The early identification procedure, discussed earlier, is part of an ongoing assessment process that school boards are required to initiate when a child first enters school. Ongoing assessment is intended to give educators and students precise and timely information so that instruction can be adjusted in response to individual students' strengths and needs, and students can adjust their learning strategies or revise their goals.

The Continuous Assessment Process

Section 1(1) of the Education Act defines a special education program as “an educational program that is based on and modified by the results of continuous assessment and evaluation and that includes a plan containing specific objectives and an outline of educational services that meet the needs of the exceptional pupil” (emphasis added).

Assessment of students with special education needs is a continuous, cyclical process that begins and ends with the classroom teacher(s). Educators gather assessment information about students in their classes every day. In doing so, they are able to understand students' strengths, even in the earliest grades, and can focus on areas that may need special attention.

In some cases, teachers may require the support of an in-school team and out-of-school resources, including professionals such as psychologists, speech therapists, and medical personnel, to assess a student's learning and to plan a program to meet a student's needs. The in-school team and the out-of-school professionals may conduct additional educational assessments as well as professional assessments, including health, speech and language, and psychological assessments.

The Identification, Placement, and Review Committee (IPRC) requires an individual educational assessment before making a decision about the identification of a student as exceptional or the placement of a student in a special education program. This assessment is often conducted by, or under the direction of, the in-school team. Other professional assessments, which are described below, may be part of the IPRC process as well.

An Integrated Process of Assessment and Instruction

Teachers can adjust instructional strategies, resources, and environments effectively to help all students learn only if they have accurate and reliable information about what their students know and are able to do at any given time, and about how they learn best.

Learning for All: A Guide to Effective Assessment and Instruction for All Students, Kindergarten to Grade 12 (2013, p. 28)

The use of evidence-informed assessment and instructional strategies that draw on principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and differentiated instruction, combined with ongoing monitoring and responsiveness to a student's progress, is essential to support the learning of students with special education needs.

Classroom educators use an integrated approach to assessment and instruction, drawing on information gathered through ongoing assessment to inform instruction and improve learning.

Research in education, as reflected in the ministry policy document Growing Success: Assessment, Evaluation, and Reporting in Ontario Schools (2010), has focused on three types of assessment:

  • assessment for learning;
  • assessment as learning;
  • assessment of learning.

These three types of assessment are described in the sections below. The use of this terminology for assessment places an emphasis on how the information gathered through assessment is to be used.

Assessment for and as Learning

Data from ongoing assessment for learning by the classroom teacher(s) and from ongoing assessment as learning by the student is collected to seamlessly plan instruction and further assessment. This process helps teachers to develop assessment and instructional approaches personalized to each student's strengths, interests, and areas in need of improvement.

Assessment for learning involves gathering evidence from a variety of sources to plan, adjust, and deliver instruction that meets the particular needs of individual students. Assessment for learning includes both diagnostic assessment and formative assessment. Diagnostic assessment is conducted before instruction begins, and formative assessment is conducted frequently and in an ongoing manner during the course of instruction. The table below, from Learning for All: A Guide to Effective Assessment and Instruction for All Students, Kindergarten to Grade 12 (2013, p. 29), provides examples of assessment tools and measures that are diagnostic and formative in nature. It is not an exhaustive list of commonly used assessments. Note that, in addition to educational (or classroom) assessments, professional assessments, where appropriate, should be done before instruction begins so that teachers can plan a differentiated and personalized learning program to meet the student's learning needs.

Assessment for Learning: Examples of Diagnostic and Formative Assessment Tools and Measures

Diagnostic Assessment

Occurs before instruction begins, to set learning goals and plan instruction and assessment that are differentiated and personalized

  • Review of recent report cards
  • Consultation with previous teachers, parents, special education teacher
  • Classroom observation (e.g., anecdotal notes)
  • Classroom assessments (e.g., pre-tests, assessment of student's prior knowledge)
  • Interest inventory
  • Commonly used school board assessments (e.g., oral language screening and reading comprehension tools), as well as assessments of achievement of alternative learning expectations (e.g., those relating to daily living, social skills)
  • Professional assessments, if needed
  • Review of any existing transition plans
  • Moderated marking
Formative Assessment

Occurs frequently and in an ongoing manner during the course of instruction, to monitor progress, provide feedback, and differentiate instruction and assessment

  • Classroom assessments of various types, using various modes and media that best suit students' strengths and needs, learning styles and preferences, interests, readiness to learn
  • Provision of timely descriptive feedback to students
  • Use of assessment results to guide further instruction
  • Use of the moderated marking process to support ongoing assessment and monitoring of student learning

Accurate and reliable assessment for learning provides the foundation for personalization and precision in instruction.

