Let’s set the stage: the teachers at your child’s school don’t seem to really understand her disability; the school psychologist has challenged, changed or eliminated her disability; the IEP that you fought hard for doesn’t address all of your child’s challenges. You feel helpless and don’t know what to do.
The good news is you’re not helpless. You can request that an Independent Educational Evaluation or “IEE” (or maybe a series of IEEs) be performed to better zero in on your child’s precise diagnosis and challenges. This will likely help to resolve the conflicts you are facing between the services provided for your child and his or her disability.
What is an IEE?
Before I explain what an independent evaluation is, let me first explain evaluations in general. Under IDEA, if the parent or school suspects that a child has a disability affecting his or her education, either can request an evaluation. (1) The purpose of this evaluation is “to determine whether a child is a child with a disability,” to determine if that disability has an impact on the child’s education and to see if the child is in need of specially designed instruction. (2) The school district (or state) is required to pay for this evaluation. (3)
A proper evaluation should identify and address all of your child’s disabilities and/or educational needs. To accomplish that goal, an evaluation “shall use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental, and academic information, including information provided by the parent.” (4) Arguably, the most important component is your input as the parent.
Thus, an evaluation should be all-encompassing, determining if your child needs specially designed instruction, if your child needs accommodations in the classroom or during testing, needs occupational therapy, needs physical therapy, needs an assistant, needs sensory devices, etc. The purpose of the evaluation is to ascertain how a disability is interfering with a child’s education (such as sensitivity to noisy classrooms) and suggest methods to assure that the child has access to an appropriate education.
Once a child has been identified as having a disability, that child is entitled to be re-evaluated on a regular basis to determine if his or her educational needs have changed. (5) A re-evaluation should occur no more than once a year but at least once every three years. (6) These evaluations and re-evaluations help to determine what services and special education assistance should be included in the child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP). (7)
Getting a Second Opinion
An IEE is simply what it sounds like: an educational evaluation performed independently of the school’s evaluation. Technically, it is an “evaluation conducted by a qualified examiner who is not employed by the public agency responsible for the education of the child in question.” (8) It is like a second medical opinion from someone who doesn’t have a stake in the outcome (except to get paid for performing the evaluation).
Typically, you (or your health insurance) pay for the IEE. You can choose the evaluator, even though the school might say that you have to use one of their approved evaluators. (9) The IEE has the same goals as the school’s evaluation: to determine the educational needs of your child resulting from a disability. Just as the school’s evaluations feed into the IEP, the IEE must be considered during the development of your child’s IEP, though implementation of its suggestions is not guaranteed. (10) If the IEE is rejected in whole or in part, the school must explain why the IEE doesn’t meet school district criteria. (11)
When should you request an IEE?
A dispute may arise regarding who performed the school’s evaluation (qualifications), how that person performed the evaluation (assessment tools or methods), the results of the evaluation or the structure of the IEP resulting from the school’s evaluation. This is especially true if you as the parent are observing things that are different than those that were described in the evaluation or are hearing different things from your child’s physicians and therapists.
Now is the time to request an IEE at the school’s expense. “A parent has the right to an IEE at public expense if the parent disagrees with an evaluation obtained” by the school. (12) Once you, the parent, request an IEE, the school must either agree to pay for the IEE or file a due process complaint to show that its own evaluation was appropriate. (13)
The bottom line is that if it seems that the school’s evaluation and the IEP that results from it are not accurate or appropriate for your child, consider seeking an IEE to ensure that your child gets the services that he or she needs and to which he or she is legally entitled. After all, you know your child better than anyone.
1. 20 U.S.C. §1414(a).
2. 20 U.S.C. §1414(a)(1)(C)(i).
3. 20 U.S.C. §1414(a)(1)(A) (“A State educational agency, other State agency, or local educational agency shall conduct a full and individual initial evaluation….”)
4. 20 U.S.C. §1414(b)(2)(A).
5. 20 U.S.C. §1414(a)(2).
6. 20 U.S.C. §1414(a)(2)(B).
7. 20 U.S.C. §1414(b)(2)(A)(ii).
8. 34 C.F.R. §300.502(a)(3)(i).
9. This trick to avoid a truly independent evaluation has been rejected by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). OSEP Letter to Parker, 2004.
10. 34 C.F.R. §300.502(c)(1).
11. See Commentary, Federal Register, p. 46690.
12. 34 C.F.R. §300.502(b)(1).
13. 34 C.F.R. §300.502(b)(2).