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Evaluation for a Learning Disability: Public or Private?

If you're considering having your child tested for a learning disability, you may wonder if it's better to pay for a private evaluation or ask your public schools to do it. This article can help you make that decision.

By GreatSchools Staff

Are you considering having your child tested to see if he has a learning disability (LD)? Are you wondering whether you should pay for the evaluation privately or ask the public schools to do it? What do you need to know to make the choice?

Why evaluate?

There are many reasons why kids are referred for evaluation, a process that includes review of the child's school record, observation, interviews, and testing. Public schools are obligated to evaluate for specific reasons. If you have other concerns, you'll want to consider a private evaluation.

If you suspect your child may have a learning disability and be in need of special education services, the public school must respond to you by making a determination, based on specific information, as to whether an evaluation is warranted. Here are signs to look for:

  • His teacher expresses concern about his progress
  • His group standardized test scores are low — below fifteenth percentile
  • His report cards grades are poor — some D's and F's
  • He's starting to have behavior problems at school
  • He complains daily about how hard school is
  • He isn't progressing or benefiting from his general education program
  • He regularly struggles with homework

Either a public school evaluation or a private evaluation should generate information that:

  • Helps you understand better how your child learns
  • Provides ideas to guide you or his tutor in supporting his learning
  • Helps you figure out whether he will be allowed to get extra time on college entrance exams
  • Helps improve his grades
  • Provides information about what he's actually been learning
  • Provides individualized testing results to a private school that is considering providing your child accommodations

IDEA requires that the public schools evaluate a child in all areas related to the suspected disability: health, vision, hearing, social and emotional status, general intelligence, academic performance, communicative status, and motor abilities. Parents are free to provide input on assessments/evaluations to be administered.

Who evaluates?

Public school personnel who conduct evaluations have credentials and specialized training. They follow federal special education law, which requires that the existence of a learning disability be determined by a group of professionals from different fields - a multidisciplinary team - who evaluate your child. When the evaluation is completed, another team (which may include several or all of the people involved in the evaluation team) meets to discuss the evaluation results, in order to decide whether your child is eligible for special education. The team that determines eligibility includes the parent and, at a minimum, includes a special education teacher, the child's general education teacher, and other professionals as appropriate, such as a school psychologist, reading teacher, speech-language pathologist, or educational therapist. In some cases, the evaluation team identifies a learning disability, but the eligibility team decides that the child does not require special education services to benefit from the general education program. This is based on federal law requiring that he receive a free, appropriate public education or FAPE.

Note: Informed parental consent is required by law for both an initial evaluation and a reevaluation conducted by the school; this consent is for evaluation only, not for the provision of special education services. Consent to provide initial special education services is requested of parents as a separate step.

Before you choose a private professional to conduct an evaluation, be sure to ask questions about the person's training and experience, as well as the cost. You may want to find out whether the cost of the evaluation is covered by your insurance. If your child is assessed by a private professional, most likely he'll be tested by one individual. If you engage the services of specialists from more than one field it will be your responsibility to bring them together, if necessary, to collaborate on any plan for your child.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

03/30/2010:
"My child was recently re-classified as MR and I reluctantly agreed, for not knowing any better, I feel biased and keep getting nagged on having her change schools by the school itself, im thinking that maybe its because its in their best interest? But right wrong or indifferent, I am now on a mission to make sure my child is on the right track. Anyone know of any private evaluators or where I can begin my search. Desperate Mom."
02/24/2010:
"This is a very well written article based on how the evaluation process is supposed to work. In my 20 years of experience in both public and private school settings, I have come to the determination that evaluations preformed by a Child Study Team (or other School-based entity) serve a different purpose than a evaluation by a private practitioner. In a nutshell, the school-based evaluation is directed at identifying if a student qualifies for special programing under IDEA. In contrast, a private evaluation is focused on identifying the individual strengths and weakness of the student and with making specific educational recommendations. It may sound like two sides of the same coin, however, the differences are vast when a parent is trying to establish how to help their child. School-based evaluations are inferior to private evaluations in identifying the specific needs of an individual."
04/20/2009:
"my son does not have a behavior problem but sleeps all the time. he mkes straight F's in school and i know he has ADD. What am i to do with him not progressing in school. "
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