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When to consider an Independent Educational Evaluation

african-american woman starring off with look of concern on her faceThe Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) gives parents of children with disabilities several rights and protections.  One of these is the right to request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) at the school system’s expense if they disagree with an evaluation that was conducted by their public school system.  The IEE is intended to provide a “second opinion”, and would be limited to the same areas of focus that were included in the school evaluation.  For example, if the school evaluation included psychological, educational and speech/language assessments, the IEE would only include psychological, educational and/or speech/language evaluations.  The parent would not be able to add an occupational therapy evaluation and have the school system cover that cost as part of the IEE.

Most of the time, there is no need for an IEE. A properly planned and conducted school evaluation will typically give the IEP team the information that is needed to make decisions regarding a child’s eligibility for special education services, and to develop an appropriate individualized educational program (IEP) to meet that child’s specific needs.  However, there are other times when a parent may want to consider the option of requesting an IEE.

If a child is found to be not eligible for special education services based on a school system evaluation, an IEE may provide additional information for the team to consider and perhaps change the eligibility decision. Sometimes the test scores will be higher or lower, or they may show a larger gap between the child’s general ability and his functioning in an area where there are concerns.  The independent evaluator may use different tests or assessment methods that provide additional insight into the nature of the child’s difficulties and the pattern of strengths and weaknesses.  This new information may tip the balance, and convince the team that the child does meet the eligibility requirements for special education services.

In some cases the school’s evaluation has resulted in scores that meet the eligibility criteria, but the team feels that there is not enough evidence that the student requires “specially designed instruction.” Team members may cite an acceptable level of performance, or a belief that factors other than a disability (e.g. excessive absences or a lack of appropriate instruction), may be responsible for the child’s weaknesses.  In this situation, a second round of testing is not likely to change the eligibility decision.

For a child who gets, or already has, an IEP, there may be other decisions that are influenced by initial or re-evaluation results.  The need for related services, certain accommodations or supports may be based, in part, on information gathered during a school evaluation.  Inaccurate evaluation results may result in low expectations, disability issues that go unrecognized (and unaddressed) or even placements in more restrictive settings.  The IEE could provide data that could prove to be a “game changer.”

The school system may provide a list of local clinicians who are qualified to conduct the requested evaluations, in an effort to assist parents in obtaining the IEE.  However, parents are not limited to the persons on the list.  They can select any professionals who are qualified to conduct the evaluation(s).  The school system cannot establish an arbitrary dollar limit on the cost of the evaluation.  The school system also cannot require the independent evaluators to only use certain assessment tools.   Typically, billing arrangements are set up before the actual evaluation is scheduled, and the school system will receive a copy of the evaluation report.  Note: When parents pay the cost of a private evaluation themselves, they can control whether or not that information is shared with the school.

If you feel that the school’s evaluation does not paint an accurate picture of your child and his or her needs, then an IEE may offer one of the best chances of obtaining the information needed to possibly change the outcome when the IEP team reconsiders important decisions.

FAQ: Can I get an evaluation for a child who is in the RtI process?

questions-and-answersWhen parents make a referral to have their child evaluated to see if they need special education services, they are sometimes told that the school must first complete a process called RtI.  In North Carolina RtI stands for Responsiveness to Instruction.  In many other states RTI is short for Response to Intervention.  Either way, RtI offers a process for selecting and implementing interventions to help students who are struggling academically or behaviorally.  RtI also includes regular monitoring of the student’s progress.

Details may vary from one school system to another, but there are parts of RtI that should be present:

  • Decisions are made by a team of people who can offer a variety of  knowledge and experience.
  • Interventions should have been shown to be effective through scientific research.
  • Data is collected about how the student is responding to the interventions.
  • The student’s progress is tracked over a period of time.
  • There are multiple “tiers” and the interventions become more intensive as the student moves to a higher tier due to inadequate progress.
  • At the final tier the data collected, along with other information, can be used to determine that the student qualifies for special education services.

When done well, RtI provides an opportunity for students to get the help that they need without having to declare them students with disabilities.  This helps prevent the over-identification of students and keeps more special education resources available to those students who really do have disabilities. One possible down side of RtI is that moving through the tiers of interventions can take several months.  When a parent sees their child continue to struggle, that can feel like too much precious time is being lost.

The Exceptional Children Division of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has issued guidance to all school systems in the state.  Schools have been reminded that North Carolina’s Policies Governing Services for Children with Disabilities* require that when a written referral for special education services has been received, schools have a maximum of 90 days in which to complete needed evaluations, determine eligibility, and put an Individualized Education Program in place for any student who qualifies for special education services.

The 90-day time limit applies even when the student is involved in the RtI process. Period.

If you are worried that RtI will create an uneccessary delay to your child getting the special education services that you feel he needs, make a written request to have him evaluated to see if he is eligible.  Interventions are required for some categories of eligibility, but they can be implemented during the time that the evaluation will take place.

*http://ec.ncpublicschools.gov/policies/nc-policies-governing-services-for-children-with-disabilities/policies-62010.pdf

Re-evaluation in high school?

Our federal special education law, IDEA, requires that a re-evaluation occur every three years for all students who receive special education services.  This does not mean that every child has to go through the full battery of tests and assessments that were done when the child was first evaluated to see if they eligible for special education services.  What it does mean is that the IEP team must have a discussion about whether additional evaluation information is needed to determine:

  • If the student continues to be eligible for special education and related services;
  • Present level of academic achievement and developmental needs;
  • Whether changes need to made to the student’s special education and/or related services.

If some additional assessment information is needed, the IEP team then decides the areas in which the child will be evaluated.  The re-evaluation can include some or all of the initial testing, or may include new areas where there are concerns.  if the parent gives permission, the school will move forward with the evaluations.  The IEP team will meet again to discuss the evaluation results and what they mean for planning the child’s education.

When the re-evaluation meeting happens in high school, the team often decides that no evaluation is needed.  This can cause problems later if the young person tries to access adult services or accommodations with outdated documentation of their disability.  For example, most colleges will only accept evaluations that have been conducted within the last three years.  Some will want the evaluation to be current within one year in order to consider accommodations for a student that has a specific learning disability.  Students who are seeking accommodations on tests like the SAT and ACT also have to provide current documentation of their disability.

Another reason to think about conducting some evaluations in 8th grade or high school is to gather information that could assist with planning for the student’s transition to adulthood.  Students who have an IEP that meets their needs in a typical school situation may need to learn new skills in order to function as independently as possible as an adult.  having current information about the student’s skills and functioning can help the student and IEP team identify appropriate post-secondary goals and the transition services and activities that could help the student reach those goals.  Occupational therapy,  assistive technology, and vocational evaluations may be important for some students as the focus shifts from how the student participates in the classroom to how they can access and function within the larger community.  The evaluation results may impact several parts of the IEP.

Do not allow the re-evaluation meeting to become a compliance exercise.  Have real discussion about how obtaining additional assessment information about that particular student might be truly beneficial.  Also remember that, even if the rest of the IEP team does not feel that new evaluation information is necessary, the school is required to conduct the evaluation if the parent requests it.