Tag Archives: requesting an evaluation

Can I refuse Special Education for my child?

17 Sep

You have the right to refuse to have your child be evaluated by the school district.  Before a child can be placed on an IEP, a district must evaluated the child to see if they have a qualifying disability.  The district must get your consent, in writing, before they can do this evaluation.  After this evaluation is done, if your child qualifies for special education services, you must again give your written consent for their initial placement in special education.  You have the right to refuse to place your child in special education for the first time.  You can withdraw your consent for an evaluation and initial placement before they begin.  You have a right to be present at each team meeting for your child and to take part in the decision making process.

Once you have given your consent for an evaluation and the initial placement in special education, you must be notified, in writing, when the school has made an important decision affecting your child’s education before that decision is put into place.  The written notice (officially called prior written notice) should include the decision made, why the decision was made, a description of other options considered and why they were refused, and a description of what information was used as the basis for this decision.

You should be aware that if you refuse an evaluation for your child the school district can override your decision by requesting a due process hearing.  At the hearing, an administrative law  judge will decide if your child needs an evaluation in order to get a free and appropriate public education (FAPE).    Every child is entitled to this under federal law.  If you still disagree with the court order to evaluate, you have the right to bring a civil suit against the school district.  The school district cannot, however, get a court order if you refuse initial placement in special education.  That decision is completely up to you.

My Child is Struggling in School….Do They have a Learning Disability?

4 Sep

Almost every child will struggle in school at some point.  We all have our strengths and weaknesses.  It is sometimes hard to know if your child’s struggling is within the “normal” range or if they have a learning disability (LD) and need special education.  In this post, I will attempt to clarify the difference between a child who is struggling, but does not have a learning disability, and a child who is struggling because they have a learning disability.  (Please note that all children are entitled to be evaluated to decide if they have a special educational need.  If you feel that your child may have special needs, you should trust your parent’s intuition and ask for an evaluation regardless of what any one person tells you.)

The Child Who Struggles (but does not have a LD) May:  

  • Progress at a slow, but steady pace.
  • Have a subject area that is weaker than others (example:  reads great/struggles with math).
  • Struggle with all subjects due to an organization problem or slight maturity gap.
  • Be working through a temporary social issue (example: argument with friends) or emotional difficulty (example: loss of a pet).
  • Get C’s on their report card. (I say C’s because it has been my experience that this is the grade that parent’s hate the most.  C’s are average and some of us just hate average.)
  • Avoid homework, resist help, and deny there is a problem.
  • Wish they got better grades or less homework or had more friends.
  • May get frustrated or disappointed and give up.
  • Respond well to some extra help, tutoring, or talking to a guidance counselor or social worker.

When given an academic achievement test, this child may fall in the low-average range in some or all academic areas.  It is my experience that students that score low-average usually do not qualify for special education.  However, there should be a way for this child to receive some extra help or tutoring at school.  Many schools have Title I (a free, federally funded program) or other academic help for students that need it.  You may have to ask for it, it’s sometimes not offered at will.  You and your child need to be willing to accept the extra help (even if it is before or after school).

The Child Who Struggles because they have an LD May:

  • Do all the things listed above (this is why it is so hard to guess if a child has a special need and evaluations are necessary). But also look for these signs:
  • Make no or little progress in all or certain academic areas.
  • Have organizational issues that stop progress from happening.
  • Have a large gap in maturity when compared to their peers.
  • Have persistent social and/or emotional difficulties.
  • Need more than just some extra help, tutoring, or a talk with a counselor.

When given an academic achievement test, this child may fall in the low range (sometimes called below average) in some or all academic areas. It is my experience that students that score low usually do qualify for special education.  I think a thorough evaluation will further test areas that a student scored low on to get a “second opinion.”  For example, if your child scores low in reading on an academic achievement test, another type of reading test may be done to confirm the first result.  Further testing may also provide the special education team with more information about the student.

