Independent Educational Evaluations (IEE) 101

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Jun. 15, 2022Updated Jun. 15, 2022
You know your child best. If the school district performs an IEP assessment and you feel it doesn’t accurately reflect your child’s strengths and needs, an Independent Educational Evaluation, or IEE, can be beneficial. We spoke with neuropsychologist Dr. Karen Wilson and special education advocate and owner of KnowIEPs Dr. Sarah Pelangka (Ph D, BCBA-D) to get some insight on the value of IEEs and help walk you through the process of requesting one for your child.

What’s an IEE and when can a family request one?

An IEE is a comprehensive assessment conducted by a qualified clinician who is not associated with the school district. An IEE can determine why your child isn’t progressing as expected on their IEP goals and/or pinpoint specific areas where they need support — even (or especially) when the district has not been successful at doing so. Dr. Wilson explains why parents may consider requesting an IEE in this clip:

As a parent, you have the right to request an IEE anytime you are in disagreement with the district’s assessment (so long as it is within the two-year statute of limitations). Dr. Pelangka explains, “Parents have the right to request an IEE any time the district has completed an assessment and parents are in disagreement. [For example,] if they don’t believe it was thorough enough, they believe the results are invalid, or they believe the district failed to assess in all areas of need.”

The right to request an independent assessment applies to any area of assessment, not just psychoeducational evaluations. You can seek an independent assessment if you disagree with the district’s more specialized evaluations in areas such as assistive technology, speech, occupational or physical therapy, and functional behavioral assessments. (Just remember that if the assessment you disagree with is more than a year old, it is likely the district will offer to retest your child themselves prior to funding an IEE.) In sum, you can request an independent assessment anytime you are in disagreement with the district’s completed assessment and/or if you believe the district failed to assess in a suspected area of need.

Who conducts IEEs?

What kinds of tests are typically done in an IEE?

Unlike the IEP assessments conducted by school psychologists, which primarily focus on academic skills such as reading, writing, and math, Dr. Wilson explains that the scope of an IEE will be much broader. While a neuropsychologist may look at academic skills, they are also going to look at the processing issues that interfere with learning.

Dr. Wilson explains that if a child is struggling to understand written directions, this could point to a receptive language issue, for example, or an attention or impulsivity issue, or it could signal a decoding problem with reading. Neuropsychologists also look at executive functioning, which Dr. Wilson says is often not assessed by the school district but can significantly impact a child's ability to regulate their emotions, form social relationships, and do well in school.

She adds, “Oftentimes, a school-based assessment will not test learning and memory. So if kids are saying, ‘Well, I forgot,’ and parents are saying ‘My child is forgetful,’ I want to know: is that a memory problem, where the kid is having trouble encoding information into their memory, or is it that the information is in there, but they can’t retrieve it? Those are different processes. Or is it that they didn’t pay attention in the first place, and therefore it looks like they forgot, but it's really an attention problem? That's important because depending on what it is that's causing the forgetfulness, they may need a different approach in terms of support.”

Teasing apart the why, in other words, is essential to understanding both the reason a kid is struggling with something and the best way to help them move forward. As she explains in the following clip, “As clinicians, we are not going in to prove that a child should have special education services. We're going in with the intention of trying to understand why this child is struggling, why the parents feel that there's something else going on that the school missed, and then coming up with a plan for how to support that child.”

What kinds of things can a parent expect to learn from an IEE?

If a student isn’t responding to the interventions in their IEP, it might be because they’re having additional issues the district missed in their initial evaluation. An IEE can help families identify and address those issues.

According to Dr. Wilson, co-occurring issues are common, especially in kids with dyslexia. She says, “There is some research showing that one in three kids who meet criteria for one disorder have another disorder. It also depends on the disorder — with dyslexia, there's a 50 percent chance that they also have an attention issue. When parents or educators are going in thinking that it might be one thing, and you only look for that one thing, there’s a significant chance you’re going to miss something.”

