The federal law that covers special education is called the Individuals with Disabilities Education; which all states must comply with.
Step 1 is the Request for Evaluation. According to IDEA 2004 school districts must find, locate and evaluate all children with disabilities, under the Child Find section. You may submit a written request that your child receive a comprehensive psychological evaluation, to determine if they have a disability.
You should include any information that supports your case that your child has a disability. Outside evaluations, medical reports, district and state wide standardized testing, teacher comments etc. Also in your request, mention all areas that you think your child may have a disability in because schools must test in all areas of suspected disability.
Step 2 is the decision by the school district whether they are going to test your child; which is usually done at a meeting between parents and school personnel. You must stand up for your child at this meeting, and absolutely insist that your child be tested in all areas of suspected disability.
Step 3 is the consent to evaluate. If the school agrees to evaluate your child you must sign a consent form for this testing. IDEA 2004 requires that parents give informed consent. What does this mean? This means that you understand what tests are going to be given and in what areas. You may withhold consent to test in one area, or to give a specific test if you do not agree.
Ask that all evaluation reports be sent to you by mail at least 10 days prior to the eligibility meeting; so that you can be a full participant in the process.
Step 4 is the actual evaluation. The school has 60 days in which to complete the evaluation. Most evaluations have interviews with one or both parents especially if a Vineland or an Autism Rating Scale is being given. Rating Scales should be filled out by parents because they know the child best; and this will increase the reliability of the Scale.
Step 5 is the Eligibility Conference and the Individual Educational Plan Meeting. If at all possible bring another parent or an advocate who is familiar with special education.
Ask lots of questions especially about terminology that you do not understand. Ask evaluators to fully explain their report, and especially any scores that are below grade level. If scores are below grade level evaluators should be able to tell you why? For example: A third grade student that reads at a first grade level may have undiagnosed learning disabilities. Any area that is below grade level means that a child may need related and or special education services in this area, in order to benefit from their education.
If the child is found eligible then an Individual Educational Plan (IEP) must be developed for the child. All services needed should be included on the IEP, as well as minutes per week that the child will receive the service.
Step 6 is Consent for special education Placement. IDEA 2004 requires that parents sign for initial related and special education services. Special education is not necessarily a special class, but can be services that your child needs for their education. Related services are things such as therapies, assistive technology, counseling, etc.