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Preschool Evaluation

The individual evaluation conducted by a multidisciplinary team, which consists of educational and medical professionals, enables the Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE) to determine whether or not a child has a disability and, if so, to what extent preschool special education programs and/or services are appropriate. For those students recommended to receive preschool special education, the individual evaluation provides the basis for developing the Individualized Education Program (IEP) that includes information about the child’s identified strengths and needs and recommended goals and objectives.

Eligibility as a preschool child with a disability is based on the results of an individual evaluation, which is provided in the student's native language, not dependent on a single procedure, and administered by a multidisciplinary team.

An individual evaluation of a preschool child must include information about functional areas related to cognitive, language and communicative, adaptive, social-emotional, and motor development in order to determine the child's individual needs. Information must be obtained from a physical examination, an individual psychological evaluation, a social history, a parent interview to identify their child's strengths and needs, a structured observation of the child's performance and behavior, and other assessment procedures, as necessary, to ascertain specific factors contributing to the suspected disability. This evaluation must be consistent with all other requirements found in Section 200.4(b) and 200.16(c) of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education.

Parent/Family/Caregiver Involvement

Research tells us that a collaborative approach to family involvement improves outcomes for children. IDEA requires that schools include family participation in the educational activities of their children. The parent(s) has the right to participate as a member of the CPSE with respect to the identification, evaluation and educational placement of their child. Parent/families/caregivers bring valuable knowledge and understanding of the child to the evaluation and IEP process. Their commitment as active members of the IEP team is critical to consistent implementation of the agreed- upon strategies.

Federal and State law requires parent consent under certain conditions (e.g., initial evaluation, initial provision of special education services and programs and initial provision of 12-month special education programs.) Families and caregivers are to be consulted about their concerns for the child and the reason for referral. The Committee must provide information to families in their native language regarding their legal rights, selection of an evaluation site, the evaluation process, and the Committee process. The CPSE chair should establish a specific contact person for each family for consistent and effective communication.

The Referral Process

Children are referred to the school district's CPSE if they are suspected of having a disability which impairs their learning and development. Referrals are made in writing by parents, professionals, caregivers, program providers or other individuals who are concerned about a child's development. Specific cultural and linguistic information must be considered when assessing the need to refer a child to the CPSE for an individual evaluation. Children transitioning from the Department of Health's Early Intervention Program that serves infants and toddlers, birth through age two may be referred to the CPSE by the early intervention service provider, upon parental consent.

Referral information provides evaluators with information about the presenting problem, concerns of the parents and teachers, referral source, and relevant background information such as birth date, medical conditions, previous evaluations, previous educational programs and activities, ethnic/cultural factors, and first and second language of the child. Referral information is part of the child's education records and must be maintained according to privacy/confidentiality rights.

The Evaluation Process

The evaluation of the preschool child requires information gathering and for individually administered assessments and behavioral observations to be conducted to determine the physical, mental, behavioral and emotional factors that contribute to the suspected disability. Information provided by the parent is critical to understanding the child's strengths, needs, interests and life experiences. A variety of assessment tools and procedures should be used to gather relevant functional and developmental information related to the preschool child’s participation in appropriate activities. Appropriate activities may encourage children to learn skills that lead to reaching those milestones that typically developing children of the same age perform or achieve.

CPSE chairpersons, evaluators and families have many opportunities to communicate and collaborate during the evaluation process. Strategies for effective collaboration include the following:

