Online IEP Assessments
This issue has been coming up in the chat forums often. It started during the pandemic. During quarantine, it just wasn’t feasible to do in-person IEP assessments. So, many were done virtually.
Now, even though most schools are back to in-person learning, school districts are finding that doing these assessments virtually is cost-effective.
There are a lot of what-if scenarios for this. And, in some cases it’s going to be state or school district or discipline specific. Can IEP evaluations be done virtually? Should they? What if you want to wait, as the parent, and don’t want virtual IEP assessments?
Let’s dig in.
You can find more posts about IEP evaluations here:
- IEE Independent Education Evaluations
- IEP Re-Evaluations
- How to Request IEP Evaluations
- How to Understand your Child’s IEP Assessments
- IEE Independent Evaluations
- Can the school refuse to evaluate my child?
Are Online IEP Evaluations Allowed?
The first thing to do is you’re going to have to look at each discipline or related IEP service separately.
For example, ASHA is the organization that oversees Speech, Language and Hearing. They have come out with very specific guidance and recommendations around distance learning, providing tele-services and so on.
Some disciplines and related services lend themselves to doing online services and evaluations and others do not.
It can even change within a discipline.
For example: Some types of speech evaluations can be done virtually with success. However, some feeding evaluations (often done by SLPs) cannot.
An OT may need to be with your child to assess their fine motor skills. But OTs often do “sensory” programming and that assessment can likely be done verbally.
The takeaway here is this: A school cannot or should not give a blanket statement of “Yes we can/must do all the assessments online” or “No, we cannot do any IEP re-evaluations virtually.“”
Because there is not a once-size-fits-all answer. You’d have to read each protocol for each assessment, and whether or not that professional can do them online. Make sense?
State Guidelines on Distance Learning during Pandemic
Next, you’ll have to compare that to what your state has said in regards to covid, distance learning and evaluations. Pay particular attention to the timeframe surrounding that guidance, because much of it was put in place only for the pandemic and may not still be valid.
I have links to all 50 states and their Special Education Regulations in a separate post.
However, if a state or county is in a level that prohibits in-person contact, then you cannot demand it, regardless of IEP renewal date. Yes, the Department of Education has said no waivers, but to my knowledge, there hasn’t been a precedent setting case in this area yet.
If a state is allowing in-person contact, then yes, that overrides district policy. There was a case in NY regarding this.
Look at your Current Present Levels.
The Present Levels Section of the IEP is the most important section, in my professional opinion. So, it’s necessary to get it right. And, the PL is derived from evaluations.
This is not an area where I’d skimp or allow shortcuts.
Before you sign the permission to evaluate form, ask what specific assessments are going to be done. You can also ask for explanation on how that assessment differs from what was done in the past.
Ok, let’s review. This is what you’ve done so far.
- Read your child’s current Present Levels section. Make notes of what is relevant, what is no longer relevant and new areas of need that you want evaluated during re-evals.
- You’ve read your state’s regs as far as what is allowed in-person and what is not.
- You’ve compared that to each area (PT/OT etc.) and what those organizations are recommending for evaluations. Note: You can always just email your child’s provider(s) and ask “Are in person evals permitted right now?”
Virtual IEP Assessments
Personally, I would not ask a provider to either go against their employer or go against their national certifying body.
But, if a school district is refusing to do evaluations, and based on what you’ve read they are permitted, you’re going to have to ask for their refusal on a PWN.
What does IDEA say about Virtual Assessments?
None of this is defined in IDEA. The last reauthorization of IDEA was 2004 and the technology just wasn’t there yet.
In the past two decades, technology has increased at lightning speed. It would be unheard of to do any type of teaching or evaluating via the internet in the early 2000s. Now we do it all the time.
I would expect the next reauthorization of IDEA to address this. But for now, it isn’t. And to my knowledge, there is no case law supporting or preventing this.
If a parent demands either in-person or virtual, or if a school district is demanding a specific way to assess, neither is supported by IDEA or the laws.
The laws just say when IEP evaluations have to take place and the parents’ rights in the process.
Like many other things in the IEP process, we have to remind ourselves to choose our battles.
Are Virtual Evaluations as good as In-Person?
That depends. Depends on the child, the evaluator and the tool they are using. If their accrediting body has determined that it’s acceptable, then it’s acceptable.
In other words, if ASHA says you can do a virtual speech evaluation, and your SLP wants to do it virtually, you don’t have much ground to demand an in-person evaluation.
As always, if you disagree with the assessment, ask for an IEE.
And, I would expect that we are going to see a push toward this in the future, even after all this is behind us. I think this is going to be accepted practice, particularly for rural areas.
It’s new, it’s different. Change can be hard. I know it “feels” like in-person is better, but that may not always be the case. And, with limited resources, we should be supportive of anything that is going to allow schools to be more efficient. As long as it’s not to our kids’ detriment.
Parent Participation in Evaluations
Parents should take an active role in your child’s IEP evaluations and re-evaluations. Too often, they are directive. “This is when we are doing the evals.”
Do a letter to your IEP team. Make sure you note what has changed in your child since the last evaluation. Ask for unidentified concerns to be evaluated. They have to evaluate in every area of suspected disability, so if they do not suspect it, bring it to their attention.
My School has asked us to Postpone IEP Evaluations.
Due to kids being out of school for so long, and the obstacles in our way for returning, many schools are seeing a backlog of evaluations. Some schools are asking parents to delay their child’s evaluations simply because they do not have enough staff to get them done in a timely manner.
Whether or not you agree to that is up to you. You could ask for a no-meet addendum to the IEP if there are things you wish to change.
The Department of Education was very clear in their guidance of “No Waivers to IDEA during the pandemic.”
However, like much of special education, this will have to be decided by case law. There are always two sides to an argument. Keep in mind, not being able to staff something is not the same as the school saying no because they don’t agree it’s needed.
They agree these evaluations are warranted, they just don’t have the staff to get them done. How a hearing officer or administrative judge views this in Due Process will vary.
If you do not want to postpone the IEP evaluations and the school refuses to do them, you ‘re going to have to either use a PWN Prior Written Notice and file for Due Process. You can also try working with the team and find your own evaluator and ask the district to pay for it.
Ok, I think I’ve exhausted all the options for this topic. This post may be updated as situations change or as new questions develop. Good luck!