It can be incredibly stressful and frustrating to see your student struggling in school. Where do you go for help? How do you get the assistance you know your child needs? You may have heard the terms 504 Plan and IEP but are unsure of the differences. The simplest way to get help for your child is to request an Special Education or Individualized Education Plan (IEP) assessment or evaluation. An IEP and special education services will allow your student to have support through IEP goals and services. But first you need an IEP evaluation. In this post, we will discuss what is IEP testing, how to request an IEP assessment and the IEP evaluation process.
How do I know my student may need an IEP assessment, IEP and special education services?
If your student is 1.5 years or more behind academically or is having significant struggles with behavior, not making friends, or frequently being sent home, it is likely your student may benefit from an IEP assessment, IEP and special education services.
Unlike a Section 504 plan which is typically for students who are at grade level but just need accommodations or minor supports in the general education classroom, an IEP entitles your student to special education and related services from credentialed special education providers.With an IEP, your student will have special education goals, such as reading fluency goals, which are important to determining the services your student needs. Understanding the differences between a 504 plan and an IEP may be helpful to you in deciding if your student needs a special education or IEP assessment.
What is IEP testing?
Under federal and state law, in order for a student to qualify for an IEP and special education services, the school must complete an IEP assessment. The school is required to look at all areas of suspected disability and to complete IEP testing in those areas in your student’s native language. One IEP assessment example is if you or the school suspect your student has dyslexia, Autism and a learning disability: the school must assess for all three areas, not just Autism..
During the assessment process, school professionals will typically look at IQ, processing ability and academic performance. They may also look at speech-language, social language, fine motor skills or sensory. Schools may not conduct an IEP evaluation without your consent.
How do I request an IEP assessment/evaluation?
The first step, and the most important, is to request a special education or IEP assessment in writing. This can be done via email, but you need to know to whom to send the email.
- For elementary students, send the email to the principal and your child’s teacher.
- For middle school and high school students, send the email to the assistant principal and counselor overseeing your student (this is typically the person assigned to oversee your student’s last name, or the “alpha” AP or counselor), as well as your student’s teacher.
The email just needs to be simple and direct:
As the parent/guardian of _____________________ (student name and date of birth), I am requesting a special education evaluation of my child in all areas of suspected disability. I have concerns in the areas of ________ (ie Autism, ADHD, reading disability, dyslexia, math, behavior, social skills, etc).
I understand the school has 60 days to assess my child once I sign consent to the assessment plan.
Make sure your name or “signature” is included in the email, including your phone number.
I’ve submitted a request for an IEP assessment/evaluation in writing, now what?
Depending on your state of residence, the school has a specified amount of time to respond to your request for an IEP assessment. As an example, in California and Arizona, the school has 15 days to respond to your request for special education or IEP evaluation. Other states may have longer or shorter timelines to respond to your request. The response should include a Prior Written Notice and, if the school is agreeing to the IEP evaluation, a special education assessment plan.
A Prior Written Notice (PWN) is a very intimidating looking document but it is meant to give you more information as to why the school is agreeing to or denying your request for an IEP assessment. The school is required to send it to you so it is not something that should be concerning. Do take the time to read it or consult with an advocate to assist you in understanding what it says.
If the school responds to your request for an IEP evaluation by telling you they want to schedule a Student Study Team meeting, or something similar, be wary. Some schools use this as an opportunity to gain more information to fine tune their IEP assessment plan, while others use it to delay assessing your student. It is a good idea to attend the meeting but remember that the school has to provide you with a PWN and let you know how to appeal their decision if they deny your request for an IEP evaluation.
What is the IEP evaluation process?
Once the school provides you with an IEP assessment plan and you provide your consent for the IEP evaluation, the school has 60 calendar days to complete the IEP assessment, excluding any school breaks of more than 5 days. Some states, such as Maine, may have shorter timeline requirements, but the maximum allowed by federal law is 60 calendar days.
During the IEP evaluation, your student will be pulled from his/her classes in order for school professionals to conduct the IEP assessments. The IEP assessment team may include any or all of the following assessors:
- School/district nurse
- School psychologist
- Speech language pathologist
- Education specialist
- Occupational therapist
- Adaptive PE specialist
- Physical therapist
- Vision itinerant specialist
- Orthopedic Impairment specialist
- Assistive technology specialist
Each assessor is responsible for giving your student tests in certain areas: a school psychologist will look at IQ, adaptive behavior and processing; whereas a speech language pathologist will look at articulation, voice quality, pragmatic (social) language, receptive and expressive language. Each IEP assessor is required to use more than one assessment tool (test) to evaluate your child. Your child should also be observed at least twice in their classroom setting, or even on the playground for elementary students.
You may be asked to complete rating scales about your student’s behavior, daily living skills or behavior at home. The nurse or school psychologist will ask for your student’s health history, including the mother’s pregnancy information and family history of learning disabilities or mental health concerns. While these may seem very personal, they are normal questions within the assessment process so the school team can obtain all the information to help them determine if your child qualifies for an IEP and special education services..
The IEP assessment team will also review your student’s records including, but not limited to, transcripts, grades, statewide test scores and discipline records.
What happens after the school completes the IEP assessment/evaluation?
Prior to the end of the IEP assessment timeline, in most states the IEP team must hold an initial IEP meeting to review the IEP evaluation results. We strongly recommend you notify the IEP team in writing at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting that you will be recording the initial IEP meeting. This way you can go back and listen to any portions of the meeting where you had questions or concerns; and, should a dispute arise, you will have a record of what happened during the meeting.
The IEP assessment team should create a Multidisciplinary Report (MDR) which will have all the IEP evaluation information gathered during the IEP assessment process: history, observations, testing observations and assessment results. A good report will also have the criteria for qualifying for the handicapping conditions considered during the IEP evaluation process; but, they cannot determine if your child qualifies for an IEP or special education services until they review the IEP assessments and have a team discussion. Remember: you are part of the IEP team!
The team will review their findings of the IEP evaluation through the MDR with you during the initial IEP meeting.
How does the school determine if my child qualifies for an IEP?
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has set guidelines for how a student qualifies for special education and related services and qualifies for an IEP for 13 handicapping areas. The school will look at the IEP evaluation results and, with your input, determine if your student meets any of the criteria for any of the areas of suspected disability.
There are three prongs to determining if a student qualifies for an IEP, special education and related services:
- Does the student have a disability? In other words, does your student meet criteria for one of the 13 handicapping conditions?
- Is there a significant negative impact on educational performance?
- As a result of the disability and its negative impact on educational performance, does the student require special education and/or related services?
If all three questions are answered yes, the student qualifies for an IEP. We go into more detail about the three prongs in a separate blog post.
If your student qualifies for an IEP and special education services, the IEP team will collaborate with you to develop an IEP which includes IEP goals and services to support your student.
What happens if I’m told my child doesn’t qualify for an IEP or special education services or I disagree with the IEP assessment results?
There could be many reasons your student doesn’t legitimately qualify for an IEP or special education services. Perhaps they need a 504 plan instead of an IEP. However, if you suspect the school is wrong, you should seek support from an educational advocate or seek a second opinion. At AdvocacySD, we work with families to help them understand the IEP evaluation results, as well as determine if the school was wrong in denying an IEP or special education services. We review the records and MDR, and even request copies of the IEP assessment test forms (protocols) used to determine your student’s IEP eligibility. If we agree that the school was in error in saying your student doesn’t qualify for an IEP or special education services, we will support you in correcting the situation. Contact our office today to schedule a complimentary 30 minute consultation to discuss your concerns.