While assessment for learning is designed to give teachers information to differentiate and personalize teaching and learning activities, assessment as learning enables students themselves to develop the skills to assess and monitor their progress towards achieving learning goals based on the curriculum expectations and/or the learning expectations in their IEP.footnote 2 A critical component of this assessment process is that teachers help students to develop these metacognitive skills by clearly identifying the learning goals and co-constructing the success criteria and by modelling how to use the criteria to monitor progress in learning.

Assessment that is planned concurrently with instruction and integrated seamlessly into the learning cycle informs instruction, guides next steps, and helps teachers and students monitor students' progress towards achieving learning goals.

Teachers who have accurate and reliable information from assessment about what their students know and are able to do at any given time, and about how they learn best, are able to provide timely, precise, and personalized instruction. They are able to provide descriptive feedback and adjust strategies, resources, and environments effectively to help every student learn.

Teachers working with students who have special education needs use assessment information and strategies to:

  • identify and verify individual students' needs and where they are in their learning;
  • identify, share, clarify, and build a common understanding of what the student is to learn;
  • determine next steps in the student's learning and how best to move forward;
  • support a range of other decisions, such as those relating to screening, referrals, and identification;
  • support decisions about the student's program;
  • help determine particular interventions and accommodations that may be necessary to enable the student to learn and to demonstrate learning and achievement.

As soon as a concern about a particular student's progress or behaviour arises, the teacher's observations need to be recorded as part of the data-gathering process. This assessment information will be important, particularly if the teacher later requests the assistance of the in-school team.

As teachers observe students, they record many different aspects of a student's responses in the moment of learning. When gathering assessment information, educators may watch for the following:

  • how the student responds to text and to non-print alternatives
  • how the student approaches new tasks, persists with tasks, organizes time and materials, uses language, and responds to cues (including auditory, visual, and direct and indirect verbal cues)
  • how the student performs individually or in small and large groups (e.g., how the student interacts with peers, teachers, non-teaching staff, and others in roles of authority)
  • how the student's learning is affected by environmental variables (e.g., lighting, sound, temperature, colours, the physical arrangement of the classroom, the time of day, and routines and schedules)

In addition to their own observations and assessment, educators can gain valuable additional information from parents and others who have worked with the student.

If the teacher requires assistance in assessing a student's learning or in program planning to meet the student's needs, the teacher may make a referral to the in-school team. The in–school team may recommend referring a student for further assessment(s). This does not necessarily mean that the student has a special education need but may simply indicate that there are areas in which the teacher might benefit from the insights and expertise of other professionals in making assessments and/or developing further programming ideas.

The resource document Learning for All: A Guide to Effective Assessment and Instruction for All Students, Kindergarten to Grade 12 (2013), which expands on the key themes outlined in Education for All: The Report of the Expert Panel on Literacy and Numeracy Instruction for Students With Special Education Needs, Kindergarten to Grade 6 (2005), is the primary source for more information about the integrated process of assessment and instruction. The following policy documents also make reference to this process:

Ongoing Monitoring and Responsive Intervention

The various types of assessments contribute to a decision about the development of a program and supports for a student and the placement, when necessary or as appropriate, of that student. Ongoing assessment and monitoring are necessary to confirm the appropriateness of these programs and supports. As new information is gathered, based on the student's response to instructional strategies, the teacher notes progress or the lack of it, considers any adjustments in planning that could be beneficial, and may decide on providing more intensive instructional supports and interventions. In the case of students who have persistent difficulties, the teacher may consider intervention by the in-school team or by out-of-school professionals and/or the provision of additional supports. In such cases, precise and detailed information is required; this can be gathered from various sources, including the records of the classroom teacher(s) or special education teacher and the findings of any educational or other professional assessments.

The teacher works in collaboration with the in-school team to review the effectiveness of teaching strategies and/or to incorporate recommendations made by out-of-school professionals. Classroom teachers should communicate with the principal, other educators, and other members of the in-school team to coordinate efforts and share information regarding students for whom they believe an IEP should be developed.

