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Independent educational evaluations.

Our nation's federal special education law--the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)--promotes parents' involvement in the education of their child, and it incorporates parents' and children's rights as well as certain protections for these rights. These protections are embedded in the procedures that states are required to follow as they evaluate students and provide special education services. Collectively, these protections are called procedural safeguards. One of these protections is the right to an independent educational evaluation (IEE) should parents disagree with an evaluation that has been conducted by the school district. This article provides a basic overview of the IEE provision as well as some important do's and dont's for parents.

Q. What is an IEE?

A. The language regarding IEEs is found in the regulations implementing IDEA. Specifically, the right to an IEE is defined as:

"A parent has the right to an independent educational evaluation at the public expense if the parent disagrees with an evaluation obtained by the public agency. However, the public agency may initiate a hearing under Reg, 300.506 of this subpart to show that its evaluation is appropriate. If the final decision is that the evaluation is appropriate, the parent still has the right to an independent educational evaluation, but not at the public expense." (34 CFR. Part 300.503 (b)

"Whenever an independent evaluation is at the 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 which the public agency uses when it initiates an evaluation." (34 CFR 300.503 (e)

Q. Why would a parent wish to obtain an IEE?

A. Several reasons that parents often seek to obtain an IEE include:

* A belief that their child has an undiagnosed disability or, conversely, that their child does not have a disability.

* A belief that the school's evaluation was inadequate (lacks thoroughness).

* Disagreement about such issues as:

--the specific nature of the disability (such as other health impaired v. emotional disturbance).

--the type of services offered (such as inclusion v. self-contained).

--the qualifications of the school's evaluators (such as experience with evaluating a particular disability such as Asperger syndrome).

--a child's present level of performance and/or annual goals.

--the relative progress accomplished toward the goals.

--whether a child should continue to receive special education services.

Q. What can an IEE include?

A. An IEE can include an evaluation of educational testing, psychological testing, a social history, a speech and language evaluation, an occupational therapy evaluation, a physical therapy evaluation, and/or a functional behavioral assessment when the child's areas of suspected ability call for such evaluations.

Q. Who chooses the evaluator to conduct an IEE?

A. A parent can request information from the district about where an IEE may be obtained. Districts may provide parents with a list of qualified evaluators so long as the list is responsive to the child's needs and the list is exhaustive (OSEP letters: Fields, 1989; Thorne, 1990; Rambo, 1990; Imber, 1992). When a district fails to list all qualified evaluators within a given geographic area, the parent may choose qualified evaluators who are not listed.

A district has the right to insure that independent evaluators are minimally as qualified as its own evaluators. For example, if a district only employs Master's level Special Educators to conduct educational evaluators, it could refuse to pay for a an IEE, if the independent evaluator had completed only a Bachelor's degree in special education.

Q. Can school districts limit the cost of an IEE?

A. A district can establish policies for reasonable cost requirements based upon maximum allowable charges for specific tests; however, the determination of fees cannot merely be a simple averaging of usual fees charged in the area by professionals who are qualified to perform the testing. Nor can the determination of cost be used to eliminate certain evaluators. Policies on fees can be used to limit unreasonably excessive costs (OSEP Letter to Kirby, 1989).

Q. Can school districts limit the timeframe to obtain an IEE?

A. The district also has the right to establish reasonable time limits when an IEE may be obtained at the public expense. So, if a parent wishes to obtain an IEE at public expense more than two years after the district has completed its own evaluation, the district might argue successfully that undue time has elapsed. However, special circumstances might mitigate that argument (OSEP Letter to Thorne 1990).

Q. Can a state or school district impose policies that limit a parent's unfettered right to an IEE?

A. States and districts can always include language in their regulations that provides more protection for children with disabilities and their parents (usually, their legal guardians) than the federal regulations provide. However, states and school districts may not diminish the rights of children with disabilities and their parents as afforded through federal regulations. For example, during the 1980s, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) developed a policy that permitted school districts to ascertain a parent's disagreement with its evaluation and to then permit districts to correct shortcomings within the district's evaluation prior to allowing a parent to obtain an IEE. The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) instructed the TEA to cease and desist imposing this policy as a precondition to an IEE (Letters to Gray, 1988; Kirby, 1989; Gramm, 1990).

Similarly, when Wisconsin imposed a policy restricting parents from obtaining an IEE at public expense if the evaluator was not certified by its Department of Instruction, did not have extensive experience working within public schools, excluding independent evaluators who had testified on behalf of a child with disabilities in a due process hearing or who held a membership in an advocacy organization, OSEP determined that such policies were unnecessarily restrictive (Letter to Petska, 2001).

Do ...

* Be sure to obtain, review, and understand your state and district policies and procedures regarding IEEs. Contact your state's Parent Training and Information Center (PTI) if you have difficulty obtaining this information (www.taalliance.org for PTI directory).

* Notify your school district of your intention to obtain an IEE. While IDEA does not require this notice, providing such to your district can possibly avoid problems with the district's consideration of the IEE results.

* Make certain that the person(s) that you select to conduct the IEE are at least as qualified as personnel from the school district. Also, determine whether the independent evaluator(s) is prepared to testify in a due process hearing should the need arise.

Don't ...

* Expect that the school district will pay for your IEE. While this can be a possible outcome, there is no guarantee that the cost of an IEE will be covered by the district.

* Feel that you need to provide the district with specific reasons why you are seeking an IEE. While districts can inquire about the nature of your disagreement, it cannot unreasonably delay if the parents do not provide information about the nature with the disagreement with the district's evaluation.

* Anticipate that the recommendations of an IEE will be implemented by the school. While the school must consider the results and recommendations of an IEE, the district is not required to utilize the information or adopt the recommendations.

Steve C. Imber, PhD is President of Psychoeducational Consultants (www.drimber.com) and serves as an independent educational evaluator, a consultant to parents and school personnel, and as an expert in various due process hearings and other legal proceedings. He is a Professor of Special Education at Rhode Island College (since 1973) in Providence, RI.

Candace Cortiella is Director of The Advocacy Institute (www.AdvocacyInstitute.org), a nonprofit organization dedicated to the development of products, projects, and services that work to improve the lives of people with disabilities. The mother of a young adult with learning disabilities and a disability rights advocate for over 17 years, she lives in the Washington, DC area.
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Title Annotation:Insight on Federal Policy: This month's focus: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and IEEs
Author:Imber, Steve; Cortiella, Candace
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2008
Words:1326
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