The PACER Center is a Minnesota training and information center funded by the U. S. Department of Education Office of Special Education (n.d., http://www.pacer.org/) writes an article for LD online explaining to lay people the evaluation process for special education. The article gives brief descriptions of measurement tools and the function of individual assessments. In addition, questions such as, “What questions should I consider when evaluation or reevaluation is proposed?” and” What if I disagree with the school’s evaluation? (p.5)” are discussed. To illustrate the points for reference made in the article, Evaluation: What does it mean for Your Child? (PACER Center, 2007) a fictitious family scenario will be developed in this paper.
Mr. and Mrs. Frank have a nine year old daughter, Mary, who is attending her neighborhood elementary school. She is going into the fourth grade in the fall. The Frank’s suspect Mary has a learning disability in reading. Mary has fallen behind her classmates in spelling and her reading level is at a 2.6 grade equivalency according to her teacher report. Mary has steadily dropped in her ability to read since the first grade. Furthermore, for the first time since Mary began school she has developed defiant behaviors. More that three times in the past month, Mary has been sent to the office for refusing to do her work. When the Frank’s questioned the teacher, they are told that Mary is not the only one a year behind, she just needs more practice and should come to homework club after school. The Frank’s suspect there is more to Mary’s difficulties than extra help can fix and fear the label Mary may have and should she be tested for special education. Mr. and Mrs. Frank turn to LD online for answers to their questions.
The first thing the Frank’s want to know is what evaluation is used for at school. To the Franks, Mary does not ‘look like’ a student they have seen in those ‘special classes’. Part of the fear is Mary being labeled and pulled out of her general education class. After reading the Pacer center article, the Franks learn that an evaluation is the process of determining whether a child has a disability and whether that disability affects his or her ability to learn. This process performed by school professionals may look at several areas of function including, “cognitive, academic, behavioral, physical, and other developmental factors” (p.1). The PACER center (2007) explains how evaluations are performed for a variety of reasons. The first step is to initially determine if Mary has a disability or is significantly delayed in one or more areas and needs special education or related services. Next testing will determine whether Mary is eligible for services. The criteria for this determination are defined by the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). Once Mary has been tested and found to qualify for special education services the Franks would be part of the team involved in forming the Individualized Education Program (IEP). This will be the plan school personnel will follow to help Mary achieve goals identified by the areas she qualified for via the testing process. Instructional strategies will be discussed and agreed upon by the team as well as reassessment dates. Mary may not qualify for special education services. However, the team believes Mary would benefit from extra support. The information from the evaluation process would be used to determine what accommodations or modification would help Mary succeed in school. The Franks are encouraged by this information and are beginning to understand the process of evaluation and are now interested in learning about what the tests or measurements Mary will be taking will look like.
The Franks learn from the PACENTER Center article information gathered by school personnel may include medical information, individual tests designed to discern Mary’s individual strengths and needs, curriculum based assessments or measurements, standardized tests, norm –references or criterion-references tests (p2, 3). Although the titles of the types of tests used seems confusing at first, the Franks understand by reading further that testing criteria is quite strict and there must be more that one test given to qualify a student for special education services. PACER Center states tests must be, “reliable…, valid,,,, must accurately reflect the child’s aptitude or achievement…and the materials must not discriminate against a child on racial or cultural basis” (p.3). In addition, May’s level of attentiveness, motivation anxiety and understanding or the directions may affect the score. Although the Frank’s are encouraged by learning about the types of tests and now understand the evaluations must be reliable and valid and fit Mary’s specific academic situation one concern remains. What about Mary’s refusals in class? Will relying on evaluation and the promise of remediation be enough? As the Franks continue on absorbing the material offered in the PACER Center commentary new assessments come to light. The first is the functional assessment which measures how the child actually functions at home, school and in the community. The Functional assessment evaluates reading, writing and math skills as well as independent life skills. The second functional assessment is the functional behavioral assessment (FBA). The FBA is used in the event a child demonstrates a behavior problem that cannot be changed by standard interventions or strategies. PACER Center cites the FBA includes:
a clear description of the problem behavior observations of the child at different times and in different settings. Observations should record (1) what was happening in the environment before the behavior occurred, (2) what the actual behavior was, and (3) what the student achieved as a result of the behavior and behavioral interventions to address the behavior and teach behavioral skills” (p.4).
The results of the evaluation are used for just as with a learning or physical disability, whether the child has a behavioral disability as defined under IDEA. The Franks do not feel Mary’s difficulties at this time warrant a FBA although the information may be useful should Mary’s number of refusals escalate or other behavioral issues surface.
Girded with increased confidence, Mr. and Mrs. Frank feel the time has come to ask the school to begin the process. Acquiring the knowledge they will be a part of the team of evaluators for Mary and with confidence knowing a copy of the entire evaluation report will be available to them prior to meeting with the team, the Franks move forward. Mr. Frank requests a copy of the report a week in advance of the scheduled eligibility meeting so that he and Mrs. Frank have ample time to read and understand the results and obtain answers to any questions that may arise.
Naturally the Franks maintain some anxiety over entering into this process with Mary. Mrs. Frank is curious about what tests will Mary be taking and how they relate to her specific difficulties in school. In addition, Mrs. Frank is curious about whether some of the evaluators will actually go into the classroom and observe Mary in that environment and if the evaluator has had experience evaluating other students like Mary. Furthermore, Mrs. Frank is concerned about the testing environment and wonders if Mary will be comfortable. Mr. Frank is concerned as to whether the tests given will be accurate and valid in determining just what Mary’s abilities are and what information will be shared at the upcoming meeting.
Many questions and unknowns are looming ahead of the Franks. Making the decision to have Mary evaluated has not been easy and as they continue with the PACER Center report a thorny patch emerges. What if Mary is tested, the meeting is held and the Franks do not agree with the testing or the assistance the school is proposing to assist Mary. In this case, the Franks learn the district must provide the Franks list of names of possible examiners qualified to do an independent educational evaluation (IEE) and must pay for the examination or initiate a due process hearing to prove the evaluation the district put fourth is adequate. Results from the IEE whether instituted by the IEE or the school team are to be considered by the IEP team when planning Mary’s program.
Mary’s parents have covered an expanse of material in an effort to ascertain the best way to get help for Mary in school. Understanding the process of evaluation has afforded a new way to look at the assistance schools can and are required to provide. Acquiring the skills and abilities to develop a relationship with school personnel by being able to speak the language of evaluation tools and preparing for the road ahead in special education is the first step for this family.