In various social media groups, I often read comments or posts from parents of kids who have had epilepsy surgery share concerns about their child’s school progress. Perhaps the child is not learning how to read or is years behind their classmates socially or academically.  

Some children may not be able to meet the same grade-level standards as their peers due to their disabilities. However … other students might struggle to keep up because they are getting the wrong type or not enough instruction to meet their needs. 

Either way, the IEP team needs to know what your child’s needs are, identify their strengths, and why the student is not making progress. Then the team can decide if they need to change the educational program.

Assessments are the most important part of the IEP process

Assessment data and results are how the IEP team figures out your child’s IEP goals. Once the team knows what goals your child needs to progress in school, the team can see which special education, supplementary aids and services, and related services your child needs to meet the goals. 

You can ask for an assessment in any area. The IEP team must address all of your child’s needs. 

The IEP must include academic and functional goals. The IEP also must help your child make progress in the general education program. So make sure that evaluations look at these skill areas.

  • The school district must evaluate at least every three years. 
  • The purpose of this “comprehensive evaluation” is to look at all areas of disability.
  • This helps determine if they continue to have a disability and their educational needs. 

As your child gets older, school district evaluations may lead to more eligibility categories on your child’s IEP. Don’t be afraid of new labels. They can be tools to help the IEP team know what your child needs to make progress in their education. 

What if your school tells you they want to end services or take away your child’s IEP? Then the school may need to evaluate first.

Assessment Checklist

  • Ask for assessments in writing

    • Your child may have many areas of need; see Step 2: Assessment for a list.
    • Our Assessment Spreadsheet lists tests for each area. 
    • Write a letter to your district special education director listing all of the assessments you feel you child needs. We have template letters here.
  • Request a neuropsychological evaluation

    • All children with brain-based disorders should have this assessment.
    • The school won’t have this specialist but they still must provide this evaluation, depending on the child’s needs.
    • If they say no, ask them to state that in writing using a prior written notice form.
  • Attach a letter from your child’s doctor

    • Ask your child’s neurologist or neurosurgeon to write a letter stating all the effects of their epilepsy or surgery.
    • This can help to support your requested assessments. 
    • We have example letters here.

Requirements

The law has specific requirements for how assessments must be done. You can read this portion of the law to help you decide if the school’s assessment was appropriate (see Sec. 300.304 – Evaluation procedures of the IDEA).

The assessment must:

  • use more than one tool or strategy to assess each area of need;
  • not use just one test or assessment; 
  • use researched and valid tools;
  • look at functional, developmental, and academic skills; 
  • include information from the parent/caregiver; 
  • explain how the child will make progress in regular school work; 
  • state if the student qualifies as a ‘child with a disability’ per IDEA;
  • determine their educational needs

Don’t be afraid to ask about the skills each assessor has to evaluate your child. What do they know about your child’s disabilities? 

Must include recommendations

The “summary of findings” which is at the end of each report should have recommendations. These should state what your child needs in these areas:

  • instruction type, amount, and setting
  • related services 
  • placement

The school should work with the student and family to choose the best tools and strategies to evaluate each child.

How do I know if the assessment was good enough?

  • Was the evaluation comprehensive?
  • Were the legal requirements for assessment followed? 
  • Do you agree with the findings?

Related service providers

Related service providers such as physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech therapists can help, too. 

  • They can do their own assessments. 
  • They can help make sure that your child’s accommodations are used correctly when other providers assess them (such as communication devices, visual aids, a quiet setting, or behavior strategies).

Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE)

If you disagree with the school district’s evaluation, you can request an independent educational evaluation (IEE) at the school district’s expense

  • If the assessment is not comprehensive, it is not valid. 
  • You may disagree with the conclusions or testing methods the evaluator used. 
  • Maybe the assessments were incomplete or wrong. 
  • This video from Your Special Education Rights does a great job of explaining this process.

CAUTION: Once you request an IEE, the school district has only two options:

  • FUND the independent assessments, or

  • FILE due process against YOU. 

If you ask for too many independent assessments, you may increase the chances of a due process filing against you to prove before an administrative hearing officer that the school’s assessments were sufficient.

If you ask for an independent evaluation, the school may provide you a list of independent evaluators. Know that you don’t have to choose from the school’s list; you can select the evaluator as long as they meet the same district requirements for evaluators. Ask for a copy of the district’s evaluator requirements in writing.  

If the school district provides an IEE they can see the evaluation results even if you disagree with them. Think about that before deciding if you want to ask for an IEE or pay for a private evaluation.

Private Assessments

If you can afford private assessments or insurance will cover them, you should have them done. It can be helpful to have outside evaluations to compare with the school district’s findings. 

  • The law requires that the school consider outside assessments (in fact, the school district is only required to consider their own assessments).
  • This means that the IEP team must review and discuss them, but it is not mandatory that the district accept the findings or recommendations. 
  • However, these reports can still help provide a complete picture of your child’s needs and could lead to new or updated school district evaluations in some cases.

If you cannot afford a private evaluation, here are some suggestions: 

Please take time to watch our webinars on the assessment process. Our new transition guide also has a section on assessments.

About the author

Audrey Vernick is the Director of Patient and Family Advocacy for The Brain Recovery Project. She is the parent of a child who had hemispherectomy for seizures caused by stroke. Ms. Vernick holds a level 2 certification in Special Education Advocacy Training from the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates and is certified by The ARC in future planning. She represents The Brain Recovery Project in the Rare Epilepsy Network‘s Adult Transition Taskforce and serves on the Youth Advisory Council for HOBSCOTCH (HOme Based Self-management and COgnitive Training CHanges lives), a behavioral program designed to address memory and attention problems for people who have epilepsy.