When you’re concerned about the progress your child is (or isn’t) making in school, what do you do? Where can you turn to for help?
This audio podcast features an interview with parent Judith Halden, who offers her tips, guidance and perspective for parents who may be considering going outside of the public school system to have their child evaluated privately for learning disabilities. It’s not only a matter of cost—public school evaluations are free, private ones are not—there are a number of important factors and differences parents need to keep in mind.
The following is a transcription of the podcast, “A Parent’s Perspective Taking the Private Route for LD Evaluation (audio).”
This NCLD podcast focuses on the process of evaluation for learning disabilities using a private evaluator. Read about the conversation between Candace Cortiella and Judith Halden, a videographer and mother of a young adult with learning disabilities.
Judith, please start by telling us what parents should know about the LD evaluation process overall.
One of the most important things for parents to keep in mind is that there is no right or wrong way to go about the evaluation process. The key is not to wait. If you as a parent are concerned about the academic progress your child is making, you should begin taking steps that will help uncover the cause and, if necessary, allow interventions to begin.
Frequently, parents are advised to take a wait-and-see approach [and are told] that some children will catch on later than others. While this can be true, research has shown that it’s not often the case. And even if it is, investigating the learning difficulties early on can’t have a negative effect. Instead, it can provide a measure of relief for the parents instead of wondering what could be causing the problems.
So how does private testing differ from testing done by the local [public] school?
There are several important differences between private testing, which is testing that parents pay for, and having them tested by the [public] school, which is free. Probably most important is that parents can get an evaluation without the agreement or even the knowledge of the school. So if parents have had their request for evaluation declined by the school or delayed for some reason, they can obtain a private evaluation on their own.
Next, parents have complete control over who does the [private] testing and what [kind of] testing is done. This will definitely not be the case with testing done by the school. While schools should involve parents in the process of determining the components of an evaluation, parents don’t have control over all the aspects as you would if you were working with someone privately.
In addition, the people who do school evaluations will be school district employees or contractors who work for the school. Another big difference when the testing is done by a person hired privately is that the parents can decide whether or not to share the results with the school. This is probably one of the most important differences. By contrast, the results of school evaluations will become part of the student’s confidential school record.
So if a parent wants to go the private route for an evaluation, what are some important things they need to consider?
First and foremost is that private testing can be very expensive. A complete evaluation can cost hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dollars. Some insurance may cover an evaluation but parents should always check with their insurance companies about exactly what is covered.
Another possibility would be university clinics which sometimes perform child evaluations at little or no cost. So parents should definitely check on that, particularly if there is a university with a school of education nearby.
Where can a parent look to find a private evaluator for their child?<
I would start off asking your pediatrician for a referral for private evaluators. There are various professionals who do this type of testing. They could be psychologists, neuropsychologists, or educational diagnosticians.
Sometimes hospitals have child development centers which offer testing. Check with private schools in your area that specialize in learning disabilities. They almost always have people that they refer testing to.
The state’s Parent Center might also have information on private evaluators. Parents can locate their centers at www.parentcenternetwork.org. A good rule of thumb is to look for a referral that comes up more than once. Generally, that’s a good indicator that you’re talking about somebody of quality, but you as a parent always have to do the research.
So what can a private evaluation provide that a school evaluation might not?
A private evaluation can bring things to the table that maybe missed or not well enough covered in school testing. They often use a greater variety of measures – but more is not always better. As an example, a child who is bright, very successful in math but struggling in reading doesn’t need a comprehensive evaluation that does a deep dive into cognitive testing, personality measures, and in-depth math assessments.
Private evaluation testers often do a very detailed evaluation, which also means [it’s] expensive and it’s not often necessary with certain children. If parents do decide to release an outside evaluation to the school, it does become part of the school paperwork, no different than an evaluation that was done by (or contracted by) school personnel.
One important thing to consider is that certain of the measures used on these tests are time- limited in that they can’t be performed too often within a certain period of months or even a year because it invalidates the results.
So can parents get the school to pay for a private evaluation?
They can under certain circumstances. In general, the school will need to do its evaluation first and provide the results. Then under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), parents are entitled to an independent educational evaluation if they disagree with the results of the school evaluation. However, this type of evaluation has lots of strings attached and, in fact, isn’t the same thing as a private evaluation paid for by parents.
Parents should understand the specifics about independent educational evaluation before embarking on a private evaluation with the expectation that the school might pay for it.
What are some additional tips for parents thinking about getting a private evaluation?
Be sure to choose an evaluator who will address all of the issues that the school wants to see and will write a report that will work for the school process. You can check this out with the school before going to do this.
Make sure that the evaluator will spend time explaining the test results in ways that you can understand. You’re going to need this information to be an effective advocate at school meetings, with private tutors, and as you provide support at home.
Private evaluation can often be helpful after the child has been identified and services have begun because you can refer back to them if you’re not satisfied with the progress your child is making. The private evaluator can always go back and do testing in a particular area.
Great. Thank you for sharing this important information with us. Clearly parents should take time to learn about evaluations and understand these options very thoroughly.
This transcription was made possible by a grant from the American Legion Child Welfare Foundation.