Improving Systems, Practices and Outcomes

Screening, Evaluation and Assessment

Screening, evaluation and assessment are distinct processes with different purposes under the provisions of Part C and Part B. Screening includes activities to identify children who may need further evaluation in order to determine the existence of a delay in development or a particular disability. Evaluation is used to determine the existence of a delay or disability, to identify the child's strengths and needs in all areas of development. Assessment is used to determine the individual child's present level of performance and early intervention or educational needs.

The WWW: Early Head Start National Resource Center developed a PDF: technical assistance paper that defines best observation practices for proper developmental assessment.


Under Part C, screening is at a state's discretion and is part of Post-Referral Procedures. Screening is conducted using appropriate instruments, administered by trained personnel, by the lead agency or an early intervention program. The purpose of screening is to determine whether an infant or toddler is suspected of having a disability and is, therefore, in need of early intervention services. Screening requires parental notice and consent, must be performed within the 45 day timeline, and, at a parent's request and with consent, the EI program must conduct an initial evaluation of the infant or toddler even if the results of the screening do not identify the child as suspected of having a disability. Under Part B, screening may be conducted as part of child find activities in order to ascertain whether the child should be referred for an evaluation to determine if the child has a disability and is in need of special education and related services.

See all eNotes news items from the last three years containing "developmental screening". Links in past issues may become inactive over time.

PDF: Developmental Screening and Referral: Early Head Start and the Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities (Part C of IDEA) (2019) - This flyer, developed by OSEP, describes ways to link Early Head Start and developmental screening in through the Early Head Start Program to referral to Part C Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities. Federal, local and technical assistance resources are provided.

Developmental/Autism Spectrum Disorder Screening Resources (2015) – State Public Health Autism Resource Center (SPHARC) - Resources to assist state Title V Maternal & Child Health Programs (MCH) programs in their efforts to develop and implement effective system-wide developmental screening services, including resources for Title V action planning, a case study of one state's Title V action plan, a scan of federal and national programs that have a specific objective/measure around developmental screening, and a matrix of which states have had grant or technical assistance programs related to developmental and autism screening.

Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive!, a national interagency developmental and behavioral screening initiative launched in March 2014 and now part of the Help Me Grow National Center resources. A user guide for multiple audiences, a Screening Passport for Families, and lists of providers that support early intervention and services are included.

Benchmarks in Early Screening and Testing (Project BEST) has developed benchmark indicators and recommended practices for states to support the timely identification, referral and provision of services to infants and toddlers eligible for Part C Early Intervention services and timely transition to early childhood special education programs under Section 619. Project BEST is funded through a cooperative agreement between the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Association for University Centers on Disability (AUCD). (posted 05/17/2013)

Screening and Risk for Developmental Delay: Indicators on Children and Youth (2013) Child Trends Data Bank

The Administration for Children and Families has released a report PDF: Understanding and Choosing Assessments and Developmental Screeners for Young Children Ages 3-5: Profiles of Selected Measures (June 2011). The report provides a general overview of screening and assessments, as well as reviews of specific assessments and developmental screeners appropriate for this age group.

In May 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) published a study on Trends in the Prevalence of Developmental Disabilities in US Children, 1997-2008. WWW Key findings of the study were that approximately one in six American children have a developmental disability, an increase of 17% during the past 10 years. The increase is thought to have been caused in large part by shifts in the prevalence of autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and may also be related better diagnostic tools, improved screening for disabilities, increased public awareness, more preterm births and higher parental age.

Full citation: Boyle, C. A, Boulet, S., Schieve, L. A., Cohen, R. A., Blumberg, S. J., Yeargin-Allsopp, M., Visser, S., Kogan, M. D. (2011).
WWW: Trends in the prevalence of developmental disabilities in US children, 1997-2008. Pediatrics. Originally published online May 23, 2011. doi 10.1542/peds.2010-2989

The Center for Disease Control's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities has a WWW: web page on child development that provides multiple resources on developmental screening and milestones, including the WWW: Milestone Tracker.

The WWW: Assuring Better Child Health and Development (ABCD) initiative, funded by the Commonwealth Fund and administered by the National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP), was designed to enhance healthy child development for low-income children, ages 0-3, and their families, by strengthening primary health care services. The ABCD Screening Academy began in April 2007 and focused on the adoption of structured developmental screening of young children. See The Enduring Influence of the Assuring Better Child Health and Development (ABCD) Initiative (July 2013) for a summary of the results of ABCD.

The Commonwealth Fund has published a guide to WWW: Pediatric Developmental Screening (2008).

