If you’ve been following me for a while, you probably have heard me talk about the crucial role that evaluations play in the development of your child’s special education program.
In this article, you will learn how assessments/evaluations are used in the decision-making process and how to implement your parent rights to ensure your child receives a comprehensive, accurate, and complete evaluation.
When a school conducts an evaluation, the IEP team uses the results and recommendations listed in the assessment report to decide if your child is eligible for special education and related services and make informed decisions in awarding your child an appropriate IEP to meet their needs.
If your child has not yet been found eligible for an IEP, there are two criteria that must be met for your child to be eligible for special education. In addition to the “initial evaluation,” these same questions are asked when a “Triennial” assessment is conducted and reviewed during the Triennial Review, every 3 years.
- Does your child have a disability?
- Does your child require special education and related services?
Under IDEA, parents and guardians must be included in the group that decides a child’s eligibility for special education and services. This group (typically called the IEP team) should review all the information gathered and documented in the assessment report and decide if your child meets the definition of a “child with a disability.”
If your child is found eligible, you and the IEP team will work together to design an individualized educational program to meet the needs of your child according to IDEA.
However, if parents are not knowledgeable about how IEPs are developed and the parent rights endowed to them under IDEA, most likely the district will state misinformation and parents won’t realize their rights are being violated.
In the development of an appropriate special education program to meet the needs of your child, the IEP must use the standardized test scores identified in the assessment to determine the following:
- PLOP (Present Levels of Academic and Functional Performance
- Annual Goals and Benchmarks
- Related Services
- Participation with nondisabled peers
- Participation in state and district-wide tests
- Transition Plan and services
You have the right to receive a copy of any evaluation prior to the meeting. Once received, you should read the report thoroughly and highlight the information in which you would like clarification. Make a list of all your questions to ask during the meeting. Prepare for the meeting by educating yourself on terms you are not familiar with. Take the time to research the information in the assessment so you can be an active member in the decision-making process during the IEP meeting.
What you don’t want to do is blindly trust the team to make all the decisions without being fully informed.
You should be in full agreement and understand the decisions that were made and documented in the IEP. You should feel satisfied with the program that was created for your child before you give your authorization in agreement with the offer of FAPE.
If you are in disagreement with the eligibility decision or the IEP that was offered, you have powerful parent rights under IDEA to appeal. We will discuss that later.
The 13 disability categories for eligibility in the IDEA are as follows:
- Hearing Impairment
- Intellectual Disability (changed from mental retardation)
- Multiple Disabilities
- Orthopedic Impairment
- Other Health Impairment
- Emotional Disturbance
- Specific Learning Disability
- Speech of Language Impairment
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Visual impairment, including Blindness
Here, I must alert you to understand that it is very important that you agree and understand the eligibility category in which the district has decided to find your child eligible. It is vital that your child is found eligible under the correct eligibility criteria. You will know for sure by ruling out all eligibility options by ensuring your child is assessed in ALL areas of your child’s suspected disability. This is your right under IDEA.
If the IEP team decides that your child is not eligible for special education supports and services, the school system must tell you this in writing and explain why your child has been found “not eligible.”
At this point, you have the right to disagree with their decision and request an IEE (Independent Educational Evaluation). You can find this federal law under §300.502.
When a parent makes a request for an IEE, this means that you are requesting an independent, professional, competent evaluator who is not employed by the school district to conduct an evaluation of your child at the school district’s expense.
Remember that FAPE is a FREE appropriate public education, and the school must either grant your request and pay for the IEE or they must file for due process to demonstrate to a judge that the district’s evaluation was appropriate, and therefore, the district should not be required to fund an IEE.
The school can ask you why you disagree with the district evaluation, but the law does not require you to explain, nor does the law give the district license to delay the provision of the IEE at public expense or delay in initiating a due process to defend their own evaluation.
If the outcome of the due process final decision of the hearing officer is that the school district evaluation was appropriate, you still have the right to an IEE but not at public expense.
