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Do Schools Have Any Legal Obligation to Identify and Test Students?

by Wrightslaw

Several weeks ago, someone who was using the Special Education Law and Advocacy CD training program asked a question about the school’s legal obligation to identify and test students.

As a tutor who works with students struggling in reading and math, she was concerned about the number of her students who have never been tested or received any services, despite having continually performed below grade level.

These kids’ parents were unaware that they could request testing, or that their children might have a learning disability and be eligible for special education services.

Do you  have a struggling student?

If you have a student who is struggling and has not been evaluated or received any specialized help, read what IDEA 2004 says about the Child Find mandate.

As she learned more about advocacy, this tutor has helped parents request testing and get IEPs. She worries that for many kids, this is too little and too late. Many of her students were never identified and are now in middle school.

For parents, tutors, and others who read this and are not aware of these legal requirements – YES, schools are required to identify and evaluate all children who may have disabilities under the Child Find mandate. If you have a student who is struggling and has not been evaluated or received any help, read what IDEA 2004 says about Child Find.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act includes the Child Find mandate.  Schools are required to locate, identify and evaluate all children with disabilities from birth through age 21. (20 U.S.C. 1412(a)(3))

The Child Find mandate applies to all children who reside within a State, including:

  • children who attend private schools and public schools,
  • highly mobile children,
  • migrant children,
  • homeless children, and
  • children who are wards of the state.

This includes all children who are suspected of having a disability, including children who receive passing grades and are “advancing from grade to grade.” (34 CFR 300.111(c)) The law does not require children to be “labeled” or classified by their disability. (20 U.S.C. 1412(a)(3)(B); 34 CFR 300.111(d)).

For more information about these requirements, read “The Child Find Mandate: What Does it Mean to You?”

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65 Comments on "Do Schools Have Any Legal Obligation to Identify and Test Students?"

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10/26/2015 9:32 pm

My daughter attends an out of district public school through a tuition waiver in IL. Who is responsible for testing her? The district she is enrolled in or her home district?

10/12/2015 9:42 am

I’m in the uk and my daughter has struggled all through out primary school I asked when she was in year3 could she be tested for dyslexia and was told she was too young I then again asked the school when she was in year 4 and was told there was no need as she’s doing well in class How ever she has now started secondary school had some CATs test and I get a call from the school asking for my permission to have my daughter screened for dyslexia which I am happy about but feel it is a… Read more »

09/14/2015 2:30 pm

my granddaughter, age 6, has always loved school. Her teacher feels that she is talkative and lazy, she is scared of her teacher and her red pencil. She has gone from achieving on her grade level to having difficulty with her spelling words and math problems. She brings home reports that say she is not working up to her potential and desk work that is redlined.
My daughter has been working with her each night on her weekly list and helping with other homework.
The teacher will only communicate via text or email, even though we have requested testing for her writing… Read more »

11/13/2015 8:39 am

This is not correct. send it to them in writing about testing ASAP

05/29/2015 12:50 am

I live in California and my son goes to public school. I was told that teachers are not allowed to tell a parent if they suspect that their child has a learning deficiency or disability because of legality reasons. This law sounds like it is a false statement I am more inclined to think that the school district tells the teachers not to say anything because then the school is on the hook to have the child tested and if they find that the child has problems that then the school has to pay for special education services.

04/11/2015 10:50 pm

What about home schooled students? Are the LEA’s still responsible under Child Find to provide special ed services for students that are home schooled?

03/25/2015 4:54 pm

The State of Delaware states that it has no obligation to students who attend “non-public” schools (ie homeschoolers). By my reading of the law, this cannot possibly be what is intended by the law; Delaware has simply given homeschoolers a new name (non-public, rather than public or private) in order to circumvent the law. Perhaps it is time to amend the Federal law to close this loophole. I don’t personally want any state intervention, but some families cannot financially shoulder the load of therapy on their own and need the assistance. They should not be forced… Read more »

03/17/2015 8:38 pm

I have a girl that have some LD and I contacted the district to do the test. I got a call back the same day promising that they will contact the private school that she goes to, but a more than a week pass by and nothing got done. I decide to call back and I did some promises that someone will call me. A week pass again nothing. I found this company that can do the test for affordable price and I made an app for her and did the test. They told me she needs therapy for… Read more »

03/16/2015 5:22 pm

I wrote a letter to my daughters teacher to request a meeting to set up a 504 or IEP plan. This evening when I picked her up the teacher told me that they don’t have a teacher to teach Special ED or to test her IQ and to set up a 504 plan. She goes to a private school in Floyd County Ky., so my question is since its a state law that all schools even private schools to accommodate her needs and her teacher said that they don’t, what do I need to do next?

