Independent Evaluation: Myth vs. Fact

By Diane Willcutts, Education Advocate


Independent Educational Evaluations (IEEs) are assessments carried out by an evaluator who is not affiliated with your school district to determine the nature and scope of your child’s learning differences • In this article, our expert clarifies some of the most common misconceptions about IEEs in order to provide you with the information you need if you’re considering this option 

The first step in addressing learning differences is to have your child assessed. If you are not confident that the school-based evaluation has sufficiently identified your child’s strengths and deficits, you can request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE), at the school’s expense. The following guidelines are designed to help guide you through the IEE process.

MYTH: If the school district agrees to pay for an IEE, the parents must use an evaluator who is mutually acceptable to the family and the district.
FACT: Although it’s great when the district and parents jointly agree on the evaluator, this is not always possible and is certainly not required. According to the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), parents have the right to select any qualified evaluator they choose, whether this is one of the district’s preferred evaluators or not.

MYTH: If the District refuses to pay for an IEE, they don’t have to do anything else.
FACT: Just saying no and doing nothing is not a legal option for the district. Under the IDEA if a family requests an IEE, the District has one of two options—It can agree to pay for the IEE, or it can file for a due process hearing without unnecessary delay to show its own evaluation was appropriate.

MYTH: A parent has the right to an IEE when they think the IEP team needs a second opinion about the child’s needs.
FACT: Parents have a right to a district-funded IEE when the parent disagrees with the district’s evaluations, even if they only disagree with some aspects. For example, you might agree with parts of the evaluation, but you don’t agree that it is comprehensive enough. In that case, you do not agree with the evaluation and have the right to get an IEE. In general, you agree 100% with the evaluation, or you do not agree.

MYTH: If a parent requests an IEE, the district can refuse to say yes or no to the request until the parent provides a “valid” reason.
FACT: IDEA specifically states that parents are not required to provide a reason for their request for an IEE. The district is still required to agree to fund the IEE or to file for a hearing without unnecessary delay.

MYTH: A district does not have to provide an IEE in an area that the district has not previously assessed.
FACT: Districts may not refuse to fund an IEE simply because the district has not previously done the same type of evaluation. The parent has the right to request an IEE in an area not previously assessed by the district and does not need to allow the district to do further assessment in place of the IEE.

MYTH: Districts can set additional criteria for independent evaluators, beyond what they do for their own evaluators.
FACT: District criteria for IEEs must be the same as what is used for its own evaluations, provided this is consistent with a parent’s right to an IEE.

MYTH: The district can require that IEEs be conducted only by individuals who have experience working in school districts, those who do not have a history of testifying against school districts, or those who never advocate for particular instructional approaches for children.
FACT: OSEP notes that none of these are valid criteria, as they are not relevant to the evaluator’s ability to conduct the evaluation and undermine the parent’s ability to obtain an IEE.

MYTH: Districts are not permitted to make exceptions to their district criteria.
FACT: IDEA states that parents can request that the district make an exception to district criteria whenever needed. For example, districts are allowed to place geographic limitations on IEEs (e.g., requiring that the evaluator be within a 100-mile radius); however, it’s possible that a child has a rare disability that requires assessment by an evaluator who is located farther away.

MYTH: If the district agrees to fund an IEE, the district can limit the cost of the evaluation to the “average” fee charged by evaluators in the area.
FACT: Although districts can set cost criteria, OSEP states, “If a district does establish maximum allowable charges for specific tests, the maximum cannot simply be an average of the fees customarily charged in the area by professionals who are qualified to conduct the specific test. Rather, the maximum must be established so that it allows parents to choose from among the qualified professionals in the area and only eliminates unreasonably excessive fees.” Furthermore, it’s important to compare apples to apples. An evaluator who spends 12 hours on an assessment would likely charge more than an evaluator who spends 6 hours on an assessment. And districts cannot restrict the scope of the independent evaluation. Therefore, it may be helpful for parents to compare hourly rates of evaluators instead of flat fees.

MYTH: If the District believes that the parent-selected independent evaluator does not meet the district’s criteria, the district has no obligation to fund the evaluation or to file for a hearing.
FACT: If the district believes that the parent’s selected independent evaluator does not meet district criteria, the district must file for a hearing without unnecessary delay.

Requesting an IEE

When you communicate your request for an IEE to the school district in writing, be sure to include the following documentation from OSEP that supports your application:

  • Letter to Parker supports the right of parents to choose any qualified evaluator. 
  • Letter to Baus explains the parent’s rights to request an IEE in an area not previously assessed and does not need to allow the district further assessment in place of the IEE.
  • Letter to Petska establishes that districts may not prohibit the use of evaluators based on criteria unrelated to their ability to conduct an evaluation

Diane Willcutts is an Education Advocate with Education Advocacy, LLC, an organization that works with families of children with disabilities throughout Connecticut.

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