How will my child compare to his or her classroom peers?
A child with Down syndrome has unique educational needs to be addressed. The efforts of the NDSC, together with the larger disabilities community, have made great strides toward securing quality education for all people with cognitive disabilities. Increasingly, school systems are adopting the processes and teaching resources that children with Down syndrome need to succeed alongside of their classmates.
As a parent connected with the NDSC, you are on the forefront of securing the rights of children with Down syndrome to receive a proper and effective education. We will not attempt to minimize that challenge, but offer content here that assists in the goal of academic success of all children with Down syndrome.
- Independent Education Evaluations
- IntroductionEvaluations and the information contained in them form the basis for writing a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). Present levels of academic achievement and related developmental needs help the IEP team decide what the child’s educational program should be. Often times, parents are dissatisfied with the school district’s evaluation and opt to have an independent educational evaluation (IEE) conducted. Other times, parents obtain an independent educational evaluation on their own initiative instead of waiting for and relying upon a school district evaluation.
- When is an educational evaluation conducted?An initial evaluation is conducted upon entering or qualifying for any Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) program. This includes the early intervention program (e.g., infant and toddler program), preschool program (ages 3-5) and school-age program (5-21).
- When are additional evaluations conducted?The school is also required to conduct an evaluation every 3 years. If the school district feels that they do not need additional information about the child, they must notify the parents and tell them they do not intend to reevaluate and the reason for the decision. In those cases, parents must specifically request a reevaluation if they want one done. Also, the school must reevaluate if changing educational needs warrant a reevaluation or if the child’s parent or teacher requests a reevaluation.
- What is the process for conducting an evaluation?The nature of and administration of evaluations is usually done by people working for the school district. Parents may request an initial evaluation. Also, parents must consent to the initial evaluation, and it must be conducted within 60 days of the request for an evaluation.
- What happens if I disagree with the school district about evaluation issues?Sometimes there is disagreement about the type of evaluation (assessment tools), the need for a reevaluation, the areas to be evaluated and/or the findings of the evaluation. When parents find themselves in disagreement with the school or anticipate that they will disagree with the school’s evaluators, they may want to consider an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE). A frequent trigger for parents seeking an IEE are issues regarding behavior. For a discussion of functional behavior analysis, see below.
- What happens when parents & school staff disagree?When parents and the school district disagree about the need for an IEE, there are certain conditions in which a school district may be required to pay for the evaluation. If the parents present an evaluation that the school district previously refused to conduct, the school district may be required to reimburse the parents for the cost of this evaluation if it is determined that the evaluation provided information which had an impact on the child’s education, services or placement. Additionally, if the parents disagree with a school district evaluation and request an IEE at public expense, the school district must obtain the IEE and pay for it, unless the school district requests a due process hearing and the hearing officer rules that the IEE is not needed. In other words, the school district cannot simply refuse the parents’ request for an independent evaluation. The district must consent to the IEE at public expense or request a due process hearing and prove to a hearing officer that the school evaluation was sufficient. If a hearing officer orders an IEE during the course of a due process hearing, it will be conducted at public expense.
- What is an Independent Educational Evaluation?Federal law defines an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) as “an evaluation conducted by a qualified examiner who is not employed by the public agency responsible for the education of the child in question.” 34 C.F.R. 300.503. Some of the primary areas of concern for which parents seek an IEE are related services. The areas of concern may be the need for occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech and language therapy, sensory needs, behavior issues and even music therapy. Parents may obtain an IEE, for any reason, if the areas of concern impact the child’s education.
- What is the value of an IEE?One goal of Congress in passing the 1997 Amendments to the IDEA was to strengthen the role of parents in the educational decision-making process. An IEE provides parents added authority at the IEP meeting. The law and federal regulations include parents in every step of the process from determining eligibility to placement. Therefore, parents should be equal participants in the development of a child’s IEP, and their participation in the IEP process must be meaningful. One court stated that the failure to receive and consider parental information, including evaluations they may obtain, directly denies parents their fundamental role in the development of their child’s placement. This role includes discussing such information. The court also stated that consideration of outside information also ensures that a program is individualized and provides a check on the judgments being made by school officials. The major advantage of an IEE is that it is “independent.” This offers parents some assurance that their child’s needs are truly the predominant consideration in the evaluation process (vs. fiscal considerations or availability of existing resources).