How to Get Help for Your Child that Struggles at School

15 Aug

It is heart breaking to watch your child struggle with school-related issues.  It is frustrating when school officials are not responding to your pleas for help.  Here are some ideas to help you get the school on your team:

The saying the squeaky wheel gets the grease is never more truer than in a school system.  As a teacher, I have seen this 1st hand.  Last year, I worked with a student who had mild dyslexia, but with extra time she could complete grade level reading work.  Her mother swooped into the school the very first week of school and demanded services for her child.  She was aggressive and threatened the principal, who promptly gave in to her unreasonable demands.  I was tapped to give the services to this student that had never been qualified for special education.  This may seem like an extreme example of the squeaky wheel, but it happens a lot.  I am not suggesting that any parent use aggressive tactics to get help for their child.  In the end, this child was taken off my caseload because I was able to gather data (or proof) that she did not need my help.  This child also has a severe case of  under-achieving because she quickly gives up when something is difficult.  I believe this could be the result of her mother underestimating her abilities and giving her help with things she can do on her own.

Meanwhile, in the same classroom there was a student that was reading well-below grade level, who was not receiving any help.  He was very shy and silently struggled in the back of the room.  Once his teacher figured out his troubles, she talked to his parents about getting him tested.  They agreed that he was struggling, but the parents never wrote the note asking for testing.   It takes a lot longer for a teacher to get testing for a student than it does for a parent. The testing did not happen until spring, and his services are set to begin this September.  A whole year was lost for this child.

In order to get help for your child you may need to do a couple of things.  The first thing you may need to do is to reach out for help.  There are people at the school that are there specifically to help struggling students, but sometimes struggling students do not get help.  It may be that they are struggling in silence and using strategies (yes, sometimes cheating) to fool you and the teachers.  It could be that the classroom they are in is overrun with struggling students and the teacher can’t get to everyone.  Whatever the reason, if you know your child is struggling and not receiving help, you need to ask for it.  You should state exactly what problems you see in your child and ask for their help in correcting these problems.  If the teacher has done something that did not help, but in fact caused more difficulties, speak up about it.  Teachers use strategies that they have had success with in the past, but what works for one may not work for your child.  Also, comment on successful strategies you have seen used with your child.  Once a plan of action has been established, follow up on it.

Following up is the second thing you need to do when you are trying to get help for your struggling child.  Remember that sometimes progress is slow, but look for any signs of improvement.  Keep track of your child’s progress yourself, saving their papers is one way to do this.  Speak again with the teachers, asking them for any signs of progress.   Ask to see proof of the progress.  If the teacher has not held up her end of the action plan, find out why and report this to her supervisor.  If there is no progress, now it is time to refer your own child for testing.  I have posted on how to do this in the past, so I will not repeat it.  Getting involved in the special education process can be frustrating at times, so don’t give up.

Not give up is another thing you need to do to get the help you want for your child.  You would be surprised what perseverance can get you at a school. Research your child’s educational rights and your parental rights.  Get free advice (the Federation for Child with Special Needs offers free phone consultations with trained advocates).  Knowledge will be your biggest advantage to getting what your child needs.  Arm yourself to the hilt with it.

Signs Your Child May Have a Learning Disability

26 Jul

When their children begin to struggle in school, many parents worry that their child may have a learning disability (LD).  But most children struggle at some point in their education and most children do not have learning disabilities (it has been reported that only about 5% of students have a specific LD, such as dyslexia).  A specific learning disability is defined as a disorder in one or more of the psychological processes involved in understanding or using spoken or written language.  The disorder cannot be the result of a visual, hearing, or motor handicap, mental retardation, emotional disturbance, or an environmental disadvantage (such as poverty).  Children with a specific LDs are not cognitively impaired.  As a teacher, I often hear parents say, “I don’t understand why so and so is struggling, they’re so smart.”  My usually response is, ” You’re right, they are smart!”

So… how do you know if your child is just struggling or if they have a learning disability?  Special educators look for the student that is not achieving as expected in one or more of the following areas:  oral expression, written expression, basic reading skills, reading fluency skills, reading comprehension, listening comprehension, mathematical calculation, and mathematical problem solving.