09/12/2015 6:58 pm

The public schools are required to do so and private schools may request that they do so.

03/10/2015 7:59 am

My daughter finally received a 504 plan through her high school this fall. She is gifted and has LDs. She is dyslexic and ADHD. She needs extra time and a less distracting area for testing.

She is in an AP class, to take the SAT and for it to be valid in college. We found out on Jan 18 (all documentation due Feb 20) that there were specific testing required in order to use the accommodation given in her 504 that had never been done. Who is responsible for this testing? I would have thought… Read more »

02/28/2015 3:49 pm

If Early Start in California is for children birth to 36 months, what do I do about a child who is 45 months old and may have some delays? What agency do I contact for assessment?

02/25/2015 10:52 pm

I have a son 11 that is ADD. I am now facing twins, age 7 with ADD and possible dyslexia or some other learning difficulty. The biggest thing I can stress is don’t give up. Put everything in writing to the school, letters, email, etc. and keep after them, threaten that you will go to the Superintendent if need be. The old saying the “squeaky wheel gets heard”. The school is required to test and because of the Disability Laws and the No Child Left Behind Act you are protected.

02/04/2015 5:59 pm

Have a child, 9 years old with processing problems and dyslexia. School district did not do all tested needed. We paid $ 2000 to get answers they could not/ did not. Do they have this obligation to pay for testing? Please advise

01/23/2015 6:07 pm

I recently had an IEP review for my daughters speech therapy. They continually come up with something that she does not qualify. She was diagnosed with autism PDD,NOS. Now that she is improving slightly. They are saying she is not autistic under W.V.code 2419 chapter 5. I don’t see where this state any such thing. My question is the state aloud to take away a diagnosis away. Disregard the psychologists evaluation reports. I have 5 and her scores are 5 points higher since 2012. Please help to right direction as I may find the right answers. Thank you

12/15/2014 4:57 pm

Tina- it sounds like you may have gotten a good response already but I’ll see if I can add to it. Schools generally do not have school psychologists who are trained to diagnose dyslexia. That has to happen privately as you did, with a specially trained psychologist. However, with or without that diagnosis, school’s should be able to respond to your child’s specific learning needs with specialized, researched programs.
Conflicts often arise when a parent requests specific, specialized programs. As a parent you have the right to see that the school… Read more »

11/25/2014 12:11 pm

I have had the testing thru the school done, BUT they never tested for my sons Dyslexia, I had to go out and find a Doctor who would. Now that I have this diagnosis, I am still NOT getting the help from the school that he is in , for his specific area of learning problems, and because of this, in the last 3 years my son is still at a 3rd grade reading and 2nd grade writing level. He is a 5th grader. Also I had him held back a year in 1st grade, so he might have a… Read more »

08/26/2014 12:18 am


Can a district take away your child’s IEP just because they met their annual goals? Does a child have to have a medical diagnoses of dyslexia if a reading specialist with a P.H.D. Already did a complete reading battery test and it indicates dyslexia , also my child has a medical diagnoses of ADHD//ODD already

07/14/2014 10:21 pm

In 6th grade my son’s IEP for reading and written language was taken away which he had. He had no growth from that point on and he was already 3 years behind in grade level. Now 4 years later, going into 10th grade he is still at the same reading level. He was struggling and boarder line failing a class yet his teachers were not involved in the 3rd year review. His 1 year review from his speech pathologist had him at 3.5 grade level in reading as a 6th grader. Her review findings were not disclosed in… Read more »

04/29/2014 7:53 pm

18 months ago our school district required a neuro-pysch educational eval to validate testing results from Lindamood Bell. The district required the eval and paid for it. So, LEGALLY, are they required to follow the recommendations provided by the evaluator and incorporate corroborating goals in the IEP? I know if the parent arranges and pays for the testing the school must “consider” the recommendations in the eval, but if they require the eval and pay for it does this change their responsibility?

