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Educational Evaluation 101

Ground Rules/Disclaimer

#1) I will try my best to verify my statements with appropriate documentation. However, things may be a bit different for your particular state, so before you get involved with this issue with your school district, make sure that you check your state regs FIRST. If you can’t find the regs, give me your state and I will try my best to locate the regs for you on the Internet and post the link.

#2) I am not interested in hearing from teachers who scream “That’s not how we do it in my school!” If you feel a need to criticize any statements that I make on this issue, you have a constitutional right to do so, but please post it on a new message thread.

#3) We are all trying to learn new things about our children’s programs, that is why we come to this message board. I welcome all questions, input from others who have something CONSTRUCTIVE to say, and I am by no means a “know it all,” but I will attempt to answer questions directed to me.

#4) I am NOT an attorney and this is not legal advice. This is for educational purposes only. Please, consult with your local advocate or legal representative for detailed info regarding your state, county, or local school district.

Evaluations 101, Lesson 1

What is an educational evaluation?

There are several types of evaluations, such as medical evaluations conducted by Licensed Medical Physicians, usually in clinics, medical examination rooms and hospitals.

Then there are Educational Evaluations conducted by a school district evaluation team. An educational evaluation is mandated by IDEA Subpart C section 300.320 for the purpose of determining if a child meets the definition of a “child with a disability” under 300.7 and to determine the educational needs of a child. The educational evaluation will generate an Educational Label.

Back in the “good old days” before PL 94-142 - The Education of All Handicapped Children’s Act (now IDEA) - was passed, children were put into segregated learning environments without the benefit of any form of evaluations, so children were not protected from social prejudice and cultural bias. Many children were denied admission to public schools at all on the basis of school board policies that stated that a child had to be toilet trained before they could enter school and have an IQ of at least 80.

So the purpose of the Evaluations and Re-evaluation issue in IDEA is to help children to receive the help that they really need. The school district has a responsibility to conduct these evaluations in accordance with IDEA Subpart C section 300.530 - 300.536, if they believe that a student might have a possible disability. A school district also has a right to file due process against parents in order to obtain permission to evaluate a student with a suspected disability (300.507).

Evaluations 101, Lesson 2

What requirements are required for conducting an evaluation?

According to IDEA Subpart E section 300.532, the school districts are required, at the minimum (Chevy) to make sure that the tests and other evaluation materials used to assess children under Part B of the Act are selected and administered so as not to be discriminatory on a racial or cultural bias, and are provided and administered in the child’s native language or other mode of communication, and the materials are selected and administered to ensure that they measure the extent to which the child has a disability and needs special education. A variety of assessment tools and strategies are used to gather relevant functional and developmental information about the child, including information provided by the parent, and information related to enabling the child to be involved in and progress in the general curriculum (or for a preschool child to participate in appropriate activities) that may assist in determining whether the child is a child with a disability under section 300.7, and the content of the child’s IEP.

This regulation also states that the child is to be assessed is all areas of suspected disability , including if appropriate, health, vision, hearing, social and emotional status, general intelligence, academic performance, communicative status, and motor abilities.

I am paraphrasing this regulation, it is quite lengthy, so I will give you the link to read the full text of it at Evaluation Procedures.

As part of the an initial (first time) evaluation and as part of any re evaluation under Part B of the Act, the school district should review existing evaluation data on the child including Evaluations and Information provided by the parents of the child (that means if you get another evaluation somewhere else, the school district should review and possibly incorporate the results of other evaluations), current classroom-based assessments and observations, and observations by teachers and related service providers. See Determination of needed evaluations.

Evaluations 101, Lesson 3

Medical Diagnosis vs Educational Diagnosis

A medical diagnosis is a diagnosis obtained from a licensed, practicing, medical physician. Psychiatric diagnosis also fall under this category, particularly if the psychiatrist is licensed to prescribe medications for their clients.

