"Ask the Advocate" is our forum to bring you answers to questions that are timely and important to families of students with disabilities. I will ask Lorraine Hightower, Dyslexia Advocate & Consultant, your top questions and bring her answers to YOU!
Parents have one overriding fear about reevaluation. We hear it from our clients every day and see parents asking about this in online support groups. They want to know, “If my child is re-evaluated, can the school ‘take away’ their IEP?” We will address this question, but let’s start at the beginning…
What is re-evaluation for special education services?
If your child has an IEP (Individualized Education Program) you have already experienced an evaluation conducted by your school district. This initial evaluation was performed because someone (usually a parent or a teacher) expressed concerns about a child’s performance and requested that the child be evaluated to see if they would be eligible for special education services. That evaluation was then used to determine the child’s needs for specially designed instruction and an IEP was put into place.
Simply put, a reevaluation is another evaluation that takes place three years after a child has had an IEP put into place.
A major difference between the initial evaluation and a reevaluation is that school districts are required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to provide a comprehensive reevaluation of the student every three years. You may have also heard people refer to this as a Triennial Evaluation. Unlike the initial evaluation, no one needs to request a reevaluation, it should be done as a matter of course every three years during the implementation of an IEP.
Parents can expect to see the same testing conducted during a reevaluation as during the initial evaluation. Though school districts differ in exactly which assessments they provide, parents can expect to see a full psychological and educational evaluation completed. If your child had any special evaluations done such as Occupational Therapy or Speech and Language, parents should see those evaluations be given again as well. A reevaluation is a deep dive into all of your child’s needs.
Are re-evaluations only done every three years?
While IDEA requires that a student be reevaluated every three years, a student can be reevaluated prior to the three-year mark (but no more than once per year) if a parent or team member requests it. (Read the IDEA Regulation here.)
To understand why a parent or team might request a reevaluation it is important to understand the purpose of a reevaluation. School districts often tell parents the only reason to do a reevaluation is if they suspect a change in disability, but while that may be one reason to conduct a reevaluation, it certainly isn’t the ONLY reason.
The reasons to conduct a reevaluation are numerous:
1. Determine if the child continues to meet the criteria of “a child with a disability” according to IDEA.
When a student is found eligible for special education services, they are considered a “child with a disability” under one of the IDEA classifications. For example, children with dyslexia are often found eligible for special education under the classification Specific Learning Disability. A reevaluation will help determine if the child still meets the criteria for that classification, or if new needs have arisen and a new classification needs to be considered by the team.
2. Determine if the student continues to require specially designed instruction.
The goal of an IEP is to no longer NEED an IEP. In the very best-case scenario, the services and supports provided by the school have remediated a child to close their achievement gap and they no longer need special education services. During my tenure as an advocate, I have only seen a fully remediated child, who is ready to have an IEP removed, a handful of times. Although a school team may propose the removal of services, they must be able to provide substantial data to prove that the child no longer needs their IEP. Remember, parents are full members of the IEP team with input into every decision made at the IEP table.
3. Determine educational needs.
As an advocate, I would say that this is the most important reason to have a reevaluation conducted. Because data should drive instructional decision-making, it is important to have the crucial data that is gathered during a comprehensive evaluation at least every three years.
Reevaluations allow school teams to look at trend data (comparing results from the first evaluation to the reevaluations) to see what progress has been made and to determine what still needs to be done. More specifically it allows teams to:
Determine the effectiveness of the current services
Make changes to goals to address new or changing needs
Decide upon new or modified services and accommodations
For example, reevaluation for students with dyslexia is critical because teasing out deficits in phonological or orthographic processing can be key to determining appropriate instructional methods. It has been proven that students with dyslexia learn to read when provided with structured, explicit, multisensory instruction. It has also been proven that they will not make the progress necessary to close their achievement gaps if they are taught with a different approach. If, upon reevaluation, a child with dyslexia is found not to be making progress parents would want to ask the team to consider the effectiveness of the services that have been provided. They should also work with the team to ensure that their child receives structured literacy instruction in the future.
I believe in the importance of reevaluation to establish and maintain an appropriate educational program. In most cases, a reevaluation every three years, in addition to the consistent review of meaningful progress data, will provide the team with the information they need to make appropriate educational decisions for your child. However, if special circumstances or new needs arise, do not hesitate to communicate with your school team and request a reevaluation.
Can a school team decide not to conduct a reevaluation?