- What is required of school districts?The federal regulations direct school districts to inform parents of their right to obtain an IEE, where they may obtain an IEE, and conditions for obtaining an IEE at public expense. According to the regulations, the results of the IEE must be considered by the public agency in any decision made with respect to the provision of a free appropriate public education. This does not mean that the school district must accept the findings or recommendations in the IEE. It does mean that the IEP team must review the IEE, and discuss it as appropriate. In this regard, the requirements placed on school districts are fairly minimal.
- How can I be involved in my child’s evaluation?You want to select an evaluator who is knowledgeable about your child’s disability. Your evaluator should have expertise and knowledge about a variety of tests and should use this expertise to select appropriate tests for your child. One of the best ways to find a good evaluator is to contact your local parent support group and determine if other parents have used independent evaluators and what their experiences have been. Parents do need to provide their evaluator with sufficient information about the child – this information will help the evaluator decide which tests to administer. Ask the evaluator what additional information s/he needs. If you select an independent evaluator who is knowledgeable about your child’s disability and you trust the evaluator, you need to have confidence that the evaluator will determine and use appropriate tests for your child. However, you should not assume that your independent evaluator is knowledgeable about all the legal requirements about testing in your state law.
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of an IEE at 'public expense?'The advantage is, of course, that it saves parents money. The disadvantages are that parents risk losing true independence of judgment, and parents are limited to the school district’s approved list of evaluators.
What are the advantages of the parent(s) paying for the IEE (if they are able to do so)? There are a number of advantages which include:
- Independence of the evaluator.
- Parental control over the choice of an evaluator (e.g., parents can seek out an evaluator whose expertise and training match their preferences). Example: A parent thinks their child may have sensory integration issues. Rather than relying on an occupational therapist to do the evaluation, they may choose any occupational therapist who has specialized training in sensory integration.
- The opportunity to develop an “evaluation plan” that best suits your child’s needs. Prior to any testing, meet with the evaluator to inform him or her of your child’s needs, and your reasons for requesting the evaluation. This gives you the opportunity to participate in developing an approach to the evaluation process that is consistent with your goals for your child.
- You can confer with the evaluator about the final report and recommendations.
- You have the choice whether or not to share the IEE.
- If you go to due process, you may want to call that person as an expert witness.
Remember, no matter who pays for the IEE, the school district must “consider” the findings.
- How do parents determine which assessments are most appropriate for their child?Identify the critical factors: Area of assessment (e.g., speech, language, occupational therapy), age of the child, is the child verbal or non-verbal?
- What is the best testing environment for the child?Go to specialists in the area of testing to get advice. For example, a frequent presenter at NDSC conferences on speech and language is Libby Kumin. You may want to contact her and ask about the best assessment tools for a 4-year-old non-verbal child with Down syndrome. Pat Winders frequently discusses physical therapy issues. You may want to contact her and ask for the best physical therapy assessment tools for a young child with Down syndrome. You may call the NDSC for contact information at 1-800-232-NDSC.
Another invaluable resource is community resources (e.g. parent groups) to identify the most appropriate evaluators. Wrightslaw.com is an excellent resource for information about the various components of an evaluation. A sample of a comprehensive evaluation can be seen at http://alpha.fdu.edu/psychology/jiffy_evaluation_center.htm.
- Assistive Technology
- IntroductionTechnology has a profound impact on society in the 21st century. Children have access to technology not only for “entertainment” purposes, but also as excellent tools for learning. These tools benefit all children, including children with Down syndrome and other disabilities. Technology has provided access to employment and community living for adults with disabilities. These frequently asked questions will address the rights of children to assistive technology (AT) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Congress recognized the benefit of technology for students with disabilities to facilitate their access to regular school activities when it added “assistive technology devices and services” to IDEA in 1990. In a report from the House of Representatives accompanying the law, it stated that advances in AT have provided new opportunities for students to participate in educational programs. For many, the provision of AT “will redefine an ‘appropriate placement in the least restrictive environment’ and allow greater independence and productivity.” Numerous policy letters from the U.S. Department of Education have clarified that if an AT device or service is needed by an individual child to benefit from his educational program, it must be included in the child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) and provided at no cost to the parent. Policy letters are issued in response to questions from the public and provide the public with the agency’s interpretation of the law it administers. Below are a series of questions and answers about AT and its potential role in the classroom. Also, a list of resources is included if you wish to find more information.