Some medical diagnosis , in no particular order, include: Autism Spectrum Disorders; Fragile X Syndrome; Cornelia DeLange Syndrome, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders; Obsessive Compulsive Disorders; Oppositional Defiant Disorders; Epilepsy; Dysgraphia; Dyslexia; Juvenile Diabetes; Brain Tumors and illnesses which affect the brain; and so forth. You can find these types of diagnosis in Medical Manuals and the DSM IV Manual. The only people who have the authority to make these diagnosis are people with medical licensure from accredited medical schools.

Children with medical/health problems, who are under the care of a licensed medical physician, sometimes give the appearance of being very ill, and are obviously very sickly and pale, tire easily, miss a lots of days of school, and are often considered “medically fragile.” However, this is not always the case. Sometimes children who have diagnosed medical conditions have “hidden disabilities” and from all outward appearances seem to be quite healthy and strong.

In many cases, children who are under the care of a licensed practicing medical physician are also prescribed medications to treat their health problems. Some medications prescribed for children might include Ritalin, Tegretol, Adderol, Paxil, and so forth. The medical doctor prescribes the medication and is responsible for the dosage, the manner in which the medication is to be taken, as well as the number of times the medication should be taken per day. Sometimes, if the medical condition is not life-threatening, no medication is prescribed, but the condition is controlled through less drastic measures such as diet and exercise. The entire issue of drugs, dosages, and monitored use of the medication is something that is strictly between the parents, the child, and the licensed, practicing, medical physician.

Okay, here is how this relates to the responsibility of the school districts. If a child has a medical diagnosis of Autism, just as an example, and the parents present this information to the appropriate school personnel, then it is up to the school personnel to conduct a full complete Educational Evaluation in the area of “suspected disability.” This is not an Evaluation to confirm or overrule the medical physician’s diagnosis, this is to look at this child’s disability and to determine how much of this disability has an adverse effect on the child’s education. This medical diagnosis should be the determining factor in which assessments will be conducted and who will be responsible for the testing. Click here for Evaluation Procedures.

The student with a medical diagnosis of Autism, for example, should be evaluated at the very least in the areas of Expressive and Receptive Language, Social/Behavior Issues, and some sort of measurement of sensory dysfunction. Other evaluations would possibly include an Assistive Technology Assessment, IQ testing and Vision and Hearing Screenings. But the MAIN areas that autism affects are Language/Social/Sensory Functioning. “Adverse affect on education” would include not just academics - ABC’s and 123’s, - but every area of the educational environment, such as the hallways, recess, cafeteria, physical education in the gym, ability to functioning socially in a classroom, and so forth., so Assessments should also be geared to determine how the disability affects the child in non-academic areas as well as the academic areas.

The types of medications and the dosages should also be considered when determining the affect of the child’s disability on his/her education. Suppose a child has been prescribed the medications Seroquel, Paxil, and Depakote. The question the School District team that is assessing this child should be asking is “Will these medications have an adverse affect on this child’s education?” If you look this up in a commonly available book such as The PILL BOOK: The Illustrated Guide To The Most Prescribed Drugs In The United States , 8th ed. 1998, you will find the following information:

Possible side affects of Seroquel include: abdominal pain, weight gain, dry mouth, increased thirst, mouth sores, loss of urinary control. Possible side effects of Paxil include: headache, weakness, sleep disturbances, dizziness, tremors, nausea, excessive sweating, dry mouth, constipation, blurred vision, and weight gain. Possible side effects of Depakote include: sedation or sleepiness, weakness, rash, emotional upset, depression, psychosis, aggression, diarrhea, stomach cramps, constipation, headache, loss of eye muscle control, drooping eyelids, double vision, loss of muscle control or coordination, and tremors.