Please understand, many district evaluations are not appropriate. School psychologists tend to rush through evaluations and fail to meet the criteria for an “appropriate” assessment. So, chances are, you will be granted the IEE but if the judge rules not to grant you the IEE, you haven’t lost anything.
Don’t be intimidated if your district files for due process! School districts bank on the fact that parents will back out of their request because they are afraid to go before a judge in a due process hearing and, in many cases, the district’s assessment was not appropriate. When you follow through and utilize your parent rights, it sends a clear message that you are a parent who is willing to stand up and advocate for your child.
In addition, school districts often deny a parent’s right to choose a specific evaluator because they will use the excuse that the IEE provider’s fee is too high, or the evaluator is outside the district mileage restrictions.
Most parents are unaware of their right to disagree with these types of denials. If a parent’s choice for an IEE provider is the most qualified expert to evaluate your child, you have the right to appeal the denial in writing and the district must take that into consideration.
Many cities don’t have IEE providers within that school district boundaries and therefore, in order for a parent to obtain an IEE from a competent and experienced provider, the district boundaries should not be used as a reason to deny a parent’s right to choose a specific provider.
Furthermore, school districts deny a parent request for a competent IEE provider by using the district “IEE fee cap” that they purposefully place upon the IEE fee. An IEE fee should be commensurate with the current rate of an IEE in your area. This “fee cap” denial can be easily argued if you ask for a Public Records Request and show evidence that your school district previously approved IEEs that exceed their so-called IEE cap.
When an IEE is paid for with public funds, it must comply with the same criteria that the school district uses when they conduct an evaluation of a student. The school must inform you what those criteria are, such as location of the evaluation and the qualifications of the examiner.
These criteria must be the same as those used by the school district for its own evaluation to the extent that these are consistent with the parent’s right to an IEE. In other words, the district may not impose other conditions, restrictions, or deadlines on the IEE that are not imposed on their own district evaluators.
Sometimes, as part of a due process hearing, the hearing officer will rule in favor of the parent and not only grant the IEE but resolve other district denials such as the IEE provider fee or mileage denial. So, what do you have to lose by going to a hearing?
Once you have obtained the IEE from the provider of your choice, the results and recommendations of an IEE must be considered by the school district in making any decision with respect to providing your child with FAPE.
The fact that IDEA only says, “the district must consider” opens the door for the IEP team to disagree with the IEE recommendations by stating, “We only have to consider the recommendations, but we don’t have to adopt them.” This loophole in the law gives districts the opportunity to violate many laws and regulations in terms of the development of an appropriate special education program that meets the needs of a child by providing FAPE.
This situation opens a whole new can of worms for parents.
When the IEE is presented by the IEE provider during an IEP meeting, you need to be vigilant in understanding how to advocate for your child and argue your position for the IEP team to agree to adopt the recommendations listed in the IEE report.
You can find the IDEA’s provisions regarding IEEs at §300.502.
It is imperative that parents educate themselves about how to interpret assessment results and understand standardized test scores. Without this knowledge, parents are at risk of having the school district fail to find your child eligible for special education and/or fail to develop a special education program that provides FAPE to meet the needs of your child. Don’t allow your school to violate the rights of your child and disregard your parent rights under IDEA.
Cheering you on always!
If you haven’t joined our Private Special Education Parent Empowerment Facebook Group yet, you should check it out here.
Here’s what parents are saying about the group:
“I take my job of advocating for my sped students very seriously! I love your page, Valerie. Thank you for all the great information you provide!” – BJ, Teacher
“I tell parents and grandparents all the time, about her, as a fierce mamma-bear who never gave up. Because it is a story that needs repeating, to empower those who are where she was all those years ago when her daughter was in school. She’s a wealth of information. God bless you, Valerie!” – CA, Parent
Valerie Aprahamian is a special education advocate, IEP strategist, and speaker. She speaks on behalf of parents to protect the rights of neurodiverse children to receive the supports they need in public school.