  • The evaluation process should be thoroughly described to families/caregivers prior to conducting the evaluation.
  • Previous evaluations and assessments may be provided to the CPSE with parental consent. This information must be reviewed by a group of professionals that includes the CPSE, and as appropriate, the approved evaluator and other qualified professionals. If the group determines that the previous evaluations fulfill the legal requirements for an individual evaluation, the information may be used as part of that individual evaluation. This determination does not necessarily need to take place at a formal meeting.
  • For children transitioning from the Early Intervention Program to preschool special education, parents are asked to give consent to share copies of their child's most recent evaluation report with the CPSE and the approved evaluator they have selected.
  • The key participants in the transition process from the Early Intervention Program to the preschool special education program are the family, the Early Intervention Service Coordinator and Early Intervention Official, the CPSE chairperson and the approved evaluator selected by the family. These people work together to facilitate a smooth transition by reviewing the child's progress in the Early Intervention Program and determining the child's eligibility for preschool special education services.
  • Based on a review of previous evaluations and assessments and input from the parents/family/caregivers about the child, the CPSE and other qualified professionals, as appropriate, identify what additional data if any, are needed to determine eligibility and special education programs and services.
  • A strength-based approach should be used during the evaluation process. If programs and/or services are recommended, these areas of strength can support or bridge the gap between these strengths and needs of the child.
  • School districts are required to provide the mandated Procedural Safeguards Notice (January 2002) to parents at the time of initial referral of the child for evaluation; each notice of an IEP meeting; reevaluation of the child; request for an impartial due process hearing and a decision to suspend or remove a child for discipline reasons that would result in a disciplinary change in placement.
  • Evaluations should be scheduled at times that are convenient for both parents/families and evaluators. All participants in this process need to remain flexible in scheduling. For example, a young child may not tolerate receiving multiple evaluations in one day.
  • Evaluators must be aware of the cultural, linguistic, and ethnic diversity of families and should observe the Guidelines for Services for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Preschool Students with Disabilities Ages 3-5 (March 1997).
  • Evaluators should actively seek parents’ concerns, observations, and relevant information regarding the developmental milestones, levels of performance, and individual needs of their child. These are critical components of the evaluation.
  • Feedback should be provided to parents/family as soon as possible after the evaluations. This should occur in the native language or communication mode of the family and with adequate time to review and discuss the evaluation.
  • The full evaluation report must be provided to parents prior to the child's scheduled CPSE meeting. Reports should be written in a clear and concise manner and in the native language or mode of communication of the family so that they can easily understand the information. It should also be made very clear to the parents that while the full evaluation report may include recommendations regarding programs and services, it is the CPSE that makes the final IEP recommendation for programs and services.

The final determination of eligibility and recommendations for special education programs and/or services are determined by the CPSE. The parents of the child are members of the CPSE and are expected to fully participate in the decision-making process for their child.

Components of the Individual Evaluation

The evaluation of the preschool child requires information gathering and a series of individually administered assessments and behavioral observations. The individual evaluation must include a physical examination, a social history, a psychological, an observation of the child in his or her natural setting and other appropriate assessments and evaluations.

Components of the Individual Evaluation:

  • Social History, including Health History
  • Physical Examination
  • Psychological Evaluation
  • Observation
  • Other Appropriate Assessments /Evaluations

These required evaluations provide information about the child's development according to functional areas such as motor, language, mental, social-emotional and behavioral skills. For example, the physical examination may include a health history and information about motor development. Other evaluations and assessments in the functional areas must be conducted as needed to further ascertain the physical, mental, behavioral and emotional factors that contribute to the suspected disability.

Required Assessments or Evaluations

Social History - The social history includes interpersonal, familial and environmental factors, which influence a child's general adaptation to the learning environment. These may include, but are not limited to, data on family composition, family history, developmental history of the child, health of the child, family interaction and adjustment of the child to preschool or other learning environments. A history of the child's health involves a comprehensive review of health and medical factors that may affect the normal learning process of the child. A request must be made for all immunization and other health records. In cases where medical factors may be contributing to the child's educational disability, detailed comprehensive medical documentation must be obtained with parental consent.

Physical Examination - A physical examination, in accordance with Section 903, 904, 905 of the Education Law, is required of all children referred to the CPSE for evaluation. This may include a report from the child’s pediatrician or any other specialists who have recently examined the child if it fulfills the requirements of the physical examination. For children whose suspected area of disability may have a medical etiology, a comprehensive medical examination may be needed. When necessary, specialized examinations, such as ophthalmological or neurological evaluations, are required. An audiological examination may be needed if concerns about hearing loss arise during any part of the evaluation process or the presenting problem involves speech and language development.

Psychological Evaluation - A psychological evaluation assesses a student's cognitive, neuropsychological, developmental, behavioral and emotional status. These areas may include the following: general intelligence, mental and emotional functioning; developmental status; learning strengths, weaknesses and styles; instructional needs; personality characteristics; and social interactions and relationships. The psychological evaluation process can use a variety of formal and informal assessment strategies.

Observation - Observing the behavior of a child in a natural setting is a required part of the evaluation process. A natural setting may include the classroom, playground, restroom, bus, or home. Observations should occur in places familiar to the child where he or she is comfortable and will have the opportunity to demonstrate typical behaviors. Observations add a critical dimension to the evaluation process, particularly when they are used in conjunction with objective tests, behavioral checklists, questionnaires, interviews, a videotape of the child in a familiar or natural setting and other evaluation strategies. This observation may be completed in conjunction with the administration of another evaluation component such as the psychological or other needed assessments and evaluations.

