IEP 101: Assessments and IEEs
A thorough assessment of your child is the key to creating a strong IEP that accurately reflects their goals, strengths, and areas of need. The more complex a child’s needs are, the greater the need for a high-quality assessment, and the more individualized the IEP.
How are students assessed for an IEP?
To qualify for an IEP, a student must receive an initial full assessment. A full assessment is a multidisciplinary set of assessments conducted by a school psychologist, special education teacher, and any additional service providers that are relevant to the student’s disability (these can include speech, occupational, behavioral, vision, and physical therapists). A parent can request an assessment of their child at any time. If a student qualifies for special education services, a full reassessment must be conducted every three years (called a triennial assessment) to ensure that they still qualify for special education services.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that the initial full assessment include a variety of assessment tools and strategies to determine information about a child’s level of developmental and academic function. No one measure or assessment can be used alone to determine eligibility. Assessments must also be administered in the child’s first language or mode of communication so that the assessments accurately reflect their achievement level. The assessment includes assessments to measure health, vision, hearing, social and emotional status, intelligence, academic performance, communication, and motor abilities.
Under the IDEA, once the parent consents to the assessment, it must be conducted within 60 days.
Reviewing the assessment
• How to look for areas of need
When you review an assessment, you should take note of any areas of relative weakness. Often, tests are broken down into subtest scores, which are averaged together for an overall score. Sometimes, a child will have a low score in one subtest, but will test in the average range in other subtests, so the low score can get lost in the overall average. Even if the overall score may be acceptable, you can request a goal specifically to work on the area(s) of weakness.
• How to think about areas of strength
Although we tend to focus on areas of weakness, obtaining accurate areas of strength from assessments is possibly even more important. Areas of strength can show a child’s potential and help the parent argue for more ambitious goals.
Sometimes, districts will dismiss relative areas of strength as “splinter skills,” or abilities in a specific area that do not generalize into other areas. In this instance, even if the child cannot generalize their skill to other areas, they can still have an area of strength to help build self-confidence, make connections with others who also have that skill, and be recognized and celebrated for that skill.
• What to do when you disagree with the school’s assessment
You know your child best — if the district performs an assessment of your child and you feel it does not accurately reflect their strengths and needs, it’s probably not a thorough assessment. If you disagree with the results, you have the right to an Independent Educational Evaluation, or IEE, at public expense.
An independent assessment is conducted by a qualified professional who is not employed by the school district. It can be beneficial if you feel the district’s report does not fully or accurately capture your child’s strengths and weaknesses, or if your child is not making anticipated progress. A private psychologist may be able to determine why your child isn’t progressing as expected and/or pinpoint specific areas where they need support, even (or especially) when the district has not been successful at doing so.
The right to request an independent assessment applies to all kinds of assessments, not only psycho-educational assessments. You can also seek an independent assessment if you disagree with the district’s more specialized assessments such as assistive technology assessments, speech assessments, occupational or physical therapy assessments, and functional behavioral analysis assessments — you can request an independent assessment for any purpose if it impacts your child’s education. Remember that if the assessment you disagree with is more than a year old, it is likely the district will want to retest your child themselves prior to funding an independent assessment.
• How to request an IEE
The first step to requesting an independent assessment is to submit a written letter to the district stating that you disagree with the district’s assessment of your child (you do not need to state why) and are seeking an independent assessment . Although neither California nor the IDEA provides a specific time period within which the district must respond, they should reply without unnecessary delay.
Here’s a sample letter showing how to request an independent assessment from the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund.
Once you request an independent assessment, the district has two choices: it can either 1) fund the independent assessment or 2) file a due process complaint to defend their assessment and show that it was appropriate. If the district chooses to move to due process, they have the burden of proving that their assessment was sufficient.
If the district approves an independent assessment, it will work with you on the logistics for obtaining your own assessment. This includes providing information about the applicable criteria and a list of qualified assessors in your area. You are not required to choose an assessor from the district’s list — but make sure that the assessor you choose meets the same qualifications the district is required to meet for the assessment. Once you choose your assessor, the district will work with you to arrange for their payment.
• Next steps
After the independent assessment is completed, the IEP team will meet to discuss the results. The assessor should attend the meeting to explain their findings and answer questions. The IEP team will then discuss how best to incorporate their recommendations into the child’s IEP.
If you agree with most but not all of the IEP team’s decisions about how to implement the assessor’s recommendations, you can sign the IEP and note that your consent is only partial. This way, the portions of the IEP you agree with can be implemented, and you can work to resolve the area(s) of dispute through further conversation with the IEP team. If you disagree with a portion of the IEP, write down on the IEP document or in an addendum which portions you disagree with, and that you reserve the right to challenge the disagreed-upon portion of the IEP.