When there is reason to suspect a learning disability, the school district is required to do an evaluation to determine present levels of academic achievement and functional performance (PLAAFP). Many parents, eager to learn how to help their child, defer to the results of the district’s assessment as authoritative, and accept the findings. If, however, you disagree with the district’s findings and/or recommendations, or if you’re left with unanswered questions about your child’s needs, you have the right to request a private evaluation known as an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE). Following are answers to frequently asked questions about the IEE and the process to obtain one.
What is an IEE?
An IEE is defined by federal regulations as “an evaluation conducted by a qualified examiner who is not employed by the public agency [school district] responsible for the education of the child in question.”
Although parents may not realize they have the right to request an IEE, IDEA procedural safeguards require districts to inform them of this right prior to the IEP meeting.
As stated clearly in the IDEA, parents are a crucial member of any IEP team. One of the intentions of this federal law is to strengthen the role of parents in the special education decision-making process; IEEs do this by providing parents with additional authority at IEP meetings.
Who conducts an IEE?
The IEE Is conducted by an evaluator, independent from the school district, who meets the criteria used by the school district for its evaluations. In many instances, the school district will provide a list of independent evaluators, but you can also select an evaluator on your own as long as that person meets the district’s standards. Criteria may include location of the evaluator, qualifications, or cost. The IEE criteria cannot be so stringent that they limit your right to obtain an IEE at public expense.
When is an IEE appropriate?
You have the right to request an IEE when you disagree with an evaluation or part of an evaluation, including the recommendations, or because the district did not assess your child in a particular area of importance. IEEs may include evaluations of any skills related to your child’s educational needs or that impact her education. For example, IDEA covers IEEs of students’ sensory needs, which a typical school OT may not be able to perform or adaptive PE, which a school-based Phys Ed teacher may not be trained to perform.
Who initiates an IEE?
All parents of students who are eligible for special education services have the right to request an IEE. A school district may also request an IEE if it does not have adequate resources within the district to perform evaluations in suspected areas of disabilities. A collaborative school district may also offer to pursue an IEE when the parents are not satisfied with the original testing.
Who pays for an IEE?
According to federal regulations, if the parents disagree with the evaluation conducted by the school district, they have the right to request an IEE at public expense. When a parent requests an IEE, the district must respond without unnecessary delay and either ensure that the IEE will be provided at public expense, or initiate a due process hearing to prove that the school evaluation was appropriate. Parents may, at any time, whether or not they disagree with the district’s evaluation, opt to have an IEE performed at their own expense.
How much weight does an IEE hold?
While the findings of an IEE can be invaluable to your understanding of your child’s needs, the school district is not required to follow IEE recommendations, nor incorporate them into the IEP. However, the school district must consider the results of any evaluation when planning for your child’s education. The evaluation report may also be used as evidence in an impartial hearing. For these reasons, the IEE is a valuable tool that empowers parents and levels the playing field. You now have the findings of a comprehensive evaluation, and possibly expert testimony to bolster a case against the school district should it become necessary in securing your child’s educational program.
A parent of a fourth grade boy is distraught that her son is still struggling with reading. She refers him to the committee of special education and the district comes back with academic testing that places him in an overall average range, and cognitive testing shows that while he has some areas of weakness, he has an average IQ, and even high-average scores in some areas. The district presents the scores with confidence, praising the student for performing well and “making progress.” However, the parent sits with her child every evening, and observes firsthand his increasing frustration with reading and writing tasks. His writing resembles a kindergartener and his words are filled with letter reversals and omissions.
This child is a prime candidate for an IEE—specifically, a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation that will more closely examine how his brain works, and uncover why he is still struggling with basic literacy skills.
Lara Damashek is a parent advocate and the founder of Early Insight Advocacy. She has experience as a teacher, special education attorney, and parent of a child with an IEP.