Assessment of Learning, Evaluation, and Reporting of Student Achievement

In conducting assessment of learning for students with special education needs, the teacher assesses and evaluates the student's achievement with respect to the curriculum expectations and/or the learning expectations and annual goals identified in the student's IEP. Assessment of learning is summative in nature and is used to confirm what students know and can do, to demonstrate whether they have achieved the expected outcomes of a program.

For a student who has an IEP, the IEP specifies whether the following are required:

  • accommodations only
  • modified expectations (with or without accommodations)
  • alternative expectations/programs, not derived from the curriculum expectations for a subject/grade or a course (with or without accomodations)

For a student with special education needs who requires “accommodations only”, assessment and evaluation of achievement will be based on the grade-level curriculum expectations and the achievement levels outlined in the curriculum documents. For a student with special education needs who requires modified expectations and/or alternative expectations/programs, assessment and evaluation of the student's achievement will be based on the modified curriculum expectations and/or alternative expectations/programs outlined in the IEP. (See section 4, The Special Education Program, of Part E for a fuller description of these three categories.)

Growing Success: Assessment, Evaluation, and Reporting in Ontario Schools (2010) sets out the policy for reporting on the achievement of students with special education needs. Chapter 6 of that document includes special considerations with respect to the elementary and secondary Provincial Report Cards and the Elementary Progress Report as well as comments that can be used in the report cards and progress report cards for students with special education needs. Growing Success – The Kindergarten Addendum (2016) provides corresponding information regarding Communication of Learning reports for children in Kindergarten.

The Individual Educational Assessment for the IPRC

The decision to refer a student to an IPRC, which is often made by the in-school team, should be reached only after careful review of all the data gathered from an individual educational assessment. Such a decision should never be based solely on results from province-wide testing.

An individual educational assessment consists of multiple sources of information. It may involve the use of a combination of strategies and tools and may be diagnostic, formative, and/or summative in nature. An individual assessment is required by an IPRC to make a decision about the identification of a student as exceptional and the placement of a student in a special education program. Where school staff are concerned about a student's achievement, the teacher should inform the student's parents before such an educational assessment is undertaken. (Depending on the components of the assessment, parental consent in writing may be required.)

The assessment strategies and tools that educators use routinely in the classroom may be used to complete an individual educational assessment for the IPRC. These may include, but are not limited to:

  • direct observation
  • pedagogical documentation
  • portfolios
  • journals
  • rubrics
  • tests
  • projects
  • performance tasks
  • self- and peer assessment

Provincial Assessments

Results from provincial assessments, which are curriculum-based, can provide a valuable record of student achievement. As stated in Growing Success: Assessment, Evaluation, and Reporting in Ontario Schools (2010, p. 74), “Teachers and principals need to make every effort to enable students with special education needs to participate with their peers in all aspects of a provincial large-scale assessment [such as the EQAO assessments of reading, writing, and mathematics and the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test] and demonstrate the full extent of their learning”. However, as stated earlier, the results from provincial assessment alone should not be used as the basis for a referral to an IPRC.

Note that if the student already has an IEP, it identifies the accommodations that must be provided for the student during provincial assessments. These accommodations must be consistent with those required in the classroom and must be permitted by the EQAO (see Growing Success, p. 73). For further details on possible accommodations as well as on exemptions from part or all of the provincial assessments, see section 7, Provincial Assessments, in Part E of this guide.

Professional Assessments

In addition to the educational assessment, other types of assessments may be requested by and/or presented to the in-school team to assist with program planning or to the IPRC in order to assist with the committee's decision making. These assessments may include health, speech and language, and psychological assessments, which are described below.

When other types of assessments beyond the educational assessment are requested, informed parental consent must be obtained before the assessment can be done. Each assessment must be administered by a legally qualified and registered practitioner (such as an audiologist, ophthalmologist, speech-language pathologist, or psychologist).

As noted below, specific acts and legislation govern how each assessment must be conducted. More information on these can be found in Part A, in the section entitled Other Legislation Relevant to the Education of Students with Special Education Needs.

Health Assessment

Health assessments are administered by legally qualified medical practitioners or specialists (such as audiologists or ophthalmologists). Parental consent must be obtained in the exchange of assessment information with the school.