Special educators will ask themselves many questions about a students that is suspected of having a specific learning disability as they observe them in a classroom setting.  While some students without a LD may have some of these characteristics, students with an LD will have many of these characteristics.  If you are concerned that your child may have a specific learning disability, here is what to ask yourself :

  • Are their language skills (oral, reading, listening, and writing skills) age appropriate?
  • Do they have difficulty regulating their speech?  [For example: Do they talk too loud or too soft? Do they use a lot of fillers (umm, you know, etc.)?]
  • Do they have trouble naming people or objects?
  • Do they often mispronounce words?
  • Do they have difficulty staying on topic?
  • Do they have difficulty re-telling what has just been said?
  • Do they or did they have difficulty rhyming?
  • Do they or did they have difficulty counting?
  • Do they avoid reading and  writing?
  • Do they or did they confuse similar-looking letters and numbers? or often reverse letters and numbers?
  • Do they or did they have difficulty associating letters and sounds and blending sounds into words?
  • Do they, while reading, guess at a word rather than sound it out?
  • Do they have illegible, or nearly illegible, hand writing?
  • Do they have difficulty understanding instructions or directions?
  • Do they find it almost impossible to organize a task or activity?
  • Do they have difficulty sustaining attention(or is easily distracted) in work and/or play?  and/or lack self-control at times?
  • Do they have difficulty ‘joining in’ with peers? and/or not respond appropriately to others?
  • Do they appear awkward or clumsy?  and/or have trouble with buttons, learning to tie, or holding a pencil?

If you notice many of these characteristics in your struggling child, you may want to ask that an educational evaluation (or core evaluation)  be done as soon as possible.  For more advice on how to request an evaluation, see my earlier post entitled:

Requesting an Educational Evaluation: How to Get the Right Evaluation for Your Child

Requesting an Educational Evaluation: How to Get the Right Evaluation for Your Child

11 Jul

If you decide that your child needs an educational evaluation, you will have to put a request in writing to your school.   The wording of your letter is important and can determine the quality of the evaluation your child gets. If your letter simply asks for an evaluation to be done, and does not specifically state your concerns, your child may receive a very basic evaluation that does not assess the specific areas you are concerned about.

I recommend you ask for as many assessments as you think your child needs in that letter.  The more extensive the evaluation is, the better chance that an accurate diagnosis will be made. A good evaluation should produce a very detailed picture of your child’s learning profile. It will state their strengths and weaknesses, and should compare them to other children their age. It should include formal assessments, such as a cognitive test (sometimes called IQ test) and an educational achievement test. The evaluation should also include some formal tests in the area of concerns for your child. So if you are concerned about your child’s reading ability, the school should have administered a formal reading test, in addition to the educational achievement test. The evaluation should also include some informal assessments, such as an interview with you and/or your child , an observation, and a collection of work samples.

In order to assure that this gets done, you need to send a letter that is very specific about your concerns and what you want areas you want assessed during the evaluation. Areas of possible concern could be reading, math, writing, spelling, phonological (letter sounds) processing, sensory processing, attention, behavior, emotional needs, speech, oral language, social skills, self  image/concept, motor skills, hearing, vision, and cognitive processing issues/memory (this not a complete list of possible issues that affect school-age children).

Here is some sample language that you can use in your letter requesting an evaluation:

  • This letter is a request for an educational evaluation to be done on my child__________.
  • I am requesting this evaluation to be done because I suspect that ________may have a specific learning disability in ______.
  • I am requesting this evaluation because ______ has failed to make academic progress and I suspect he/she may have a disability in the area of________.
  • Because of my suspicion that _______ may have disabilities in the areas of _______, I am requesting that as part of the evaluation,  _______ assessments be done. [Be specific here. Use the list above as a guide or research other possible disabilities.

An evaluation that is not very thorough will only include an educational achievement test and perhaps a few other informal assessments (such as a classroom observation). While some good information can be obtained through an achievement test, they usually do not pick up on specific learning disabilities because these tests look at a very broad range of academic areas. Also, the test results can be interpreted different ways by different people, depending on their experience level and directives from their superiors (meaning some school systems will deny services to children that score in the low range on achievement tests because of budget constraints). Also, your child may have other issues impacting their ability to achieve, such attention, sensory, or emotional issues.  Therefore, you want your child to have a range of assessments given to them so that no one test will be used to decide if they need special education services.

There are laws about the amount of time the school has to complete the testing once they receive your letter, so find out what that time line is in your state. Once the testing is complete, you should get a copy of the results a few days before the meeting with the school.  If you feel that your child did not receive a comprehensive evaluation from the school, you need to tell them right away verbally and in writing. The school will then have to discuss with you either doing further testing themselves or paying for an outside evaluation.

Good luck and remember to be specific about your concerns and what kinds of evaluations you want done.