Evaluations, Reevaluations & The Independent Evaluation at Public Expense

A Parent’s Guide to Getting to the Bottom of Your Child’s Educational Challenges

What Are Evaluations?

It is often said that knowledge is power. In the special education context, this phrase could not be more accurate. Evaluations, also called assessments in some states, provide valuable information regarding the nature and extent of your child’s disability as well as the impact the condition may have on his or her education.

Before your child can begin receiving special education services he or she must be deemed eligible for an IEP (Individualized Education Program). The first step in determining eligibility is a thorough evaluation in all areas of known or suspected need.

Evaluations are conducted by highly trained diagnosticians and therapists utilizing a combination of standardized testing, observation, parent and teacher questionnaires and past reports if any. The findings of the evaluation are presented in a formal report which is made available for use by the IEP team. The strengths and weaknesses identified through this process form the basis for your child’s present levels of performance, or your child’s baseline of functioning in the area of evaluation.

Why Are Evaluations Important?

Evaluations identify the nature and extent of your child’s disability. They will identify areas of strength and weakness. If he or she is found eligible for special education with a qualifying condition under the IDEA, goals must then be written to assist your child in overcoming the identified problem areas. The evaluations will provide a starting place from which the progress towards the annual goals is measured. The determination of whether the district is offering your child an appropriate education turns on your child’s progress throughout the year. If the baseline or starting data is artificially low for the child’s ability, the district will likely be able to show that your child made some progress and therefore meet its burden under the law. Under this scenario, which is regrettably very common, it is possible that your child could go year after year without making meaningful progress.

How Often Do Evaluations Occur?

The district is obligated to initiate its assessment of children with known disabilities before the age of three. After these initial evaluations, the district will conduct, with very limited exception, a thorough reassessment of the child every three years thereafter. This reassessment process, commonly referred to as a triannual or triannual review can often be as important as the initial review as the findings not only provide information on the child’s present levels of performance, but are also used as a possible basis to limit or even terminate services and sometimes even eligibility for special education.

This three year evaluation cycle is the minimum that must be done. In reality, given the complexities of child development, the dynamic nature of therapy, etc., it may be necessary to conduct assessments more frequently. With the latest reauthorization of the IDEA, the district may be asked to conduct a new evaluation no more than one time per year.

Requesting An Evaluation?

An evaluation may be requested by the parent, the school district, or other state agency. However, most requests for evaluation originate from the parent. Once a request has been made, an assessment plan must be made available for parent review and consent. If the plan addresses all areas of concern, you should sign and return the document. The district then has a limited time, certain vacation periods exempted, to complete the agreed assessments and hold an IEP meeting to consider the findings.

Because of the numerous timelines involved, we suggest that parents put their request for an assessment and subsequent signed assessment plan in writing, dated and faxed with confirmation, to the district personal.

What If I Do Not Agree With the Results of the Evaluation?

The Role of the Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE)

The Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) or parent secured evaluation serves as a second opinion in determining your child’s capabilities and present levels. Parents have the right to obtain an IEE at any time during their child’s education, so long as the evaluation meets the IEE criteria established by the district. IEEs conducted by qualified persons and submitted to the IEP team for consideration must be treated with the same credence as their district counterparts.

Obtaining An Independent Evaluation at District Expense.

The law provides a mechanism for parents to secure an IEE at public expense if they disagree with the school district’s evaluation. The right is conditional in that the district may refuse to pay for the IEE. However, where the district takes this position, it must initiate a due process hearing to defend its findings without unreasonable delay. Most districts are reluctant to file a due process against a parent and this is especially true where there is a strong possibility that its evaluation is flawed.

Like all communication with the district, when requesting an IEE, it is wise to reduce your request to writing and deliver it in a manner that will produce a receipt of acceptance. Facsimile is the preferred method as it generally provides a transmission receipt and has the effect of starting the timelines immediately, without the delays associated with certified mailing.

Final Thoughts:

Evaluations are much like building blocks. They are an integral portion in the foundation of creating a plan that will allow your child to progress in the educational setting. Quality evaluations and accurate present levels ensure that goals are measurable year to year.

These materials were prepared by Mark Woodsmall the founder of the Woodsmall Law Group and the parent of a child with Autism. For more information on securing an Independent Evaluation, the IEP, or Due Process, please contact us at (626) 440-0028.