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Independent Educational Evaluation: Know Your Rights
By Terry Devens
Many parents of children with disabilities probably already understand that school districts have the responsibility to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to students with special needs who reside within their boundaries and have been classified accordingly. Part of this responsibility includes conducting an individual evaluation of each student referred to the Committee on Special Education (CSE) to determine if a disability exists and to identify the appropriate educational and related services that should be afforded to the student. Evaluations are most often conducted by school district personnel, and the law requires that the evaluations be conducted at no cost to the parent. What families may not know is that they also have the right to an independent educational evaluation (IEE) conducted by non-school district examiners.
An independent educational evaluation is defined in law as an evaluation conducted by a qualified examiner who is not employed by the school district.
Many times parents and guardians disagree with the evaluations that are performed by the school districts, or they feel that the evaluation done by the school district is not comprehensive enough. An evaluation need not be limited to academic or cognitive testing. The testing may include any skill related to the child’s educational needs, such as neurological, sensory, motor skills, or social skills evaluations. An independent educational evaluation can provide parents with an additional resource to utilize at CSE meetings. Such an evaluation can provide support for parents’ viewpoints and opinions in regard to their child’s educational program.
But when, you may ask, is the school district responsible to cover the costs of such an evaluation? The school district may be responsible if it does not have the personnel or resources to perform the appropriate evaluations to assess the child’s abilities and needs. Also, the district may be held financially responsible when it refuses to conduct a particular evaluation that the parents obtain at their own expense, the results of which provide valuable information that affects the child’s educational program. Most commonly, a parent has the right to an independent educational evaluation at public expense if the parent disagrees with an evaluation obtained by the school district, subject to certain conditions. One such condition is the district’s right to file a due process complaint to request a hearing to show that its evaluation is, in fact, in its view, appropriate.
The school district must provide the parent with information on its criteria applicable to independent educational evaluations. If an independent educational evaluation is at public expense, the criteria under which the evaluation is obtained, including the location of the evaluation and the qualifications of the examiner, must be the same as the criteria that the public agency uses when it initiates an evaluation. The school district can not require a parent to choose an evaluator from a school district-maintained list.
While a school district does not have to accept the findings and/or recommendations of the independent educational evaluation, it must review and consider the results. Parents and CSE teams need accurate information about the student’s disability and how it affects the child’s educational needs. This information is found in the psychological and educational evaluations that are performed. Changes may need to be made to the teaching methods that are being utilized or to the structure of the student’s classroom. There must be an accurate diagnosis of the child’s disability for an appropriate program to be developed for each child.
Parents of children with disabilities should fully explore their options when determining if an independent educational evaluation is something that would benefit their child. Parents should not be afraid to ask questions and search for information outside the realm of the school district. An independent educational evaluation can provide a “check and balance” on decisions being made by the school. A parentally-obtained independent evaluation can help to ensure that the child’s educational program is tailored to his individual needs.