When parents are concerned that their child isn’t making appropriate academic progress, what steps do they need to take and when?
This audio podcast features an interview with parent Judith Halden, who offers her tips, guidance and expertise about going through the LD evaluation process in the public school system. Learn why it’s important to take a proactive role in addressing your child’s learning struggles, what your legal rights are under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and which resources (and people!) may be especially helpful to you during the evaluation process.
The following is a transcription of the podcast, “A Parent’s Perspective—LD Evaluation in the Public Schools (audio).”
Judith, please tell us what a parent should know about the LD evaluation process overall. The first and most important thing for parents to keep in mind is that there really is no right or wrong way to go about the evaluation process. The key is not waiting. If a parent is concerned about the academic progress their child is making, they should absolutely begin taking steps that will help them uncover the cause and allow for interventions to begin.
Sometimes parents are advised to wait and see. I myself was advised that many years ago. The feeling is that children can catch on later. Some kids just developmentally do catch on later, but research has shown that’s rarely the case. And even if it is, investigating the learning difficulties early on can’t have any negative effects. Instead, it really provides a measure of relief for parents instead of wondering what could be causing the problems.
Do public schools have an obligation to evaluate students for possible learning disabilities? Yes, actually they do. It’s part of the public school obligation under the federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA has a provision called Child Find which obligates school districts to locate, identify, and evaluate all children who are suspected of having disabilities.
So does this mean that schools must do an evaluation if a parent makes a request for one? No, it doesn’t and that’s an important distinction to make. Parents have the right to make a request, and if they do, they should make it in writing. But schools can and do respond in different ways. For example, a school might want to attempt a series of academic interventions to improve the student’s performance before they proceed with an evaluation. There may be special classes or different kinds of tutoring that they can offer. In that case, parents should expect to be given detailed information on the intervention process and exactly how their child’s progress will be communicated and how it will be measured. Sometimes this approach may fall under what’s called Response to Intervention, or RTI.
The school might also simply take the position that it doesn’t see any reason for an evaluation. In other words, they don’t acknowledge the learning issues. If that’s the case, the school should provide the parent with a written explanation of why they are refusing the request for evaluation.
It’s important to keep all of these pieces, all the [documentation] of what the parent submits to the school and what they get in return. That way, as things progress, if it’s necessary, you have a paper trail of the information that’s already been put forward.
And what if the school recommends to the parent the need for an evaluation for their child? If the school recommends the evaluation, this indicates that they are trying to fulfill their obligation under IDEA. Before agreeing, parents should understand exactly why the school feels the child might have a learning disability. When and if they’re satisfied with the evidence, they would then need to provide written consent for an evaluation to proceed. In other words, the school can’t just say, “We’re going to evaluate your child.” The parent must be involved. And before giving your okay, understand exactly why the school feels as it does and what they’ve seen that indicates a learning issue.
I would also at this point recommend that parents contact the Parent Training and Information Center in their state. These centers can provide information on the evaluation process including important details that can vary from state to state, and that is one of the big pieces to consider. The parent center services are free and parents can find the center that they need by going to www.parentcenternetwork.org.
That sounds like a wonderful resource. It is.
So tell us the important aspects of evaluations done by the school that parents need to know about and understand. There are actually several aspects. First and very important is that the evaluation is done at no cost to the family if the school does it. A private evaluation is more than likely going to be very costly, so this is an important consideration. Parents should understand that the evaluations are usually performed at school, by school district personnel. They often include multiple people, someone who does the social history by meeting the parents and taking down pertinent information about the child’s early development. There might be several different professionals involved in the evaluation that parents will have to interact with, such as a psychologist, a special education teacher, a speech and language pathologist, and perhaps others (depending on what they areas of difficulty they’re noticing).
The specific areas that are going to be evaluated should be discussed with the parents. There are very detailed requirements for evaluations conducted by the school, and many are designed to ensure the students are given a comprehensive evaluation. Typically, the results of the evaluation will be used to determine if there is a need for special education, so parents should become familiar with the requirements and with exactly what the school proposes for its evaluation.
Another important aspect is that the testing must be completed within a prescribed period of time. This time limit varies by state so parents should check with their Parent Center for this information.
And lastly, parents should be given the results of the evaluation and, since the results can be full of jargon used in the world of educational and psychological testing, knowing this ahead of time will help.
I’ve heard parents express concern about testing records becoming part of the child’s school record. What are your feelings about that? These reports are not integrated into the child’s regular school record. In other words, people can’t just go in and look at the record. They are kept in a separate location and are not available to just anyone who opens the child’s attendance or guidance record. People without a legitimate interest in the information would need parental consent to access the records.
Another point that parents need to understand is that some of what might be included in these reports can seem too private to share, like family stressors such as divorce, a medically fragile parent, or an older sibling who is involved with drugs or has other legal issues, etc. These things are often captured and included in social history documents that are shared or reviewed with the committee making the recommendations for your child.
The point is not to exclude them from any report but rather to mention them if they are relevant to the child’s frustrations, and in ways that are not judgmental but rather help plan for the child’s success which is really what this is about.
So this process with the school probably involves a lot of meetings. Can a parent ask other people to attend these meetings with the school where decisions are going to be made about their child? Absolutely. And, in fact, it’s a very good idea because oftentimes it’s stressful to hear certain things about your children that maybe upsetting or frightening because you don’t know what they mean, and it’s very helpful to have another pair of ears with you.
It’s also helpful in that it provides the parent with support and helps eliminate the stress. Both parents should attend, if at all possible. In addition, other relatives can [accompany the parent], including aunts, uncles, and grandparents, particularly if these relatives are close to the child and involved with school performance. Some relatives routinely provide before- and after-school care. If they have first-hand information about the child, their presence could also be helpful to you.
In addition, parents can bring professionals to these meetings. This might include private tutors, private evaluators, and others who might be working with the child and have important information. It’s always a good idea to let the school know who you’ll be bringing to the meeting. The bottom line is that the parents should never feel intimidated, alone, outnumbered, or outsmarted at meetings with the school.
Once a parent has gone through the process of having a child evaluated and identified for special education, what can they do to help themselves and other parents? Stay in touch with the school district special education department and get to know the people and the range of services offered. You might learn something that’s new and available but that never came up in discussion.
Identify key personnel in the district. Get to know who you want to work with. Become known to the special education staff, not as someone seeking services but as someone they’re working with. Determine if there’s a special education PTA (SEPTA) or equivalent and find out how to join.
Network, network, network. It’s very important to meet other people whose children are also being served by special education in your district. It’s important to know who’s in the special education office and the people in your district who do serve children [with special needs] because all of them will provide source of not only support but information.
Thank you, Judith, for sharing this critically important information.
This transcription was made possible by a grant from the American Legion Child Welfare Foundation.