March 1, 2021
By Devon MacEachron, Ph.D.
School districts may conduct evaluations under certain mandated conditions. Although these evaluations are free of charge, there are potential drawbacks. Before your child can receive an evaluation, he typically must meet the following criteria:
- Be performing at a level below the average for his grade (the definition of “average” is above the 25th percentile);
- “Failed to respond” to general classroom instruction for an undefined period of time (Tier 1 in Response to Intervention);
- Failed to respond to a Tier II general intervention, which need not have been customized to his specific learning needs.
Thus a bright student whose verbal ability is at the 95th percentile but is reading at the 26th percentile may fail to qualify for testing as he is performing in the “average range” for his grade.
In addition, valuable time can be lost in waiting for “failure to respond” to general classroom instruction. Finally, a student with reading comprehension weaknesses may be grouped in Tier II with students being given instruction in phonological processing (which is not the intervention treatment for the student with reading comprehension difficulties).
Even if your child qualifies for a public school evaluation, due to time and cost constraints the evaluation is not likely to be as thorough as most independent assessments. School evaluations tend to focus on the child’s areas of weakness, not on developing a full profile of strengths and weaknesses. This gives you just one side of the picture—the bad news—and the disappointing feeling that your child is somehow lacking. When a school conducts an evaluation the findings become part of your child’s permanent school record. Labels may be given which can stick with your child throughout their academic career.
In my experience the recommendations in school evaluations are often limited to interventions that are readily available at the school the child attends. These are not necessarily the optimal recommendations to address the child’s learning needs. It is highly unlikely, for example, that a school evaluation would recommend a program that is available outside of the school as this would give the child’s parents just the information they need to argue that the school district should pay for private treatment.
In contrast, an independent, privately contracted psychoeducational assessment gives you the information you need to help your child realize his or her full potential. With this information in hand it is possible to work cooperatively with your child’s school to see what they are willing and able to provide, while supplementing what they can do outside of school.
Devon MacEachron is a psychologist who specializes in comprehensive psycho-educational assessments.