Independent Educational Evaluations

Check Your District’s Criteria!

By Amy Foster, Associate

Eichelbaum Wardell Hansen Powell & Mehl, P.C.

Did you know that every time your special education staff completes an evaluation for a special education student, the parent of that student can request the same evaluation be performed by an outside person, with the cost of that evaluation paid out of district funds?  The parent’s right to this request--called an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE)—is outlined in §300.502 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA.)  More and more parents are asking for IEEs, and the costs can have a big impact on special education budgets.

What does an IEE look like?  It’s defined in federal law as an evaluation conducted by a qualified examiner who is not employed by the public agency responsible for the education of the child in question and is paid for at public expense.  

If a parent makes a request for an IEE, the district must, without unnecessary delay, either begin the process of providing the IEE or file a special education due process hearing to defend the evaluation that the district did.  Historically, providing an IEE was far less expensive than filing a special education due process hearing, so districts usually granted requests for IEEs.  But now, parents are demanding IEEs that cost anywhere from $500-$7,000 depending on the scope of the evaluation.

The District can ask the parent why he/she is requesting an IEE but cannot require an explanation or unreasonably delay the process.  

A parent is entitled to only one IEE at public expense each time a district conducts an evaluation; however, because a district’s evaluation is comprehensive and addresses many areas, the IEE may have to address all of those areas (e.g., intellectual testing, psychological testing, speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy, behavior).  A district may, and should, develop IEE criteria setting out the manner in which the evaluation is obtained, including the location of where the evaluation is conducted, and the qualifications of the examiner.   Common elements of IEE criteria include establishing that a potential qualified evaluator hold similar credentials to school staff (such as being a Licensed Specialist in School Psychology, Educational Diagnostician, or Speech Language Pathologist), or that the evaluation itself should be conducted while the student is at the public school to ensure that the surroundings of the evaluation are in the same environment as the evaluation conducted by school staff.  

Reviewing the District’s IEE criteria on a regular basis should be part of the process that special education directors use in their regular updating and maintenance of department policies and procedures.  Older versions of IEE criteria may not address more recent changes to modern special education practice (including changes in the licensing criteria of evaluation staff) or may not address evaluations such as a Functional Behavioral Assessment or Assistive Technology evaluations (including establishing the criteria for qualified examiners for these types of evaluations).  Other types of evaluations, such as a speech and language evaluations, must be done by a Speech Language Pathologist with a valid license from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.  Functional Behavior Assessments, assistive technology evaluations, or transition evaluations have no state licensing requirements on the qualifications of who may conduct those evaluations, but a district’s IEE criteria could specify that qualified evaluators meet the same credentials as the district’s employees, such as requiring that the evaluator hold a valid special education teaching certificate.  

Another area of IEE criteria that should be regularly updated includes the determination of fee amounts.  Districts must be careful to not create criteria that could impede the ability of parents to choose from qualified professionals in the area, but may also set criteria that prevents payment of unreasonably excessive fees.  This is usually accomplished by limiting the amount to no more than 10% above the prevailing fees in the area or 20% of the Medicaid rate for similar evaluations.  It is worth surveying local evaluators to establish the going local rates in order to know the costs of the various types of IEEs.  A district does not want to be in a position of finding that the IEE criteria currently in place are no longer appropriate AFTER a parent has made a request for an IEE.  Regular review of written procedures, like IEE criteria, is important to ensure that your district is meeting legal requirements.  It also helps ensure that the fee for the IEE is both reasonable and that the evaluation meets minimum quality standards.  

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