The WWW: Save Babies Through Screening Foundation supports, assists and advocates for disorders that are detectable through filter paper newborn screening, are unlikely to be clinically diagnosed without screening and cause mental retardation, physical disability and/or death in early childhood when left untreated. Their website lists states and their newborn screenings, frequently asked questions and a guide about newborn screening for parents (in both English and Spanish).

Evaluation and Assessment

Part C requires a timely, comprehensive, multidisciplinary evaluation of each child, birth through age two. If the child is determined eligible, a child assessment is conducted. Evaluation and assessment (PDF 34 CFR 303.321) are considered processes that have different purposes under Part C. Evaluation is defined as the "procedures used by appropriate qualified personnel to determine a child's initial and continuing eligibility, consistent with the state definition of infants and toddlers with disabilities. " Assessment is defined as "the ongoing procedures used by qualified personnel to identify the child's unique strengths and needs and the services appropriate to meet those needs and includes the assessment of the child and the assessment of the child's family." A family-directed assessment is conducted to identify the resources, priorities, concerns and the supports, and services necessary to enhance the family's capacity to meet the needs of their child. Qualified personnel must use informed clinical opinion and multiple procedures when conducting evaluations and assessments. While a "child's medical or other records may be used to establish eligibility (if those records indicate that the child's level of functioning in one or more of the developmental areas constitutes a developmental delay or that the child otherwise meets the criteria for an infant or toddler with a disability)", an assessment still must be conducted.

  • 303.321 Evaluation of the child and assessment of the child and family
  • 303.322 Determination that a child is not eligible
  • 303.420(a)(1) and (2) Parental consent and ability to decline services

Part B (34 CFR 300.15) defines evaluation as the procedures used in accordance with Sec. 300.304 through 300.311 to determine whether a child has a disability and the nature and extent of the special education and related services that the child needs.Evaluation and assessment are not defined as separate processes. For further information, see:

Note: Sections 300.307-300.311 concern WWW: Additional Procedures for Identifying Children With Specific Learning Disabilities (scroll to this section), which is typically not relevant to ages 3-5.

State of the States Policy Snapshot: State Early Childhood Assessment Policies (March 2014) CEELO - This brief looks at what child assessment measures are being used in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classrooms across the states and how child assessment data is being used. It is intended to help states learn from each other as they plan to implement new assessments (e.g. kindergarten entry assessments) and comprehensive early childhood assessment systems. It is based primarily on secondary analysis of data collected in the State of Preschool Yearbook and presents a snapshot of responses from the states to questions about child assessment.

See also, WWW: Assessment Considerations for Young English Language Learners (2007), by Espinosa, L., & López, M. This paper was prepared for the National Early Childhood Accountability Task Force and First 5 LA, with support from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) has developed a policy fact sheet on PDF: Preschool Assessment: A Guide to Developing a Balanced Approach (2004). The complete policy brief (2004) includes an overview of effective assessment and all references. A 2012 presentation, An Assessment Primer: Effective Assessment in the Early Childhood Classroom is also available.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) provides ongoing support for federal collaboration on early childhood research through the Science and Ecology of Early Development (SEED) initiative, ASPE and the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families (ACYF) contracted with Child Trends to develop profiles of early childhood measures. This project produced a compendium of early childhood assessments, PDF: Early Childhood Measures Profiles (n.d.), commonly used to measure domains of development, including language and literacy, cognition, mathematics, social-emotional competency, and approaches to learning. Various types of ongoing observational assessments were also included. A profile of each assessment includes the purpose of the measure, key constructs, administration, and reliability information.

State Guidance

Developmental and Behavioral Screening Guide for Early Care and Education Providers (2015) California Statewide Screening Collaborative - Discusses the provider's role in screening and monitoring within the context of early care and education settings and provides a comprehensive list of online resources related to developmental and behavioral screening, as well as a list of related resources that are available for California's young children and their families.

PDF Evaluation and Assessment (April 2013) New Mexico Family Infant and Toddler (FIT) Program - Provides guidance on evaluating and assessing infants and toddlers.

New Mexico Technical Evaluation and Assessment Manual (NM TEAM) (2011) New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) - See also, a related VID Professional Development Module on Developmental Delay

  • IDEAs that Work: Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education

The ECTA Center is a program of the FPG Child Development Institute of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, funded through cooperative agreement number H326P170001 from the Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily represent the Department of Education's position or policy.

Project Officer: Julia Martin Eile     © 2012-2020 ECTA Center

  • UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute