. I hope that answers your question. Consider getting my book SchoolKidsLawyer’s Step-By-Step Guide to Special Education Law – 2nd Edition (available on this website under Resources), which explains all this in greater detail.

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