04/27/2014 3:17 am


My son had an extensive iep from kindergarden to 6th grade. Main area of disability is reading and written language and comprehension and delayed by 3 grade levels entering into 6th grade. He had a yearly review by the speech pathologist in reading and written language and was documented the 3rd grade reading level. She had to perform testing for the 3 year review so she did auditory testing. The psychologist does behavioral for his section of the 3 yr review. These two testing areas he scored average so they canceled… Read more »

01/23/2014 12:00 pm

Thanks SO much for this article. I’ve been asking the schools to evaluate my daughter for YEARS, because we’re certain she has dyslexia, and as a single mother on disability I haven’t been able to afford special testing on my own. I wasn’t aware of this mandate, and the schools have always told me she can’t get tested because she’s doing ‘fine’ and passing from one grade to the next easily. We’ll she is NOT doing fine. She consistently has to spend three times as long on homework as she should, rarely finishes tests that involve reading, and her reading… Read more »

Mary Beth
12/18/2013 8:37 pm

My child is in first grade at a parochial school. Since kindergarten I have been asking the public school district to test him for a learning disability. He has been assessed by both his kindergarten and first grade teachers and there is substantial data pointing to a lerning disability. (Last year they made us wait til first grade) However, at the meeting (to decide whether or not to test him) the pubic school district decided that, since he has vision-perceptivity issues, that they are not ready to test him. They want us to wait… Read more »

Heather F
11/20/2013 12:19 am

I have been asking for diagnostic testing on my youngest son for over a year and I have been told that the school does not feel the need for it. I have also been told that he can be tested but only after the age of 8. I always get treated like I don’t know what I am talking about. I am a music teacher who specializes in special needs so I know what I am seeing with my son but getting the school to wake up and agree with me and actually test him is almost impossible. He Is… Read more »

10/08/2013 5:42 am

Hello, my son is 9 & I have known that he has had a strange difficulty with reading & writing beginning in kindergarten. Holding him back in (K) did little good. He has always been behind in language arts & I have learned to do more that simply “Voice” my concerns.. However, in my child’s Ca Public School, it has taken nearly 2 years to even get some proper testing results (even read to me…!). from testing that was evidently done a year ago! ! Then to my horror; they explained that my child’s IQ had barely moved him Out… Read more »

Sharon L.
04/03/2013 8:30 pm

Rebecca, I am saddened by your story. It sounds like the school did not provide FAPE for your daughter. Have you ever had an outside evaluation done at the school’s expense by a professional? It is your right to do so if you ever feel like you have not agreed with the test results the school has provided. It is not too late. You must request this in writing. The school will need to send you a list of places you can get the testing. You do not have to pick any one of… Read more »

04/03/2013 7:51 am

Hello. I have a 17 year old daughter that has always received help in school since she was around 3 years old because she wasn’t talking. When she was 5 I took her to Mary Free Bed in Grand Rapids and had her tested and they just said that she’s delayed now she’s 17 years old and while she’s always been in Special Education she’s always had a problem socially which makes me sad because she’s such a great kid. I keep thinking that she has Asperger’s but when I had a meeting with her Special Eduction teacher two weeks… Read more »

02/06/2013 1:38 pm

My daughter, who is now 15, has struggled with reading and writing since the 1st grade. The elementary school put her in with a reading specialist but insisted she did not have a disability, although I strongly suspected that she was dyslexic. I continued to express my concerns through elementary and in middle school. I was shown her grades and told “how well she was doing.”

Now she is in high school, and she is failing. She failed spanish, and she was doing poorly in algebra until I found a tutor (at my expense) who helped immensely. She is doing… Read more »

Sharon L.
11/09/2012 4:26 pm

Check into Other Health Impaired IEP. THe school board office should have a policy on how to apply for this. My middle son ended on an OHI IEP for ADHD and it worked great for him.

11/07/2012 11:37 pm

My son was diagnosed wih Bipolar DO/ADHD several years ago. As his language skills progressed so have his “symptoms”. After having him retested the results changed the label to Aspbergers. His school however refuses to accept this diagnosis. The district psych did her own testing which came back showing only ADD. They are refusing to offer him help and basically telling me that i am over reacting and that he doesn’t need any help, that he is fine and has no problems. He has been at the same school for 9 years and they… Read more »

07/17/2012 5:29 pm

I am a student, writing a paper. i hope to be a teacher one day. i was hoping someone could help point me in the right direction regarding teachers rights. What would you do if you suspect a child has learning difficulties and the parent disagrees? Can you still get them tested? or Do you have to let the child fall further behind in class?