- What is Assistive Technology?Assistive technology is intended to improve the functional capability of a student with a disability. It has been defined as anything that makes it easier for a student to: turn things on, get dressed, eat, bathe, read, write, get around or move, communicate, and/or play. Assistive technology devices can range from low tech devices such as a Velcro pencil grip to highly computerized communication systems. It can also include such items as electronic note takers, cassettes, special or adapted computer software and hardware.
- What is an AT service?An AT service can be anything that directly assists an individual with a disability in the design, selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device. It also is defined as, according to IDEA, any service that directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of a device including evaluation, purchasing, leasing the device, and repairing, maintaining and replacing when necessary. It includes training for parents, staff, related services personnel, and other family members and individuals involved with the student.
- Where can I find a list of AT devices?There is no federally approved “AT list.” The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act defines an assistive technology device as: “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a child with a disability, not including a medical device that is surgically implanted.”
- How does this apply to children in schools?School districts are required, under IDEA, to provide AT to students with disabilities if it is needed as special education, related service or supplementary aid and/or service needed for a child to benefit from his or her educational program. (For definition of the previous terms, go to: http://idea.ed.gov/download/statute.html.) Additionally, the 1997 Amendments to IDEA state: “In order to support the inclusion and participation of students with disabilities in regular education classrooms, all IEPs developed for children identified as needing special education services must indicate that AT has been considered to “provide meaningful access to the general curriculum.” (IDEA, 1997).
- How can I determine what technology my child needs or would benefit from?The law requires that schools consider each request for technology on a case-by-case basis considering the unique needs of each child. It must be considered when writing the child’s IEP. To do this, an AT evaluation must be conducted by the school, an independent agency with expertise in the area, or a consultant. It should take place in the child’s normal environment—home, school or the community. The end result of an assessment is a recommendation for a specific device and services needed to appropriately use the device. If you think your child could benefit from AT, you should request an AT evaluation in writing as you would with any other educational service.
- What is the difference between technology designed for all children (universally designed technology) and AT?Universally designed technology improves the accessibility and usability for all students – with and without disabilities. For example, an educational web page with text that can be read out loud by a computer can benefit all students who are learning to read. AT improves the functional capabilities of an individual child, such as use of a communication device.
- What can I do if school personnel delay or deny a request for an AT evaluation?If schools unduly delay a request for AT or AT evaluation or refuse to consider AT, parents have the right to seek an independent evaluation and/or use mediation or due process to resolve the issue as with any disagreement about a child’s educational program.
- How does AT interact with the rest of my child’s curriculum?AT should be integrated throughout the school day to access the regular curriculum. It should also be used with other therapies your child is receiving. For example, a communication device should not only be used along with language therapy, but through the child’s day from the playground to the math lesson and to the cafeteria.
- Is my child entitled to use his or her device at home?The U.S. Department of Education has stated that if use at home or in other places is required for a student to receive a free appropriate public education, it must be allowed. Each case must be decided on an individual case-by-case basis as with any educational service.
- Who pays for AT?All children are entitled to a free appropriate public education as determined by their evaluation and IEP. Policy letters from the Department of Education have clarified that if a device is needed for a child to benefit from his or her educational program, it must be provided “at no cost” to the parent. Although IDEA specifically authorizes the use of private insurance or Medicaid, it cannot require a parent to use this resource in order for their child to have access to a device.
- Where can I get more information about AT?Parents should become familiar with AT resources and understand the basics about how technology can benefit your child in order to become good advocates. AT is a tool that, if used properly, can increase accessibility to school, work, social activities and all activities enjoyed by non-disabled peers. Language therapists, occupational therapists or school technology specialists are often good resources for information. If possible, you should visit an AT center with your child to see and try out various devices and equipment. A list of other resources is attached to this document. Each state operates an Assistive Technology project under the Assistive Technology Act of 1998. These projects focus on various activities such as provision of resource information, systems change and advocacy activities, loan programs, lending libraries, and recycling programs. You can locate the AT project in your state at http://www.ataporg.org/atap/index.php. Each state has a Protection and Advocacy Program to provide legal services for people with disabilities. Each state’s P&A should have an individual on staff who is knowledgeable about assistive technology issues. To locate your state office, go to http://www.ndrn.org/aboutus/pwd.htm.