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Should Your Child Be Tested by a School Psychologist?

Special Education Attorney with Hollingsworth & Zivitz

Is your child struggling in school? If you suspect your child may have a learning disability or behavior problem, it’s a good idea to have him evaluated by a psychologist who specializes in educational evaluations. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), there are generally three basic types of educational evaluations: an initial evaluation to determine a child's eligibility for special education, a re-evaluation of a child who has already undergone an initial evaluation and an independent evaluation.

If your child attends public school, his school falls under what is known as the "Child Find" mandate of the IDEA. This federal law requires school districts to identify, locate and evaluate students with disabilities which adversely affect their education. Although in theory this duty falls on the school district, I advise parents to ask the school for an initial educational evaluation if they think their child may have a disability instead of waiting for the school to suggest one. It's fine to ask his teacher, but always put your request in writing. Even if you talk to the teacher in person or on the phone and she agrees to set it up, I have parents send an email to the teacher and copy 2-3 other school employees, such as the special education director and a counselor or principal, simply confirming the conversation—or just put the request in an email to begin with. This makes it harder for the school to claim that it "never received" your request for an evaluation and is good evidence documenting your request.

The school generally has to provide the evaluation at no cost to the parent, but there are a couple of conditions. First, the parent has to consent to the school psychologist conducting the evaluation. If you request an evaluation and the school agrees to provide it, the school does not have to perform it until you sign a consent form allowing it to do so. This is an exception to the general advice I give parents: Don’t sign anything. Your child will not be eligible for special education until he has been evaluated, so signing the consent to have the school psychologist evaluate him is an important step toward getting the services he needs. Sign it!

Second, the school has 50 school days after you sign the consent to complete the evaluation and meet with you to discuss the results. If you wait until the end of the school year to sign the consent, the 50 days do not begin to run until school starts—your request is on “hold” all summer. For this reason, it's best to sign the consent as early in the school year as possible. If you ask the school for an evaluation and it refuses or you disagree with the school’s evaluation, contact me and I’ll be happy to advise you on your options.

A re-evaluation may be appropriate for a child who hasn't been evaluated recently, especially if his condition changes or he develops a new diagnosis. Under the law, a school only has to "consider" re-evaluation every three years—basically a meaningless requirement. All a school has to do is say "OK--we 'considered' re-evaluating Johnny, so we've complied with the law." This another reason it’s a good idea for parents to ask for an evaluation or re-evaluation.

Another option is an independent educational evaluation, or IEE. This is performed by a private psychologist who is not affiliated with the school district. I prefer these evaluations over school evaluations because the psychologist is not biased in favor of the school and will recommend services based on the child's needs as opposed to the cost to the school district. If you choose an IEE, it’s important to see a psychologist experienced with educational evaluations. The two situations where I generally recommend parents get an IEE are when the child needs an evaluation done sooner than the 50 school days or if the parent disagrees with the school's evaluation. There are certain procedures to follow if you want the school to pay for an IEE, so it’s a good idea to speak with a lawyer familiar with special education law before pursuing this.

If you think your child may need an educational evaluation, feel free to call (317/569-2200) or email us for a free consultation. I’ll be happy to answer your questions, review documents and refer you to a qualified private psychologist.