Should a health assessment result in suggestions for treatment, it is important that valid consent be obtained before any treatment is provided. The Health Care Consent Act sets out the elements of a valid consent with respect to any medical treatment. These include the following:

  • Consent must relate to the treatment.
  • Consent must be informed.
  • Consent must be given voluntarily.
  • Consent must not be obtained through misrepresentation or fraud.

Speech and Language Assessment

A speech and language assessment, also known as a communication assessment, is conducted by a speech-language pathologist. Under the Regulated Health Professions Act and the Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology Act, all speech and language assessments must be performed by or under the supervision of a qualified member of the College of Audiologists and Speech-Language Pathologists, with informed consent from the parent(s).

A speech and language assessment will:

  • provide a professional opinion about the student's communicative ability;
  • determine whether a communication difficulty exists and, if so, its severity and how the difficulty interferes with the learning process;
  • determine whether communication programming would be appropriate;
  • assist in determining an appropriate placement;
  • provide screening for referral to an outside agency;
  • determine whether a more in-depth assessment is necessary.

The person doing the assessment may:

  • administer standardized tests;
  • use non-standardized tests (e.g., informal measures such as observation);
  • use classroom-based procedures and base the assessment on selected curriculum expectations;
  • confer with parents, outside agencies, and resource teams;
  • provide and/or obtain professional opinions;
  • engage in preventive intervention, when appropriate;
  • analyse, interpret, and synthesize information;
  • prepare oral and written reports;
  • communicate the results to parents and the in-school team.

Psychological Assessment

Under the Regulated Health Professions Act and the Psychology Act, all psychological assessments must be performed by or under the supervision of a qualified member of the College of Psychologists of Ontario, with informed consent from the parent(s). Many school boards employ or have access to psychological services staff who can provide or supervise psychological assessments.

A psychological assessment could include information from a number of sources, including school staff, the student, and the student's parent(s), in order to understand the student's characteristics as a learner. Other information that may assist in the analysis includes results from interviews, consultations, and individual psychological tests. The box below indicates the areas where a psychological test typically evaluates the student's functioning.

The data from a comprehensive psychological assessment informs a psychologist's recommendations concerning intervention strategies for parents and educators. Such information can inform the development of a student profile of learning strengths and needs and can be used to guide the formulation of appropriate program adjustments for the learner. A diagnosis is provided where applicable. Only a registered psychologist or registered psychological associate can provide a diagnosis.

The In–School Team and Out–of–School Resources

Establishing an in-school team is an important step in creating conditions that enable a student who is experiencing difficulty to succeed in the learning environment. School boards do not have a legislated responsibility to establish in-school teams, but many boards find that such teams can provide interventions and supports that effectively meet the student's needs.

An in–school team can collaboratively review instructional strategies and interventions that have been implemented, as well as the student's responses to them, and assess their effectiveness. The team may also consider whether and how to incorporate recommendations made by out-of-school profes¬sionals. An in–school team may also be involved in referring a student to an IPRC or developing an IEP, including the transition plan.

The in–school team is made up of people with various types of expertise who:

  • support the student, the parent, and one another;
  • collaborate, consult, and share information and knowledge to identify strategies that may increase the student's learning success.

Teams are designed to suit the specific needs of the students within the school, using the individual resources and skills of the school and/or board staff in order to respond to these needs. The principal, in collaboration with school staff, may establish formal guidelines for the team's membership, meeting times, and procedures for recording and reporting on its activities.

The composition of the in–school team will vary depending on the team's purpose. However, each team consists of a core group of individuals. In most schools, the core members of the in–school team would include:

  • the student's classroom teacher(s) and/or the “referring” teacher;
  • the principal or vice–principal;
  • the school special education teacher (if available);
  • a guidance teacher/counsellor (especially at the secondary level);
  • the student success teacher (especially at the secondary level).

Where appropriate, the in–school team may also include – or may seek assistance from – board staff and professionals in the community who have expertise in the various exceptionalities and who have experience in areas such as speech and language development, psychology, physical and occupational therapy, social work, modification of curriculum expectations, and ESL/ELD.

As circumstances require, the in-school team may also seek assistance from parents and other family members, as well as outside resources such as:

  • community associations/agencies, such as Friendship Centres or other Indigenous partners/organizations;
  • service providers from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, the Ministry of Community and Social Services, and the Ministry of Children and Youth Services.

