A Q&A About Independent Educational Evaluations

By Susan Goodman, Esq., NDSC Governmental Affairs Director

Editor’s note: Hardly a week goes by that there isn’t a call or two (or 10) from frustrated parents trying to advocate for their children to receive appropriate school services. Often, questions are raised about Independent Educational Evaluations. Thanks to Goodman for providing some answers.

A student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) is developed based on evaluations of present levels of academic achievement and related developmental needs. That information helps the IEP team decide what the child’s educational program should be. Parents often are dissatisfied with the school district’s evaluation and may opt to have an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) conducted. Other parents obtain an IEE on their own initiative instead of waiting for and relying upon a school district evaluation.

When is an educational evaluation conducted?
Upon entering or qualifying for any Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) program, an initial evaluation is conducted. This includes the early intervention program (e.g. infant and toddler program), preschool program (ages three to five) and school age program (five to 21).

Are additional evaluations conducted?
The school also is required to conduct a reevaluation every three years. If the school district feels that it does not need additional information about the child, the district must notify the parents that they do not intend to reevaluate and why. In those cases, parents must specifically request a reevaluation be completed.

The school also must reevaluate if changing educational needs warrant it or at the request of the child’s parent or teacher.

What is the process for conducting an evaluation?
People working for the school district usually determine the nature of the evaluation and are responsible for administering it. Parents may request an initial evaluation and must consent to it. The evaluation must be conducted within 60 days of the request.

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 evaluation’s findings. When parents find themselves in disagreement with the schools or anticipate that they will disagree with the school’s evaluators, they may want to consider an IEE.

Behavior issues are a frequent trigger for parents seeking IEEs. A functional behavior analysis is a tool that can be used to understand the behavior’s function.

What happens when parents and school staff disagree?
There are certain conditions in which a school district may be required to pay for the IEE, even if parents and the school district disagree about the need for it. If parents present an evaluation that the school district previously refused to conduct, the school district may be required to reimburse parents for the evaluation’s costs — if it is determined that the evaluation provided information which had an impact on the child’s education, services or placement.

Additionally, if 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.

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 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).

A primary concern for parents to seek an IEE is related services, such as 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 concern impacts the child’s education.

What is the value of an IEE?
When Congress passed the 1997 Amendments to the IDEA, one goal 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 developing a child’s IEP and participation in the IEP process must be meaningful. One court stated that:

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?
Federal regulations direct school districts to inform parents of their right to obtain an IEE, where to do so and under what conditions it will be at public expense. According to regulations, the public agency must consider the IEE’s results in any decision made with respect to providing a free appropriate public education.

This does not mean that the school district must accept the IEE’s findings or recommendations. It does means 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 to select those appropriate for your child. One of the best ways to find a good evaluator is to contact your local parent support group to find out about experiences other parents have had with independent evaluators.

Parents need to provide the evaluator with sufficient information about the child to help the evaluator decide which tests to administer. Ask what additional information the evaluator 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 selection is 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:

  • The evaluator is independent.
  • Parents have control over the choice of an evaluator (e.g., parents can seek out an evaluator whose expertise and training match their preferences). A parent may think a child has sensory integration issues and may choose an occupational therapist that has specialized training in sensory integration to perform the evaluation.
  • It’s an opportunity to develop an “evaluation plan” that best suits your child’s needs. Prior to any testing, meet with the evaluator to explain your child’s needs and reasons for requesting the evaluation. This gives you the opportunity to help develop 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 can choose whether or not to share the IEE with the school district.
  • If you go to due process, you can call the independent evaluator 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 to be tested to get advice. Libby Kumin, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, frequently presents on speech and language issues at NDSC conventions and would know the best assessment tools for a four-year-old child with DS who is nonverbal. Pat Winders frequently discusses physical therapy issues and can share the best physical therapy assessment tools for a young child with DS. Call the NDSC, 1-800-232-NDSC, for contact information.

Again, community resources such as parent groups are an invaluable resource to identify the most appropriate evaluators.

Online resources

  • Wrightslaw.com is an excellent resource for information about the various components of an evaluation.
  • See a sample of a comprehensive evaluation at http://alpha.fdu.edu/psychology/jiffy_evaluation_center.htm
  • Parent Training & Information Centers serve parents of children and youth with disabilities up to age 21 and professionals who work with them. Find your PTI by visiting www.taalliance.org.