Now how many different ways will these medications which are used to help manage this student’s medical condition affect his/her education? Well, for one thing, this child’s teachers are complaining because this child is constantly asking to go to the bathroom and/or asking to go to the water fountain to get a drink of water. They are also complaining because the student is not getting enough sleep at night, because the student is often sleepy and tired during the day. This causes problems with everything from the student being out of the classroom so much that he or she is missing instruction time all the way to teachers taking the situation personally and accusing the child of being a sexual deviant.

Sometimes, the child’s medical condition has only a very slight affect on the child’s educational functioning. The child may not qualify “as a child with a disability” under the criteria established in IDEA Part C section 300.7. In this case, a “504 Plan” might be an appropriate level of supports and services for the student.

Sometimes the child’s medical condition may be very involved and may warrant a whole myriad of medical and educational supports and strategies just to be able to be in the classroom. There might need to be whole team of licensed nurses, therapists, behavior specialists, involved in the educational programming for this one student. IDEA is all about meeting the INDIVIDUAL needs of each student.

Please read through the many articles and books published by Reed Martin regarding this issue of appropriate evaluations and education.

Evaluations 101, Lesson 4

Evaluations = The Foundation of FAPE

When a builder begins to construct a new home, the first thing that has to be considered is the foundation of the home. It must be carefully considered, including the painstaking task of digging down to bedrock. That means that meticulous measurements must be made down to fractions of an inch for the lengths of each wall, angle measurements must be exacting, and there is very little room for errors in calculations. Once construction of the foundation walls are begun, they must be carefully measured to insure that each wall is plumb and absolutely level. The construction of the house foundation is one of the most meticulous and critical stages of home building. A shoddy foundation will result in a structurally weak house, and it will not withstand the environmental wear and tear that all houses endure over the years.

The Educational Evaluation can be thought of as the “foundation” for the Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for your child. According to IDEA, the reason for conducting an Educational Evaluation is to determine if a child meets the definition of a “child with a disability” under 300.7 and to determine the educational needs of a child. The educational evaluation will generate an Educational Label that can be found in IDEA Part C section 300.7.

The purpose of the Educational Label is to “determine the needs of the child.” This evaluation is the basis for the child’s Present Level of Performance. According to IDEA, Subpart C, section 300.346 - Development, Review, and Revision of IEP the IEP team is to consider the strengths of the child and concerns of the parents for enhancing the education of their child; the results of the initial or most recent evaluation of the child; and as appropriate, the results of the child’s performance on any general State or District-wide assessment programs.

So in plain English, whatever results that are obtained on the Educational Evaluation should be put into the student’s IEP. Whatever is written in the Educational Assessment Report of your child’s evaluation should wind up in summary form on your child’s IEP. From there, goals and objectives should be written to meet the specific identified and documented needs of your child. That is why it is so vitally important to have an accurate Educational Evaluation on which to base your child’s program on. If your child’s evaluation is shaky, the program upon which it is built will be shaky too. If your child’s evaluation is lacking assessments in key areas of evaluation, then it is inappropriate and the program which is based on it will also be inappropriate.

Okay, the lecture is over. Now the floor is open for constructive discussion and questions. Stay tuned for Lesson 6 - Independent Educational Evaluations…

Evaluations 101,Lesson 5 Assessment Instruments

Where can I find out what types of Evaluation Instruments are available for Appropriate use with my child?

Assessments Instruments for Various Disabilities:

Diagnostic and Assessment Instruments appropriate for use with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

K-3 Reading Assessments Prior Written Notice

Specific Documentation Requirements For Learning Disabilities (LD) and Cognitive Impairments

Various Assessment Instruments

Evaluations 101, Lesson 6

Independent Educational Evaluations

Let us review what we have talked about so far. First we talked about what an Educational Evaluation is and how parents and school districts are involved in that process. We talked about why Evaluations are mandated by the Federal Law and what the purpose of an Educational Evaluation is.

We have discussed what requirements school districts have to conduct evaluations and re-evaluations. In short, they are required to conduct a full complete evaluation before a student can become a part of any special education program, and they have to be evaluated every 36 months thereafter. This requirement also states that if the parents do not agree to have their child evaluated, the school district can request a due process hearing to initiate the evaluation themselves.