Other Appropriate Assessments or Evaluations

The individual evaluation must include the above, and other appropriate assessments or evaluations, including a functional behavioral assessment for a student whose behavior impedes his or her learning or that of others, as necessary to ascertain the physical, mental, behavioral and emotional factors which contribute to the suspected disabilities. Another example of an area that may require evaluation is a child's need for assistive technology devices and services. This assessment may be conducted as a separate component of the evaluation or within other assessments, such as in the language/communication and motor domains.

A group of professionals, that includes the CPSE, and as appropriate, the approved evaluator and other qualified professionals, may review existing evaluation data and other information from the family to determine if such assessments or evaluations fulfill the requirements of the individual evaluation. Examples of other appropriate assessments or evaluations are as follows:

Cognitive Evaluation - Information about a child's cognitive functioning may be obtained from sources in addition to the formal psychological assessment. A cognitive assessment measures attention span, thinking processes, and concept formation, as well as visual discrimination, imitation, memory, sequencing, classification, reasoning, and problem-solving skills. This assessment provides developmental skill levels and areas of strength and weakness, as well as learning styles. The cognitive evaluation process can use a variety of formal and informal assessment strategies.

Language and Communication - An evaluation of speech-language skills measures the child's understanding of language and expression of language, pragmatic language skills, speech production (including articulation/phonology, phonation/voice, and fluency), oral motor development, and feeding/swallowing skills. If English is not the student's primary language, the evaluation should be conducted in the child's native language or other mode of communication. If a child uses two languages, assessment should occur in both languages to determine the best performance and child's needs. The speech-language evaluation process can use a variety of formal and informal assessment strategies.

Adaptive Behavior - Adaptive behavior is defined as the performance of developmentally appropriate daily activities required to meet personal needs and social responsibility. Areas of adaptive behavior to be assessed include, self-help skills, play skills, learning styles, communication skills, motor skills, and social interaction/behavioral skills. The adaptive behavior evaluation process can use a variety of formal and informal assessment strategies.

Social-Emotional - A social-emotional evaluation measures interpersonal relationships, social interaction skills with adults and peers, learning styles, personality traits, and social-emotional development. The social-emotional assessment process can use a variety of formal and informal assessment strategies.

Gross Motor - A gross motor assessment measures the presence and mastery of a number of fundamental motor skills and the components of motor skills, such as range of motion; muscle performance; neuromotor development and sensory integration; reflex integrity; sensory integrity; skin integrity; joint integrity and mobility gait; locomotion and balance; posture; personal independence and self-care; the use of adaptive equipment such as prosthetics, orthotics, and wheelchairs; and the identification of environmental barriers and transportation needs. The gross motor evaluation can use a variety of formal and informal assessment strategies that measure functional levels and adaptive performance.

Fine Motor - A fine motor assessment measures the presence and mastery of developmental hand skills needed to perform functional activities and the components of skills such as visual-perceptual-motor, sensory processing and sensory integration, manual dexterity, eye-hand coordination, approach to fine motor tasks, and the use of assistive technology and adaptive equipment. The fine motor evaluation can use a variety of formal and informal assessment strategies that measure functional level and adaptive abilities.

Functional Behavior - A functional behavioral assessment is the process of identifying behavioral concerns that impede learning or participation in developmentally appropriate activities. A functional behavioral assessment is not a separate evaluation component from the multidisciplinary evaluation process. For example, information from the psychological observation may be used in the functional behavioral assessment. Functional assessments determine why a student engages in challenging behavior and what factors contribute to this behavior. Functional behavioral assessments can provide the CPSE with information to develop a hypothesis as to why the student engages in the behavior; when the student is most likely to demonstrate the behavior; and situations in which the behavior is least likely to occur. This type of assessment often involves reviewing curriculum, instructional and motivational variables in relation to a student's behavior and/or examining classroom arrangements. A functional behavioral assessment may include, but not be limited to, indirect assessment, such as structured interviews and review of existing evaluation information, and direct assessment, such as standardized assessments or checklists, observation and recording situational factors surrounding the behavior, and data analysis such as a comparison and analysis of data to determine whether or not there are patterns associated with the behavior. For more information, refer to the SED document Guidance on Functional Behavioral Assessments for Students with Disabilities.

