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Don’t Let a School Talk You Out of a Request for an Evaluation for a Suspected Disability: Advice from a Special Education Advocate

school denies request for special education evaluation

Many times, schools and districts will use grades as the sole determinant of whether a student is suspected of having a disability under IDEA. They also find creative ways of discouraging parents from requesting an evaluation or talking them out of their initial request. You might hear; 

  • “We are already providing an intervention.” 

  • “Your child is getting all A’s and B's; they are doing fine.”

  • “We do not think your child has a disability; they can do the work they just chose not to.”

  • “We know what a disability looks like, and your child doesn’t have one." 

All without even having a meeting to discuss your request for an evaluation, even if you suspect a disability. 

The problem with statements like those is that they are fundamentally flawed. Predetermination is not allowed when there is a suspected disability, and equally as important, they dismiss your concerns about your child’s progress in school. When a school or district dismisses your concerns, they fail to acknowledge that you are the first and most important expert when it comes to your child and their needs. You might not be a formal “expert” in education, curriculum, special education, or learning, but you know when something is off or not working with/for your child. 

It's possible to witness the effects of schooling on your child at home. You might observe instances of outbursts, stress relief, anger, frustration, withdrawal, and anxiety from your child after a long day at school. However, schools might argue that your child has exceptional grades, and hence, they don't believe that your child has a learning disability. They might say, "Look at your child's grades." But what schools don't see is the whole student. The student who comes home feeling angry, exhausted, frustrated, and irritable because the effort they put into keeping up appearances and good grades is overwhelming. 

It's essential to pause and ask ourselves, What do grades mean? Grades should reflect a student's mastery of the subject matter. But, in reality, that's not always the case. Grades often reflect effort, completion of assignments, class participation, and sometimes a teacher's bias towards or against a student. They may also reflect a level of content mastery. In many cases, students with unidentified disabilities might resort to turning in all their work, participating in class, and being diligent in inflating their overall grades because they don't perform well on content assessments. Let’s be clear; grades are not a reflection of a person or their character, but rather a social construct that is used to compare each student as they progress through the education system.  

What is the connection between special education and advocacy? The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 300.101(c) states that a child may require special education even if they have not failed a course or grade and are progressing from one grade to the next. An unidentified disability is often the cause of maladaptive behavior and conflicts at home. An advocate can help ensure that the school takes your request for an evaluation seriously. While there are numerous resources and sample letters available to assist parents in requesting an evaluation for a suspected disability, they do not account for the subtleties of the process. At Sage EAC, we assist families in navigating this seemingly simple process to ensure that their child's learning needs are accurately identified through a comprehensive evaluation, how those needs impact their education, and their access to the general education curriculum through a comprehensive education plan (IDEA/504 or both). 

At Sage, we advise parents to:

  1. Keep all communication between themselves and the school, including teachers. If you have a phone call, follow up with an email summarizing what was discussed. 

  2. Listen to your intuition. If something doesn’t seem right about how your child is learning or not learning, reach out to the school. Document conversations with follow-up emails.  

  3. Use data!  

    1. For example, “My student spent 4 hours on homework last night and didn’t seem to understand anything they did. I know this because we asked some basic questions about the content, and they were lost.”

    2. “My student was not able to complete the assignment because they couldn’t read their own notes.”

    3. “This week, my student has come home crying three of the five days, saying that school is too hard.”

  4. If you request an evaluation, also request a meeting to discuss your request. Districts should have a process for this request. Each district may do it a little differently. Do not let them dismiss your concern with an email saying an evaluation is not necessary

  5. Ask for all data related to any intervention your child has had. You want pre and post data. You want numbers, not “they have gotten better” or “they have improved so much.”

Sometimes it feels like it’s you against the school. You need someone in your corner to help you understand the process, empower yourself, and advocate for your child’s needs. An experienced special education advocate can help you navigate the process and get your child what you know they need and deserve.


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