It might seem obvious that assessments used in an evaluation should not be skewed by irrelevant factors or administered incorrectly.1 Using assessments incorrectly creates a misleading impression of a student’s current level of performance and needs, which can lead to an ineffective special education plan. Yet some school districts do use assessments in obviously incorrect ways. Fortunately, statutes and regulations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) prohibit many improper assessment procedures.
An assessment can be misleading if the student does not understand the assessment. Thus, a student who is not a proficient speaker of English should not be evaluated by English-language assessments. Likewise, an assessment that relies on verbal responses is not appropriate for children who are nonverbal or semi-verbal.2
Even if an assessment is not inherently misleading, the assessment is not useful if it is not performed correctly. Most formal assessments were created by high-level experts in the field and have significant research describing the circumstances in which the results are valid. For that reason, designers and publishers of the assessments have fairly specific rules for how to administer the assessment and how to interpret the results. The IDEA requires that the person administering the assessment must follow the instructions of the designers and publishers of the assessment.3 Sometimes, the designer or publisher of an assessment lists required methodological background needed to be qualified to administer the assessment (like how an MD is generally required to formally diagnose a particular infection). Thus, the IDEA requires that the person administering the assessment for the school district be “trained and knowledgeable personnel.”4 It can be very useful to link the requirement that the assessor by knowledgeable with membership of the IEP team. Although a parent cannot generally pick particular members of the IEP team, there must be a member “who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results.”5
There are two basic ways to prevent these problems with the assessment from adversely affecting your child. First, you can be explicit about the qualifications of the required team member. The person who describes the instructional implications of an assessment can be a valuable ally in using those results to create a useful special education plan. By asking that person open-ended questions about the educational implications of assessment results, you can make sure that the data collected during the evaluation is valid and used productively to provide educational benefit to your child. If the person with the most expertise on the assessments thinks something is necessary or likely to make the plan more successful, other team members are unlikely to disagree.
Second, you can try to proactively control what assessments are used during the evaluation. For example, some advocates recommend trying to prevent the IQ test being given to children who are autistic. An autistic child’s skill deficits can distort the IQ test scores to understate the cognitive ability of the child. The distorted test results can create a misleading impression, causing teachers to inadvertently underestimate the student’s capability. Keep in mind that close parental control of the contents of an evaluation is very difficult to accomplish. Because this is a very difficult and confrontational course of action, it should be approached carefully with close assistance from a legal and / or medical expert.
1 Remember, an evaluation is a legal term and an assessment is a medical term. One evaluation is made of many assessments.
2 34 C.F.R. § 300.304(c)(1)(ii).
3 20 U.S.C. § 1414(b)(3)(A)(v).
4 20 U.S.C. § 1414(b)(3)(A)(iv).
5 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(B)(v).
What to Do While Waiting for an Assessment (Autism Speaks blog)
Letter to the Editor: “Dyslexia and the Poor” (New York Times)
I will be speaking at the Reach Enrichment Center’s monthly meeting on Saturday, August 3 at 10:00 am.
Additionally, I will be speaking at the SPECTRUM parent support group monthly meeting on Thursday, October 3 at 6:30 pm.
Have your own event for children with special needs? Submit it here for inclusion in future events lists.