Yes- a school team can forgo a reevaluation if the parent agrees. The parent must be notified of a school team’s intention not to conduct the mandated reevaluation. That parent must also provide written consent to allow the district to withhold the testing.
If a parent is in disagreement with the school team and would like to have the reevaluation completed, IDEA requires that the school team reevaluate the child. The key thing to remember is not to sign any form that waives your child’s right to a reevaluation. Instead, express your desire for the reevaluation to be conducted “in order to determine educational needs.” I add that phrase in quotes because this is the phrase that I recommend parents use. It is the phrase that is used in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Section 300.305 and carries the weight of that regulation.
What are the benefits of having a re-evaluation done? Can school teams rely on performance data (report cards, standardized test scores, work samples, etc.) to make decisions about services instead of getting a re-evaluation?
There are four very real benefits to getting a reevaluation as opposed to using progress data alone to make decisions:
1. A full evaluation is more comprehensive.
It covers a wide range of areas and provides scores that can be compared to national averages and student norms giving school teams a very clear picture of where the child is performing in a variety of areas. A letter grade on a report card cannot be interpreted as clearly or provide the necessary information to show that a child is closing their personal achievement gap.
2. It provides trend data.
Since your child had a complete evaluation prior to the administration of special education services, you can look for a trend of progress, stagnation, or decline in your child’s area of need. While it is our recommendation that all children have a thorough progress monitoring plan that establishes meaningful trend data over every school year, the reality is that for the majority of children this isn’t happening. (We could write another whole blog about progress monitoring!) Therefore, at a minimum, this triennial evaluation will provide some progress monitoring and trend data for the team to consider.
3. You may find new information about your child’s unique needs.
It is common for children with one learning disability to have other conditions that may also affect their educational performance. These other conditions are called comorbidities. For example, many children with dyslexia also have ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder). In fact, research shows that as many as 30% of students with dyslexia also have ADHD. There is also a correlation between dyslexia and anxiety. A comprehensive reevaluation will allow you to find any new comorbidities that may have arisen since the initial evaluation.
4. Evaluations include recommendations for the team.
When an evaluation is done by a school district psychologist or educational diagnostician, they will prepare a report for the school team. This report should include recommendations for the school team based on the child’s scores. An evaluator may recommend specific accommodations or services that are proven to be effective for children with the areas of need that are shown in the evaluation. This can be very helpful for teams as they decide on appropriate special education services and supports for the child.
While progress data has its place in determining the needs and progress of a special education student, it cannot take the place of a full reevaluation.
Let’s get to that big re-evaluation question. If a child is re-evaluated, can a school district take away their IEP?
Technically, yes- it could happen. If upon reviewing the evaluation, the school district does not see underachievement or a need for the child to continue receiving specially designed instruction, they can propose the removal of services.
Propose is the keyword here because, as I mentioned earlier, parents are full members of the IEP team and their input must be considered in educational decision making. Parents also have consent options that vary from state to state. Additionally, there are procedural safeguards outlined in IDEA and in your state that you can follow. These safeguards have been put in place so that parents have recourse if they disagree with a school team’s decision.
We recommend that parents never give consent for the removal of services unless they are in full agreement. Instead, work creatively with your team to determine the best educational plan for your child. You may want to ask for more data to support the team’s proposal, request a Special Education Director or another supervisor in the district attend your child’s meeting, or follow those procedural safeguards mentioned above. You may also want to ask the team to consider modifications to the goals and services in your child’s IEP, without fully removing them.
Another option is working with the school team to consider creating a 504 Plan for your child. This plan can be appropriate if you agree that your child’s evaluation shows that they no longer need specially designed instruction. However, if your child still has a learning disability and requires accommodations to access the curriculum like their peers, a 504 Plan may be helpful. Please take a look at our blog “504 Plan or IEP: What is the Best Plan for Your Child’s Needs.” It dives into 504 Plans and IEPs to help you determine if a 504 Plan is the best next step for your child.
As we often say, all things in special education must be individualized~ including the decision to have your child reevaluated. However, in my experience, I have found that no matter what state the student resides in, the benefits of having a reevaluation outweigh any risks.
Do you have questions about your dyslexic child’s reevaluation or advocating to get an effective plan in place? Are you ready to see your child learn and thrive in school? If so, we can help! My advocacy practice has helped countless families transform the lives of their children, and create more peace and harmony at home.
While it isn’t always easy, it CAN happen, and we will support you every step of the way. Find out how we can help your family during a complimentary Discovery Call. I would love to talk with you about your child and how we might make a difference for them and your family!