Types of Evaluation Strategies/Methods

When evaluating young children, it is important to use a variety of evaluation strategies in order to get the best picture of the child's functioning. The professionals evaluating young children should determine the appropriate strategies and techniques that will be used during the evaluation.

Types of Evaluation Strategies/Methods:

  • Interview
  • Observation (Required)
  • Play
  • Ecologically-based Assessment
  • Arena Style Evaluation

Both formal and informal evaluation strategies are appropriate in the evaluation of preschool children. Formal strategies use standardized criterion- or norm-referenced instruments, which are developmentally appropriate for preschool children. Criterion-referenced tests compare a student’s performance to a previously established criterion rather than to other students from a normative sample. Norm-referenced tests use normative data for scoring which include performance norms by age, gender, or ethnic group. In addition to standardized tests, practitioners may use informal measures.

Informal evaluation strategies include nonstandardized instruments such as checklists, developmental rating scales, observations, interviews, teacher reports and performance-based assessments that are developmentally appropriate for the preschool child. Informal evaluation strategies rely upon the knowledge and judgment of the professional and are an integral part of the evaluation.

Some instruments can be both formal and informal tools. For example, observation may incorporate structured observation instruments as well as other informal observation procedures, including professional judgment. When evaluating a child's developmental level, a professional may use a formal adaptive rating scale while simultaneously using professional judgment to assess the child’s motivation and behavior during the evaluation process.

Interview - Information is gathered by interviewing family members/caregivers and/or teachers about the child's abilities, strengths and weaknesses and their concerns about the child's development and learning.

Play - Evaluation during play provides important information about a child's developmental skills such as cognitive/perceptual motor skills, language skills, fine and gross motor skills, social-emotional skills and daily living skills.

Ecologically-based Assessment - This is also referred to as a naturalistic evaluation of context. This technique focuses on the physical and interpersonal attributes of the setting in which the child’s behavior occurs. Physical attributes include spatial arrangements, lighting, and noise; interpersonal attributes include family, peer, and teacher relationships.

Arena Style Evaluation - The multidisciplinary team simultaneously evaluates a child using formal and/or informal evaluation strategies. Team members should design a schema prior to the evaluation so that a common sample of behaviors can be observed. In using this technique, one team member facilitates interaction with the child while the other team members observe and record the child's performance across all testing domains.

Individual Assessments - Individual discipline-specific evaluations of the child are performed separately by each member of the multidisciplinary team using both formal and informal evaluation strategies, (for example, speech, motor, etc).

Note: The cultural and linguistic diversity of children must be considered when observing and/or assessing preschool children's skills and behaviors.

Evaluation Instruments

IDEA requires that, when conducting the evaluation, the local educational agency shall use a variety of assessment tools and strategies. The CPSE may not use any single procedure as the sole criterion for determining whether a child has a disability or determining an appropriate educational program for a child. The approved evaluator may make a recommendation to the CPSE as to the tests or assessments to be conducted as part of an initial or reevaluation of a preschool child. An evaluation instrument may be either a formal assessment tool (such as a standardized test) or a part of an unstructured process by which the professional gathers specific information needed for the evaluation.

Before an instrument is used as a formal assessment tool, the practitioner must carefully review the reliability and validity of the instrument and determine that all of the conditions required for the valid use of the instrument are met, including a review of the population groups on which the tests were standardized. Examples of such conditions include:

  • Age range
  • Time limits
  • Test language
  • Language level
  • Cultural appropriateness
  • Appropriate normative sample
  • Task being measured
  • Trained evaluator

For scores to be valid, standardized tests must follow a specific protocol; otherwise, the results must be expressed descriptively. When scores from standardized tests are reported, they should be interpreted based on the statistical data that have been established in the standardization process. When standardized tools are used informally to gather information, their results should not be reported or interpreted based upon the standardized interpretation tables.

Evaluation of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students

The individual evaluation should be conducted in the student's native language, which means the language, or mode of communication normally used by the child in the home or learning environment. According to the Department's Guidelines for Services for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Preschool Students with Disabilities Ages 3-5 (March 1997), an assessment of the cultural and language needs of the child and family should be provided to the CPSE or conducted by the CPSE upon referral. Appropriately licensed/certified bilingual professionals should conduct the evaluation of culturally and linguistically diverse children.