02/29/2012 12:19 am

Last year my son’s 1st grade teacher voiced concern about his lack of focus and all over the board test scores. This year I talked to his second grade teacher and she states the same issues. I asked her if the school can have him tested as I do not have insurance. After several months I finally received an answer that the School District (SC) will not have him tested and that I have to take him somewhere and have him tested and pay for it. Does this not fall under the Child Find mandate?

09/23/2011 10:06 pm

Parents enroll their child in school without providing student records. The student has obvious signs of developmental delays but her parents insist that nothing is wrong with the child. The teachers, psychologist and counselor observed major behavior concerns for a kid her age. The parents were called in for a conference. During the meeting, her parents said nothing is wrong with their child except some social issues because she was homeschooled since 1st grade. Mom indicated that their child attended public school for one year and was homeschooled after that but according to student records,… Read more »

Sharon L.
04/04/2011 8:41 pm

Denise You can request a non-verbal IQ test. MY son was a poor reader and the non-verbal testing measures intelligence nonverbally & is likely to capture the strengths of, and not to penalize as low achievers, students who cannot read, who have poor language skills, who are bilingual, & so on. My son’s scores on traditional IQ tests were low but on nonverbal IQ tests the scores were more realistic of his abilities. They must tell you in writing why they will not test otherwise you may claim discrimination. It sounds like they are failing your… Read more »

04/01/2011 8:45 pm

my husband and i have had constant problems with my daughters school. She is struggling with reading comprehension and is a shy child. We have continuously asked the school to test her for special education. Because she doesn’t talk and one test they do requires verbal speaking, they will not test her. And they told us that my daughter might have a social anxiety disorder – if she does they cannot/will not test her for special education even though she will continue to struggle. Now because her scores aren’t where they should be and because of her shyness, they are… Read more »

03/18/2011 12:53 pm

Thank you, Susan. We have a dx of ADHD and ODD–along with biological parent histories of bipolar, trouble in school, etc. I feel just sick that the principal (who was very against our request for testing) would go and say such a thing to the teacher who was only trying to help my daughter. And this teacher was the second teacher to recommend we explore this. WHAT is the aversion to testing? Why is there so much hesitancy–especially in a child who has already done a year of pre-first and other interventions? This is… Read more »

03/18/2011 8:13 am

Charles, I hope you documented back to the the teacher in writing the comment she made! If so, use that, she obviously has a suspicion that your student has a disability, this DOES trigger an eval under child find! Use any other data you have to demonstrate suspicion, such as tests given to all students (standardized tests) any emails between you and the teacher discussing child’s difficulties, outside evals, etc.

03/17/2011 10:46 pm

My daughter’s teacher recommended we look at testing her for a LD. The principal went to the teacher the next day and told her she could not state those words to parents–recommend LD testing or use LD terminology that would infer the need for testing. Thoughts? This seems to be a clear violation of Child find. Any help or direction would be most appreciated!

02/23/2011 11:53 am

TXTeacher-OSEP released guidance on districts NOT being able to delay an eval under a RTI model. It is on the wrightslaw website. Perhaps, the parents are not asking the right questions. Give the parents any data you can that shows the child is not responding to the intervention, if child is not responding to good instruction, then this could raise suspicion of a disability. Any other data that you or the parents have that would demonstrate suspicion of a disability, outside evals, standardized tests given to all students, etc would also be helpful. Were the… Read more »

TX teacher
02/22/2011 10:25 pm

Another common theme I’m hearing is the child’s a “slow learner” and working at their potential. I can’t accommodate or modify the curriculum, so the kid basically fails all year and eventually gives up. SO frustrating and sad.! What is with the “slow learner” excuse. Even if this is true, the child simply has a low IQ, surely it is not ok or legal for the child to continue threw the grades failing and helpless! How should I as a teacher respond to this? What should the parents do?

TX teacher
02/22/2011 10:23 pm

Sue B,
Your response was great. It’s what I thought, but I’m not a lawyer. So…. I don’t think my school is going to test or respond to this parents written request for testing. They’re calling me in to discuss further RTI interventions. Of course, I’m already doing all I can for this kiddo. What if the school denies or ignores and does not provide written notice??? What can mom do? What is the school’s liability?