Knowing When You Should Request a Third Party Evaluation
During the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) creation process, it is not unusual for a parent to disagree with a recommendation from one or more of the school’s team members. If a compromise cannot be reached, there is a risk that this difference in opinion can lead to an IEP not being signed by one or both sides. Since the ultimate goal of the IEP is to ensure that your child receives the services they need to succeed, it is in your best interest to understand all of your options. However, before determining your best course of action, you need to understand the basis for the disagreement. The more effectively you can evaluate the situation objectively, the better you can advocate for services.
Why is the IEP Team Member Making this Recommendation?
While there can be exceptions, most educators and professionals have your child’s best interests in mind. If you do not agree with the recommendations of the professional it can be easy to assume that there are other factors that are impacting their recommendation such as budget constraints or personality conflicts. It is important to note the professionals assessing your child are making recommendations that they believe are appropriate based on their education and experience. As trained professionals they will work with you and the team to establish measurable goals that your child will be able to meet, and ideally throughout the course of treatment frequency of services will decrease and potentially even stop.
Another factor to consider is that the IEP team may be seeing different results than you see at home. It is not unusual for children to behave and perform differently in different environments. Your Occupational Therapist may be watching your child cut or write effectively at school while they refuse to even pick up a pair of scissors at home. After a long day at school, it is not uncommon for children to rebel against more work with the people they love and trust the most.
Why Do You Feel the Recommendation is Not Appropriate?
If it appears that the IEP team is not willing to compromise on their recommendation, it is in your best interest to examine exactly why you feel it is inaccurate. Many parents have to work hard to get their child onto an IEP, and it is completely natural to be nervous about giving up services. Make sure that you can clearly explain the areas that you feel your child needs assistance. If you can give examples that will only strengthen your case to the team, or at the least give them the opportunity to explain why they disagree. It’s important to relay your concerns as professionally as possible to prevent the team from becoming defensive. An effective IEP meeting is a collaborative process! You are an important part of this team and your opinions and insights matter.
Is it Time for Another Opinion?
Sometimes after all of this consideration and discussion, you still cannot come to an agreement. Unfortunately, at this point both sides are probably a bit frustrated and compromise has become unlikely. As the parent, you should not sign an IEP that you feel does not meet your child’s needs, so what do you do? If this is your first time going through this process, it can be intimidating to stand up to a team of teachers, administrators, and therapists. All too often, at this point a parent will either give in or seek legal counsel to protect their child’s rights.
There is third option. This is the perfect opportunity to request a third-party evaluation. A third-party evaluator should be an individual or organization that is not related to the school or parent. The school district is responsible for contracting and paying for the evaluation. This contracted individual will perform an unbiased evaluation and make a recommendation to the entire IEP team based on the findings of that assessment.
Will Your School District Agree?
Assuming the clinician and administration believe in the recommendation, it is actually beneficial for them to pursue a third-party evaluation. The role of the evaluator is not to take sides. As a parent, you should also be prepared for the possibility that the evaluator will agree with the recommendation in the IEP. At that point, you can feel comforted by the fact that your child is making progress towards their goals. On the other hand, if the evaluator does not agree with the recommendation, it will be harder for the school district to remain inflexible.
While there is a cost to pursuing a contracted evaluator, even that should not be a barrier to obtaining one. The cost of a one-time evaluation will be far lower than the time investment and cost of entering mediation or other legal dispute. Most school administrators will understand this and approve the evaluation rather than choosing to engage in a legal battle.
The Educator or Clinician may also value another opinion. Often teachers, doctors, and therapists are thought of as knowing everything, but this is not the case. More importantly, they realize this and the best will welcome an opportunity to have their assessment validated by an outsider. In addition, if the IEP team member is inexperienced, they may truly value the opinion of a more experienced professional. Particularly in smaller districts, it is not unusual for a therapist to be the only one in the district. If this is their first job, they may benefit from the mentorship that a third party evaluator would provide without feeling threatened.
In the end, an effective IEP team will have one goal in mind: To collaboratively develop a plan to ensure the child has all of the resources in place to maximize success. Like any effective team, disagreements will occur, but how those disagreements are resolved will be the difference between a positive and negative outcome. As a parent, it can be difficult to balance your role as advocate for your child with trusting and respecting the opinions of the professionals at the table. Sometimes getting an unbiased opinion can provide you the reassurance you need to accept a recommendation, or provide the support you need to be an even stronger advocate.