The guidelines also state that, in instances where families speak languages which are less frequently spoken in New York State, it may be necessary to rely on an interpreter working with English-speaking professionals who do not speak the child's language. A paraprofessional or community interpreter with proficiency in the student’s primary language may work under the supervision of a professional staff member. As discussed in a field memorandum on Psychologist/Interpreter Work Standards for Conducting Bilingual Evaluations (June 1997) under no circumstances shall a member of the student’s immediate or extended family be used for evaluations other than initial screening and general information gathering.

Evaluation Reports

The evaluation process includes the sharing of results among evaluators and the CPSE. Communication may be accomplished in a variety of formal and informal ways, however written reports are necessary to document the preschool child's education needs.

The evaluator must provide the evaluation report and summary report to the members of the CPSE, which includes the child’s parents and the person designated by the municipality in which the preschool child resides, in a timely fashion to allow for a recommendation by the Committee to be made to the Board of Education within thirty school days of the receipt of parent consent to evaluate. The evaluator must provide the summary report to the parent in the native language of the parent or other mode of communication used by the parent unless it is not feasible to do so.

Name of Report Completed By Contents of Report
Individual Evaluation Reports Individual evaluators such as a qualified psychologist, physical therapist, or special educator
  • Specific areas of assessment
  • Behavioral/clinical observations
  • Test scores (when appropriate)
  • Relevant background information
  • Evaluation findings and suggested recommendations
Full Evaluation Report (includes individual reports and the summary reports) Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team
  • Behavioral/Clinical observations
  • Relevant background information
  • Significant temperament and personality variables in the context of the child's behavior during the evaluation process
  • Test scores (when appropriate)
  • Individual needs
  • Evaluation findings and suggested recommendations for programs and services
Summary Evaluation Report (See Appendix A) Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team
  • Evaluation results
  • Strengths of the child
  • Detailed statement of child's individual needs
  • The summary evaluation report cannot by law include a recommendation as to type, frequency, location and duration of services. It may not recommend placement or make reference to a specific provider or program. The full evaluation report may include specific recommendations regarding special education programs and services, but the final recommendation to the Board of Education is made by the CPSE, which includes the parents of the child.
  • The evaluator must provide the full evaluation report in a timely manner (before the CPSE meeting) to each CPSE member, including the parent(s) of the referred child and to the person designated by the municipality in which the preschool child resides.
  • The statement of the preschool student’s individual needs and recommendations, including the summary of the evaluation must be provided by the evaluator in English and, when necessary, in the native language or other mode of communication of the parent unless it is not feasible to do so.

Note: While multidisciplinary teams that evaluate a child should, with parental consent, share, review, and discuss their findings prior to writing reports, each evaluator remains responsible for the accuracy of the findings and recommendations presented in his or her individual report, as well we components of the full evaluation report.
The team's full evaluation report, which includes the findings and recommendations, should be written clearly and concisely, in a timely fashion, and in a language that avoids professional "jargon' or explains it so that the report can be better understood by parents and professionals from other disciplines.

Standards of Good Practice

The CPSE should expect that all persons involved in the evaluation of children referred for special education programs and/or services observe high standards of practice. It is the evaluator's professional responsibility to focus on the total child, including needs, strengths, and interests. 

It is the function of the CPSE to make recommendations regarding frequency, intensity, duration and location of services based on the information shared at the CPSE meeting, including the evaluation reports completed by the approved preschool evaluation program. The recommended services must support the child in acquiring the skills necessary to progress developmentally and participate in appropriate activities.

The approved evaluation agency should avoid using excessive assessment procedures when conducting the individual evaluation. The evaluator should also avoid making recommendations and suggestions for excessive services. The evaluator should recommend services that are required to appropriately meet the child’s needs. The recommended services should not be based on what services the agency that conducted the evaluation may be able to offer to the child, but rather on the needs of the child.

It is expected that all certified professionals including teachers, school psychologists, school social workers and school counselors, as well as licensed practitioners, such as physical, occupational and speech-language pathologists, should observe the ethical standards of their professions. In addition, licensed practitioners are responsible for knowing and observing the law regarding professional misconduct and the Rules of the Board of Regents for Unprofessional Conduct. In particular, they should perform only those services which they know, or have reason to know, they are competent to perform, including the administration of evaluations in languages other than English.