After the Evaluation: Next Steps for Students and Families
No matter where a student is evaluated for learning issues, whether by their public school district or by an independent evaluator such as The Yellin Center, parents need to recognize that an evaluation is only the first step in providing a student with what they require to support their individual learning needs. The process will differ depending on what kind of school a child attends and, of course, each child is unique. But understanding the steps that come after an assessment can go a long way towards helping a child maximize the benefits of the assessment process.
Public vs. Private Evaluations
Public schools will only provide evaluations for students who are “suspected of having a disability.”* For students suspected of having a learning problem, they look at how a student performs on tests of academic abilities intended to determine whether a child meets the expectations for his or her grade/age. The examiner, usually a school psychologist, reports his or her findings to a Committee on Special Education (every district must have one) and the evaluation becomes the basis for the Committee on Special Education’s determination about whether a child is “in need of special education services”.*
If the Committee, generally called the CSE, determines that the student meets the criteria for a disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), it establishes an IEP, an Individual Educational Program, which sets forth the services the child will receive and the goals he or she should meet to make progress throughout the school year. Public school evaluations do not contain learning strategies or other tools to help students at home or in the classroom.
Students come to The Yellin Center for an Independent Educational Evaluation for a wide variety of reasons. Often, they will be sent to see us by their school, pediatrician, or another professional. Some students have had learning difficulties for many years, with multiple assessments and diagnoses. Others have done well in school in the past but are now struggling, and they and their parents (and, often, their school) want to understand why this is happening. Some families simply want to better understand how their child learns to maximize their success in school and beyond. Many families come to us after having an unsatisfactory evaluation through their public school district.
Public schools are required by the IDEA to consider Independent Educational Evaluations, but are not bound by their findings. On request, members of The Yellin Center staff participate in CSE meetings and have found that public schools are often grateful for our input and eager to use our learning strategies in the student’s classroom – but there is no legal mandate that they do so.
When students attend private schools, independent evaluators such as The Yellin Center can participate in school meetings with the student’s teachers and learning specialists to review findings and suggested recommendations resulting from the evaluation. In our experience, private schools are pleased to have this kind of input and, in fact, often have referred the family for evaluation in the first place.
Parents should be aware that just because a student has an IEP does not mean that he or she attends a public school – and, conversely, just because a student attends a private school does not mean that such student cannot have an IEP. All students “in need of special education services” are entitled to an IEP and some students in private or parochial schools can receive services in their private school under a plan called an IESP (which services are funded by the public school system). Other students may have been placed in a specialized private school by their CSE, which has determined that the private school is the appropriate setting for that particular student.
The Importance of Advocacy
Public school evaluators are employees of the school district and cannot be expected to advise parents about their options if they are unhappy with the evaluation or their child’s IEP. Independent evaluators have no such limitation on their role and need only consider what is best for the child.
When a student in a public school is not getting the services and support they need, even after our best efforts to explain our findings and recommendations to their school, it may be time to take additional steps to help such struggling student. When appropriate, we will suggest private schools that may be better able to support the student’s needs. We have an attorney on staff with extensive experience in this field of law and often help families understand the legal requirements, strategies, and steps to follow when they decide to enroll their child in a specialized private school with tuition paid by the public district, directly or via reimbursement.
For older students, where appropriate, we help craft requests for accommodations for SAT and ACT exams and for accommodations and modifications at college and professional schools. We also meet with families to identify colleges and gap programs that will be a good fit for a student’s learning needs. While public schools are required by the IDEA to assist students with IEPs with transition from high school, they are notably deficient in fulfilling this legal obligation.
Implementing Learning Strategies
An IEP is required to list goals for the student to meet during the course of the school year, but is usually silent about how those goals will be achieved. Independent evaluation reports should include extensive strategies to address each student’s challenges and to strengthen that student’s areas of strength to help him or her to improve their school performance.
As you can see, an evaluation is only the first step for a student who is struggling in school. Understanding the assessment, determining the best school setting for that student, advocating to protect that student’s rights under the law, and implementing effective strategies to address areas of concern are all important steps in helping individual students – and all take place after the assessment process.
*Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400
Photo: Tina Negus / Creative Commons