A comprehensive evaluation will also look at social-emotional issues that can impact kids’ learning but are often not addressed in their IEP. For example, Dr. Wilson says, “Sometimes, kids who have anxiety also struggle to pay attention because they’re worried, so what may look like an attention issue may actually be anxiety. Anxiety and attention issues are going to have completely different interventions, so you want to make sure you’re not missing that piece.”

And when it comes to anxiety and depression, she says, “sometimes that can manifest as attention problems and forgetfulness. Oftentimes there’s this hyper focus on the academics, but some kids are at grade level, or slightly below grade level, and they’re not fine. They’re the kids who will do the work, but educators don’t see the two hours that kids spent to get that work done when the homework should have taken fifteen or twenty minutes.”

Should kids who went through a comprehensive evaluation when they received a diagnosis in elementary school get retested in middle or high school?

It depends on the child and their parents’ concerns. Because adolescence leads to a lot of changes in childrens’ lives and development, it can sometimes be a good idea to retest students in middle or high school. Dr. Wilson says, “Often when there's a milestone, like transitioning to middle school or high school, then there might be a need. If there's a non-response to an intervention, that may be another reason to take another look at what's happening to see if there's something that was missed, particularly if the first assessment wasn't a full, comprehensive evaluation.”

In sum, there are a lot of things going on with adolescence. Not only are teenagers dealing with an increased demand for executive functioning, but they’re also at greater risk for mental health issues, which can impact their learning process. Dr. Wilson breaks it down for us in this clip:

How do you request an IEE?

The first step is to submit a written letter to the district stating that you disagree with the district’s assessment of your child and are seeking an independent assessment. Although neither California nor the IDEA provides a specific time period within which the district must respond, they should reply without unnecessary delay.

Here’s a sample letter showing how to request an IEE. Keep in mind that it’s best to be brief and to the point; you do not need to explain why you’re requesting the assessment. Once you request it, the district has two choices: it can either 1) fund the independent assessment or 2) file a due process complaint to defend their assessment and show that it was appropriate. If the district chooses to move to due process, they have the burden of proving that their assessment was sufficient.

If the district approves an IEE, it will work with you on the logistics for obtaining one. This includes providing information about the applicable criteria and a list of qualified assessors in your area. You are not required to choose an assessor from the district’s list, but you do have to make sure that the assessor you choose meets the same qualifications the district is required to meet for the assessment. Once you choose your assessor, the district will establish a contract with the assessor and their evaluation can begin.

What questions should I ask a potential evaluator to make sure they’re a good fit to assess my child?

Dr. Wilson recommends that families ask the following questions when deciding whether a particular clinician is right for their child:

  • What is your area of expertise? Do you see kids in your practice who are similar to my child?
  • What is your approach? What does an assessment with you look like? Do you interview parents and teachers so that you have the context to better understand my child’s rating forms?
  • What is the scope of your assessment?
  • What can I expect from you at the end of the process, and what does the end product look like?

Dr. Pelangka recommends that parents also ask:

  • Will you be able to observe my child in their academic setting?
  • Will you be attending the IEP meeting to review your results and provide input to the IEP?
  • Are you willing to testify in a Due Process hearing if necessary to support your evaluation results?

Dr. Wilson adds that the post-evaluation process is essential to helping families interpret the results of the IEE. Not only should families get a written report from their evaluator, but they should also meet to go over the findings. When Dr. Wilson meets with families, she also makes recommendations about how the school can best support students and how parents can support their kids at home. She says, “We’re going to talk about not only what the areas of struggle are but also the areas of strength because we want kids to be able to utilize those strengths to support areas of weakness.”

What if I want a less common evaluation and the district won’t fund it?

What happens after an IEE is complete?

After the IEE has been submitted to the district, the IEP team will meet to discuss the results. The assessor you chose should attend the meeting to explain their findings and answer questions. The IEP team will then discuss how best to incorporate their recommendations into the child’s IEP.

If you agree with most but not all of the IEP team’s decisions about how to implement the assessor’s recommendations, you can sign the IEP and note that your consent is only partial. This way, the portions of the IEP you agree with can be implemented, and you can work to resolve the area(s) of dispute through further conversation with the IEP team. Read more about what to do when you disagree with your IEP in our article, How to Review Your IEP Before Signing.

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