Then we talked about Medical Evaluations and Educational Evaluations and how those are different from one another and some ways they can be used together to help a student to receive a Free Appropriate Public Education. Educators as a general rule do not have the authority to make medical diagnosis. If an educator insists on being called “Doctor” and is attempting to make a medical diagnosis or to override a medical diagnosis, I would file a formal complaint to the American Medical Association that this educator is practicing medicine without a license.

Next, we discussed why it is so important for the Educational Evaluations to be conducted correctly in every area of suspected disability. The Educational Evaluation is the foundation for your child’s program for the next three years. If it is done correctly, your child will receive a much stronger educational program than if the IEP is based on a poorly conducted evaluation. Lesson 5 was simply a list of links to various Assessment Instruments that are used with children who have known or suspected disabilities.

Which brings us to today’s lesson - Independent Educational Evaluations. According to IDEA Subpart E section 300.500 an Evaluation means “procedures used in accordance with 300.530 - 300.536 to determine whether a child has a disability and the nature and extent of the special education and related services the child needs” The entire regulation can be found at

Now the definition of an Independent Educational Evaluation 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.” There are a couple of ways to interpret this regulation. One way is to say that anyone other than the school district that your child attends can conduct the IEE. Another interpretation of this clause is that since the State Department of Education is the ultimate agency responsible for the education of your child, then the IEE should be conducted by persons other than those employed by the State Department of Education. As I have said before, I am not an attorney, so questions regarding this particular issue should be addressed to someone other than myself.

Now, as I read this regulation further, and I am paraphrasing, it states that if a parent disagrees with the results of an evaluation obtained by the school district then the parents have the right to request an independent educational evaluation at public expense. The school district will have to pay for this Independent Educational Evaluation unless the school district is able to show in a hearing that their evaluation is appropriate. It would seem to me that it is far easier, and much less expensive for a school district to do their evaluations correctly than to go through a due process hearing and have to pay for an IEE.

As with most IDEA regulations though, there is a clause that protects the school districts, too. I would be remiss if I did not mention it. If the school is able to demonstrate that the evaluation obtained by the parent did not meet the school district’s criteria for an educational evaluation, then they do not have to pay for it. As an example, a parent can’t bring in a medical evaluation and try to use it as an educational evaluation.

Now a parent has the right to pay for their own independent educational evaluation. If they do this then the school district has to consider this evaluation, if it meets the school district’s criteria for an educational evaluation, in any decision made with respect to the provision of FAPE to the child; and it can be presented as evidence at a hearing (in order to be reimbursed for the costs of the IEE.)

In plain English, you can get an Independent Evaluation for your child if you think the one that your school district conducted stinks. You will probably have to pay for it yourself, and the school district is supposed to use it to write the IEP for your child. You can sometimes get your school district to pay for an IEE if you can show that they did not conduct the assessments correctly, did not use appropriately licensed and qualified personnel to conduct the assessments, or that the assessment was not conducted in all areas of “suspected disability.”

Medical evaluations can’t be used to replace educational evaluations. An educational evaluation needs to be conducted by a team of appropriately licensed and qualified people, in the areas of Physical Functioning, Communication Functioning, Cognitive Functioning, Academic Functioning, Social/Emotional Functioning, Vocational Functioning, and Recreation/Leisure Functioning.

Reed Martin has an excellent publication called the Special Education Legal Rights Notebook. Within that notebook is his manual “Getting An Evaluation That Changes the School’s Mind” and he explains the many pitfalls and traps that are involved in getting an IEE. I *HIGHLY* recommend this book and any other of Reed’s publications if you are having difficulty getting an Appropriate Educational Evaluation for your child.

May the Force Be With You!

Janet Lawrence, M.Ed.

Last Update: 9/16/01

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