What are Independent Educational Evaluations?

Independent Educational Evaluation, image of teacher leaning down to show a student information.

When a parent disagrees with an assessment conducted by a school a parent can request an Independent Educational Evaluation (“IEE”). An IEE is an evaluation conducted by an independent assessor chosen by the parent and funded by the school. The purpose of an IEE is to ensure that a parent has access to an assessor who can evaluate the student and provide an expert opinion on the student’s educational needs in the event of a disagreement. The right to request an IEE does not guarantee that a school will grant the evaluation. A school can choose to fund the IEE or file a due process complaint to defend their assessment. If a judge determines the assessment was appropriate the school is not required to fund the IEE. A parent always has the right to fund their own independent evaluation of their child at their own expense. However, this article discusses how a parent may obtain an IEE at public expense.

A request should be made in writing, refer specifically to the assessments previously conducted by the school, and indicate that it is a request for an IEE at public expense. The law does not require that the request explain why the parent disagrees with the school’s evaluation. A school may ask the parent why they disagree with the school’s evaluation but may not require an answer before deciding whether to grant the IEE. A parent may ask for more than one IEE in the same request. For example, if a school conducted a triennial evaluation that included psycho-educational, speech and language, and occupational therapy assessments, a parent could request IEEs for one more of those assessments. The written request can be sent to the case manager or anyone on the IEP team.

Once a request is received, the school must fund the IEE or file a due process complaint to defend their assessment(s). Following a request, parents should receive a list of potential assessors (i.e., who and where to obtain an IEE from) and the IEE policies and procedures (the agency criteria). Parents should receive this information even before the school determines whether to fund the requested IEE(s). If the school agrees to fund the IEE, a parent should receive additional information on how to start the process. If the school files for due process to defend their assessment(s), a parent will receive notice of the complaint and information about the complaint process.

A school may not unreasonably delay in deciding whether to fund the requested IEE or file a complaint to defend their assessment(s). The law does not define a specific time frame for a school to respond to request for an IEE. Courts conduct a fact-specific inquiry that to determine whether any delay by the school is unreasonable. For example, a judge may consider the communications between parent and the school, the timing of the request in relation to school vacations, or whether the parent had to file a due process complaint to compel the IEE. If a judge finds a delay unreasonable, the school loses the right to defend their assessment.

When a school grants an IEE, the parent is responsible for ensuring the assessment is completed and considered by the IEP team. A school cannot impose timelines on obtaining the IEE and is not required to assist a parent beyond funding. A parent will have to find an assessor, participate in the assessment process, ensure the student attends testing appointments, and help coordinate school observations and an IEP meeting. A school may have unique requirements for contracting or paying for an IEE that can add time to the process. Telling the school the name of the proposed IEE assessor before starting the IEE and letting the school know about the progress of the IEE can help avoid potential problems.

A school can impose reasonable conditions on obtaining the IEE. The relevant agency criteria are usually included in the school’s IEE policies and procedures. It is important that a parent reads the policies and procedures to ensure that independent assessor meets these criteria. Two common criteria are the minimum level of qualification to conduct the specific type of IEE and a maximum cost cap. For example, if a parent is finding that assessors are quoting a price above the cost cap the school’s policies and procedures may include an exception for unique circumstances which would require the school’s approval to exceed the cost. However, the criteria must be “reasonable and consistent with a parent’s right to obtain the IEE”.

A parent can choose an independent assessor regardless of whether the assessor is on the school’s list of potential assessors. There is no requirement that a parent choose from the list of potential assessors provided by the school. Similarly, an assessor being listed as a potential assessor does not mean the assessor is not independent. Independent means the assessor is not employed by the school or educational agency that the school is part of. Assessors often have their name placed on the list simply by completing a form that indicates the types of assessments they provide, that they are independent, and meet the agency criteria. When a parent reaches out to a potential assessor they should ask if the potential assessor still meets the agency criteria, determine if they are a good fit, and find out about how long the IEE might take to start and complete.

It is important for parents to document and keep good records of their efforts to obtain an IEE. For example, when calling the assessors from the school’s list, a parent may want to document when and who they contacted, who no longer does assessments, how long the IEE will take to complete, or whether the potential assessors meet the agency criteria, such as the cost cap. This type of information may be necessary to help find solutions to unexpected problems like an insufficient cost cap or the lack of qualified assessors in the local area.

An IEE assessor should conduct a comprehensive educational evaluation and present the report at an IEP meeting for consideration. The school’s policies and procedures often explain the minimum requirements for an IEE, which typically include reviewing records, conducting testing, a school observation, the completion of a written report, and attendance at an IEP meeting. A school is required to consider the results of an IEE but is not obligated to rely on the assessor’s opinions. At an IEP meeting the IEE assessor can help explain the report and help answer questions about their findings and recommendations. An IEE may ultimately provide clarity to an IEP team regarding a need for certain services and support.

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This article was written by the attorneys at Brightside Law Group. Copyright 2023.

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