As discussed in Part E of this guide, the development of a student's IEP often involves the core group of the student's in-school team in addition to other individuals. The development of a transition plan, as part of the IEP process, often involves many of the same team members; however, there may be a need to consult health care and social service agencies, employer groups, and educational institutions.

The active involvement of parents and the student enhances the effective¬ness of the school team. Parents and students have important information to share with members of the team and should be invited to meet with the team when necessary and as appropriate. The support of parents has positive and pervasive effects on the student's success in school, and parents should be encouraged to feel that their contribution is a valuable part of the team process. Note that principals are required to ensure that parents and the student, if the student is 16 years of age or older, are consulted in the development of the IEP, which is a team process.

Stages in the In-School Team Process

Stage 1: Classroom Screening and Intervention

Apart from the parents, classroom teachers are usually the first people to recognize that a student is experiencing difficulty in learning. Teachers should discuss their concerns with the parents and with previous teachers and other subject teachers working with the student, review information in the student's Ontario Student Record (OSR), and make some initial program adjustments. Throughout the screening and intervention process, the teacher should keep the student's parents informed about the student's progress and the planned program adjustments. During this process, the teacher is able to assess the student's strengths and needs. The teacher and the principal then determine what resources, support personnel, and strategies are available to meet those needs.

If the student continues to have difficulty, a referral is usually made to the in-school team. Ongoing communication with the parents can elicit valuable information about the student and is encouraged.

Stage 2: Referral to the In–School Team

At the request of the student's teacher or the principal, the in-school team will allocate time for the core members of the team to meet to discuss concerns regarding the student's learning. Some school boards have a practice of notifying the parents prior to the meeting about their specific concerns.

The in–school team may include additional persons who have information or expertise to share. The selection of additional members depends on the needs of the student and the personnel resources available to the school. Additional members may include other teachers (subject teachers, cooperative education teachers, guidance teachers/counsellors) who work with the student, early childhood educators, educational assistants who work with the student, and service providers from community agencies who may have relevant information to share. Where a number of teachers are involved (as in secondary school), some information may be presented through assessments or reports collected from the teachers. However, it is important for those most closely involved with the student to be present.

The in–school team may decide to do one or more of the following:

  • determine whether interventions or accommodations are needed
  • provide program interventions in the regular class
  • provide specific supports in the classroom or withdraw the student from the classroom for limited periods of time (e.g., for remediation or enrichment)
  • refer the student to other specialized services, including hearing, vision, and/or speech and language services; psychological services; and social or medical services
  • refer the student for assessment, which may or may not lead to referral to an IPRC
  • monitor the student and review the student's progress after several weeks
  • develop an IEP, including a transition plan, specifying the special education strategies, resources, or other accommodations that the student requires
  • develop a transition plan alone

The goal of applying interventions and making accommodations is to enable the student to learn successfully. Decisions about interventions and accommodations are best made at the in-school team meeting. The needs of the individual student, the resources available, and parent and student preferences must all be considered in determining the nature and extent of the interventions and accommodations recommended and provided. The in-school team uses the expertise of its members to make decisions about how to best assist the student. Follow-up monitoring permits the team to build on the student's success and to change the interventions that are not effective. Where appropriate, the in-school team may recommend that an IEP – or a transition plan alone – be developed to address the student's special education needs.

Stage 3: Follow-Up Meetings of the In-School Team

A student's case may be discussed once or over several meetings of the in-school team, depending upon the student's ongoing or changing needs, the success of school-based problem-solving efforts, and the need for additional information from specialized services. Usually a referral is made to an IPRC only after the interventions or accommodations agreed to at the in-school team meeting(s) have been tried and found insufficient. In some cases, it may be obvious at the outset that the needs of a child will be best met through an IPRC.

Stage 4: Referral to an Identification, Placement, and Review Committee (IPRC)

Referral to an IPRC is made by the school principal, usually following a recommendation from the in-school team. The in-school team's recommendation is based on:

  • the results of ongoing program interventions;
  • an educational assessment;
  • additional assessments as requested by the team.

If a parent submits a written request for referral to an IPRC, the principal must follow the school board procedure in arranging for the IPRC meeting. (For further information about the IPRC process, see Part D.)


  • footnote[2] Back to paragraph Learning expectations identified in the IEP are expectations designed to meet the unique educational needs of a student and must be recorded in the Special Education Program section of the IEP, under the appropriate subject, course, or skill heading.