5 Tips for Selecting an Independent Evaluator
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), parents of children with disabilities have a right to obtain an independent educational evaluation (or “IEE”) of their child at their own expense at any time. An IEE is an evaluation completed by a private evaluator that the parent selects. The right to an IEE ensures that parents can participate in their child’s educational decisions and in the IEP process by giving parents the ability to get an outside, third party, expert opinion about what their child’s educational needs are and what placement and special education services are needed in order for their child to make progress.
However, IEEs can be expensive – typically between $1,000 to $5,000, depending on the type of testing. Therefore, the law provides that parents can request that their child’s public school district or charter school pay for the IEE if the parents disagree with an evaluation that the public school has already completed. If the parent requests an IEE at public expense, the public school has two options under the law: 1) agree to fund the IEE, or 2) take the parent to a due process hearing to defend the appropriateness of the public school’s own evaluation.
Why are IEEs so important? Because a good evaluation is what guides the development of a good IEP. Additionally, if parents disagree with what the public school is offering for their child, a good IEE will be crucial in the parents’ efforts to challenge the public school’s proposals. Parents who go to a due process hearing without a credible expert who can back up what they’re seeking for their child will have a much lower chance of success. But how can a parent select a good independent evaluator? The following 5 factors should be considered:
- First, the parent, not the public school, has the right to select the evaluator for an IEE. The public school can provide parents with a list of qualified evaluators, but the parent is not limited to selecting someone from that list.
- Second, the public school must set the criteria under which the IEE is obtained (the location of the evaluation and the qualifications of the examiner) and these must be the same as the criteria that the public school uses for its own evaluations. A public school cannot impose conditions or restrictions on the IEE that it does not impose on its own evaluators.
- Third, the independent evaluator should be someone who will assess the child in all areas of suspected disability. Parents should consider what their child’s educational needs are (academic, social, emotional, behavioral, speech/language, motor or physical, sensory, auditory, visual, etc.) and ask the evaluator which areas will be assessed to ensure that the kind of testing being conducted will cover all areas where the child is having difficulty at school. This may mean that more than one independent expert needs to participate in the IEE, such as a school psychologist, neuropsychologist, speech/language pathologist, audiologist, occupational therapist, optometrist, psychiatrist, behaviorist, or physical therapist.
- Fourth, the independent evaluator should be unbiased. As tempting as it may be to look for an expert who will just agree with what the parents want, the reality is, a due process hearing officer is unlikely to find an evaluator’s opinion credible if they look like just a “hired gun” for the parents. Parents should hire an evaluator who is willing to fully consider both the school and the parent’s perspectives, gather data about the child from both sides, and render an impartial opinion about what special education services and placement are appropriate for the child.
- Fifth, the independent evaluator should ideally be someone who has experience or training related to understanding the child’s disabilities in an educational setting, not just from a medical perspective. If the evaluator has never worked in schools, done evaluations for schools, or had training that would make them qualified to recommend school-based supports and services for the child, their opinion will likely be of limited use to the parent in challenging the school’s proposed program. Moreover, finding an evaluator who is willing to observe the child in school, interview school staff, and do a thorough review of the child’s school records is essential if the evaluator is going to render a credible opinion about how the child learns.
For more information, please visit www.mcandrewslaw.com or call (302) 380-4975. The information within this article is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult with an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation.