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Special Education Evaluations and the Law

Selecting an independent evaluator is one of your most important decisions. Parents rarely succeed at due process hearings without the testimony of expert witnesses who are competent, experienced, and credible.

Here are a few rules of thumb to help you make that decision.

  • If the school system disputes your right to have an independent evaluation at their expense, don't wait until that dispute is resolved before you schedule your evaluation. In the long run, the question of who pays for the evaluation is much less important than getting the evaluation done.
  • Some school systems will give you a list of ""approved independent evaluators."" Your choice is not restricted to that list. Just be sure to choose an evaluator with the right license or other credentials.
  • Ask organizations involved with your child's type of disability, your pediatrician, other parents, advocates, parent organizations, and special education lawyers to find out which experts are well respected in the particular area of disability. It is important to find evaluators who can demonstrate objectivity and expertise in your child's disability. Evaluators with a reputation for being ""hired guns"" or for always recommending the same program will not be as effective in supporting their recommendations either at a team meeting or in a hearing.
  • Find out about an evaluator's willingness and availability to follow through on her recommendations. Will the expert observe your child's program? Attend a team meeting? Observe and evaluate alternative placements or services? Testify at a hearing (and cooperate with preparation for that hearing)? Often, the experts who work outside of hospital facilities are more available and willing to do these things.
  • If you are referred to a hospital facility, check out the particular group of evaluators within that facility. There can be great differences in approach, quality, and follow-through from one division to another.
  • An evaluator should be able not only to write a convincing report, but to ""sell"" the recommendations in that report. A good evaluator has ""people"" skills and can speak with school personnel without antagonizing them -- while sticking to her recommendations.
  • The best evaluators are in great demand. Be prepared to wait -- for an appointment for testing, for a written report, and for anything else you may need.


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