Your Child’s Educational Rights, Part 3
After IEP and other meetings, summarize the main points in a letter to participants to establish a record of what was said. When appropriate—such as a letter requesting a change in services—include a brief history of your child's problems and an update of his progress. Always maintain a professional and courteous tone, but be firm about what you want.
Dawn Hayes of Laverne, Tennessee, knew that ADD was causing her daughter, Rachel, big trouble at school. "Rachel is easily distracted, and doesn't like participating in large group activities," says Hayes. "Her teacher would tell me, 'Rachel's the best reader in the class.' But Rachel was always getting sent home for bad behavior. Worst of all, when I visited the class, I could tell that Rachel's teacher had given up—she was just done with her."
When Hayes asked that her daughter be evaluated under IDEA, the school psychologist and vice principal demurred. Rachel was doing well academically, they said, so she didn't qualify for testing. Hayes enlisted the help of a local ADD parents' advocacy group, which helped her complete her written request and send it to the appropriate person in the school district. Three days later, she got a letter saying that Rachel had been accepted for testing.
Hayes is still waiting for an IEP to be drawn up. In the meantime, the school system has provided Rachel with a full-time classroom aide, and her behavior has improved dramatically.
"Rachel is really doing OK, after having been beaten down there for a while," says Hayes. "She looks forward to school every day, knowing that the aide will be there. She says, 'I'm going to see my friend today.'"
Once you've handed in a request for an evaluation under IDEA, the school has 60 days (calendar days in some states, business days in others) to complete all testing and devise an IEP for your child. What happens during these 60 days—and how well you prepare before the clock starts ticking—is critical to your child's academic future.
One thing to consider is who should conduct the psycho-educational testing. The results of these tests will determine what goes into your child's IEP. For this reason, many experts strongly recommend that parents hire their own psychologist to administer the tests rather than rely only on a psychologist provided by the school district (who may be inclined to interpret test results in a way that minimizes costs to the district).
"IDEA requires the school district to provide a 'free and appropriate public education,'" Luger explains. "People think the most important word is 'free,' but it's not. The most important word is 'appropriate.' That's why the testing is so important, because the test results determine what's appropriate for your child." Hiring a tester isn't cheap - it can cost $500 to $3,000, depending on where you live. But it often makes all the difference.
"I always like parents to get a private psycho-educational evaluation of their child by someone with expertise in ADD," says Wright. "For one thing, many school systems haven't updated the way they evaluate ADD and other disabilities. This way, you have your own set of data to present."
According to Wright, testing is typically done by a neuropsychologist, educational psychologist, or clinical psychologist. "Talk to other parents in your area, and find out who does good work," he says. "The private evaluation should explain clearly how your child's disability interferes with the learning process. I also want that evaluator to talk about what program will work best with your child, in his view and yours, and why."
Experts also recommend bringing an advocate along to the IEP meeting. This advocate could be the professional who conducted your child's neuro-psych testing, a professional educational advocate, a former special-ed teacher, or an educational attorney.
"The purpose of the advocate is to monitor and observe the process, and present the data in a more objective fashion," says Luger. "As a parent, it's hard to sit there and to present the data about your child and not get emotionally involved."
Your child's IEP is not set in stone. According to the law, it must be reviewed annually by the IEP team, and a new psycho-educational evaluation must be conducted every three years. (See "Reviewing the Road Map") In addition, says Luger, "You can ask for a meeting to review the IEP any time you think there's reason to, and you can ask for a new round of psych-ed testing."