The Independent Educational Evaluation: Leveling the Playing Field

One of the least utilized tools by parents is the independent educational evaluation (“IEE”). This article will explain how the IEE will help “level the playing field” between you and the school district, so that your child can obtain the services they need.

A good evaluation is critical to educational planning. A good evaluation will help explain the nature of the problem(s) your child may be experiencing, help identify your child's strengths and weaknesses, provide invaluable information about your child’s current needs, and offer guidance in choosing the services necessary to meet those needs. In short, a good special education evaluation is a critical tool in the Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) process.

Educational evaluations come in three forms: Initial, independent, and tri-annual. An initial evaluation is conducted by the school district and is free to the parent. For instance, when a school suspects a child is in need of special education, the school should conduct an evaluation to determine if the child is eligible for services. Similarly, the school district is obligated to conduct an evaluation every three years to determine the child’s ongoing needs. This evaluation is known as the tri-annual evaluation. These evaluations are conducted by school district personnel, such as a school psychologist and/or resource specialist.

An IEE, on the other hand, is conducted by a specialist who is not employed by the school district. The IEE is generally preferable to a school district evaluation because it is free from any program constraints or institutional biases. For example, if the school district's speech and language specialist has a large case load and limited hours on particular school site, she may be influenced by her time constraints in making recommendations regarding the number of speech language hours your child needs per week. Since the school district typically has sole control over your child’s evaluations, an IEE ensures that your child's evaluation is truly independent of program constraints or institutional biases. Thus, you can "level the playing field" with an IEE.

You have a right to an IEE at any time. This means you can pay for an independent specialist to evaluate your child at any time and the school district must consider the results of the IEE. Periodic IEEs can provide valuable information on your child’s progress and the success or failure of the IEP itself. An IEE can often target very specific concerns in greater detail.

Many parents ask me "will the school district pay for an IEE?" In limited situations, the school district is required to pay for the IEE. First, you should make a written request for an IEE at public expense and state that you disagree with the school district’s evaluation. The school district must respond to your request by agreeing to fund the IEE or by filing a due process complaint within a reasonable time to prove that its evaluation was appropriate or that your IEE was inappropriate.

If the school district fails to respond to your written request within a reasonable time, you may file for due process and seek payment, or reimbursement, for the IEE. If the school district files for due process and is unable to prove its evaluation was appropriate, or that your IEE was inappropriate, the school district is required to pay for the IEE. The only circumstance where the school district does not have to pay for the IEE is when you’ve made a written request and the school files for due process and proves that its assessment was appropriate or that your IEE was inappropriate.

I often advise parents to seek an IEE. The IEE is a critical tool in the IEP process and may be the missing piece of information your child needs in order to receive an appropriate education. Regardless of who funds the IEE, the results of an IEE must be considered by the IEP team in providing your child a free and appropriate public education.