What do I do if I disagree with the school evaluation?
Families are often faced with a tough decision after an evaluation at school when things did NOT go as expected. Here are few reasons that might happen:
- They don’t get it: Sometimes, the parents feel that the school just did not really ‘get it’ in terms of understanding their child’s needs.
- Child didn’t qualify: Other times, it may be that the child did not qualify for services that the family believes should be provided.
- Services don’t look right: Another situation could be that the child qualified but the services do not seem appropriate for the child’s needs.
Let’s start with autism because we know this one best.
The school said he has autism, but I don’t think he does. It is sometimes the case that a parent will walk away from a school evaluation thinking, “well, that’s a surprise.” Maybe the school would like to identify your child under the ASD category for services and you do not agree.
First, the school can NOT diagnose nor rule out autism.
I’ll say that again. Regardless of the school’s decision regarding eligibility under the ASD label, the school can NOT decide whether or not your child actually has it. This info is often very confusing to families.
Here, we have one of those issues where “the devil is in the details.”
Yes, schools evaluate for autism. But, no they do not diagnose. If the school ‘suspects’ your child may have autism AND that the autism is interfering significantly with educational benefit, they are supposed to conduct an evaluation.
At the end of the day, all they can say is whether or not your child qualifies for services under autism. That’s it.
If the parents disagree with an eligibility decision* at an IEP** meeting, there are a few things you can do.
- Disagree at the meeting. This is the most expedient approach. When you attend the eligibility meeting for your child, remember you are on the team. Best practice is that “parents are on the team and at the table.” So, when you attend the eligibility meeting, you can simply state, “I do not agree with the autism label (or the results). Is there any other area where my child may still qualify?” Typically, the school will now go through a process to look at other eligibility categories***. For example, some kids with related challenges will qualify under ‘Other Health Impaired’ (OHI) or Specific Learning Disability (SLD), or Speech and Language (Articulation, or Language Disorder(s)).
- Request another meeting. If you go home from your IEP eligibility meeting and get a queasy feeling that something has been missed, you can always request another meeting. Typically, schools do not close the IEP until many days after the eligibility meeting. You can still meet again to discuss your concerns.
- Get a second opinion. Once the meeting is closed out, there are two options for a second opinion. In the first case, if you feel the school did not do a thorough job evaluating your child, you can request an IEE. An IEE is an Independent Educational Evaluation. This means that you can get a private evaluation, that is paid for by the school. Another option is to simply seek out a private evaluation on your own. If you do, the school will have to be informed of those results and another eligibility will need to be opened for the school to decide if they agree with the results and see other reasons why your child may be eligible.
If you decide to disagree at the meeting, as with option #1 above, there are 2 simple questions to pay attention to at the meeting. These are the 2 questions that although they look benign, are actually the impetus for the rest of the meeting.
#1. Has the evaluation been sufficiently comprehensive to evaluate all areas of special education need?
#2. Can the child receive reasonable benefit from special education alone?
If the answer to #1 is ‘no,’ the meeting is over. The team will need to continue the evaluation and plan another meeting.
If the answer to #2 is ‘yes,’ the meeting is over. This means that your child is able to plug along in general education and receive some reasonable benefit…AKA…your kiddo does not need services.
Think about those questions. You are a team member, and your vote counts here. You’re being asked to process a lot of information.
It is totally acceptable to say, ‘wait a minute!’ “Can you explain why you are thinking that the evaluation is comprehensive?” Or, “Can you tell me how my child is receiving reasonable benefit?” The school will provide evidence for both of those questions, and you can decide whether or not you agree. If you really can’t come to an agreement, another meeting might be needed, to allow some time for you and the school to consider data to contradict either of those answers to #1 or #2 there.
What category? Finally, the rest of the eligibility checklist is also a place where you might not agree. That is a list of the criteria it takes for your child to qualify.
The school team should provide good evidence for the claims that your child qualifies or does not qualify for each of those criteria.
If you disagree, again, ask the question at the table. “I am not sure about this category, is there another eligibility category where my child may fit better?” Those eligibility checklists should be handy and you can consider alternatives with the team.
Should we look at another category? A good example might be that your child is already qualified under Speech and Language and the school is considering moving the child to Significant Learning Disability (SLD).
You as a parent might want to look at the criteria for each one with the school team and consider alternatives. These categories typically do not ‘define’ the services your child gets but it is better to have the right category as it provides a guide to the services.
For example, in the example above with the speech language vs. the SLD category. If your child does not stay under the speech category, the speech therapist may pull back or remove services and then a special education teacher would take over and focus more on your child’s learning.
Pulling It All Together
Taken together, disagreeing with the results of the school evaluation, although it may feel intimidating, is not the end of the world. It’s okay to disagree.
If you have a good team there at the school, they will work with you to come to a better understanding of your child’s needs and your personal goals for him or her.
Sometimes these relationships go south and there is the need for legal support or advocacy. That is okay too.
Your goal, though, as a parent would be to get the relationship into a collaborative, supportive place as soon as you can. The best way to do this is to focus all conversations on “student success.”
Remind everyone at the table that this is why we are all here. And if you have questions, contact us! We’re here to help!
- IEP= Individualized Education Program. This is special education services. For all children the school team ‘suspects’ may have a qualifying disability, the school district is required to conduct an evaluation to determine if the child qualifies.
- Eligibility= This is a process the school district must go through to evaluate your child’s needs to determine whether or not the child qualifies for services, and if so, what category he or she fits under. Schools have to consider outside reports during that evaluation if the family provides them, but schools do NOT have to accept a recommendation from an outside agency, hospital, or clinic in terms of the final say about eligibility.
- Eligibility category= In order to qualify for special education services, the law is written such that a child’s needs must fit under one of these ‘categories.’ Yes, it’s a ‘label’ but it is a necessary thing for the school to do in order to define your child’s needs better and appropriate the right services to meet those needs.