How often do kids need to be reevaluated for special education? What are schools looking for when they assess students who already have an IEP? This episode of Understood Explains covers the basics and key details, like why this process is extra important for high-schoolers who may want to go to college.
Host Dr. Andy Kahn is a psychologist who has spent nearly 20 years evaluating kids for public and private schools. His first guest on this episode is special education teacher Kate Garcia. They’ll explain:
What reevaluations look like
How often they happen and why
What to expect after a reevaluation
Andy’s second guest, Amanda Morin, will share tips to help kids and families get ready for a reevaluation. Worried that the school might cut your child’s services? Get advice on how to avoid passing those feelings on to your child.
Haizel: Hi, my name is Haizel. I'm in the Bronx, New York. I've had multiple kids that have had an IEP and my focus today is on Sayeira, who still has an IEP as a junior in high school. Sayeira has been evaluated or reevaluated by the school district several times. And I believe that at least twice was at my request. Even though she's expected to be reevaluated every three years, I did use my parental rights to have her evaluated sooner than that because I felt that one, her needs were not being met. And two, I just felt like something was missing. So I believe in total since she started in kindergarten, she has been reevaluated five times within the school district and once externally.
Andy: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "Understood Explains." You're listening to Season 1, where we explain evaluations for special education. Over 10 episodes, we cover the ins and outs of the process that school districts use to evaluate children for special education services. My name is Andy Kahn, and I'm a licensed psychologist and an in-house expert at Understood.org. I've spent nearly 20 years evaluating kids for both public and private schools. I'll be your host.
Today's episode is all about reevaluations. We're going to cover a few key things: what reevaluations look like, how often they happen and why, and what to expect after reevaluation. We're also going to share some tips to help kids and families get ready for a reevaluation, including what to say to your child about getting reevaluated — and what not to say. But first, let's hear more of Haizel's story.
Haizel: When I requested the reeval, I was sent a letter to the school. I did send an email directly to the person that I knew would be responsible in the team. And I would specify my reason for wanting to have her reevaluated so that they can look at those areas. One of the areas I had concerns with was her memory because she would learn something and not be able to retain the information. So I'm like "Can you please look at her memory?" I would look up the information or get the information and try to focus my letter on what I wanted them to consider so that there was no question as to why I'm writing the letter.
Andy: What Haizel was just describing is an important evaluation right that many families don't know about — that you can ask the school to reevaluate your child at any time and for any reason. Another thing that parents need to know is that by law, kids with IEPs, or Individualized Education Programs, need to be reevaluated at least once every three years to see if their needs have changed.
Over the years, I've worked with a lot of families who are nervous about the reevaluation process. I've often heard things like, "Man, the first evaluation was so stressful. Why is the school putting my child through this again?" Or "My child is older now and more sensitive being seen as different. I don't want the reevaluation to hurt my child's self-esteem or make them feel bad about themselves." And some families are really concerned that the school is just doing an evaluation to take away their child services.
While these are all valid concerns, and really everyday concerns that family share with me, my hope is that my first guest today is going to help me address all this. Kate Garcia is a special education teacher at a high school near Philadelphia. She's also a special education case manager, which means she's a part of a lot of evaluation and reevaluation teams. And she's also an Understood Teacher Fellow. Kate, welcome to the show. Thanks so much for being here.
Kate: Hi, Andy. Thank you so much for having me.
Andy: So today I'd really like to first talk about like the purpose of reevaluations. How do you explain to your students and their families why a school wants to do a reevaluation?
Kate: Right. So the purpose of a reevaluation is to determine first whether additional information is needed to see if a student continues to have a disability requiring specially designed instruction, which are things that teachers are doing in the classroom to support students. And to see if any related services are necessary to add or take away from the supports. We also want to see if the nature and extent of the special education and related services have to be altered or changed, and if potentially the student is qualifying under a different disability category.
Andy: So talk to me about related services. What does that mean for families who might not know what that means?
Kate: Sure. So related services are things like speech and language. It could also be occupational therapy, physical therapy. So if your student is showing signs of handwriting difficulty, and you want to have an occupational therapist come and evaluate that student, that would be part of the related services portion on a reevaluation,
Andy: OK. So big picture, we're thinking about everything that's in the student's IEP, and we're looking for any changes in how the student is functioning. Basically, we're looking for what's different in this evaluation compared to the previous one. And hopefully what we're seeing is progress. But as kids get older, sometimes new challenges may emerge that need to be addressed in the IEP. Give me some examples of what kinds of things might be added as a result of a reevaluation,
Kate: We're looking for any additional needs, such as maybe counseling services. We can also look at additional supports that teachers can put into place every day in the classroom. So we look at things like would preferential seating — is that working in certain classrooms that is not being implemented in others? So we kind of take a cross-section. We're getting input from all of those teachers, and of course, the family and the student. And we can piece together what's working here, what's working there? What do we need to start implementing more of? And maybe what do we need to take away?
Andy: So, take another second on that. What we need to take away — that's a big trigger phrase for a lot of our families. What would lead to a child maybe having services changed or taken away? And what would typically be the justification for that?
Kate: Right? So we first of all, in order to have that conversation at a reevaluation, we have to have data to support that. So we're looking at things like is the student meeting their goals? Are they accessing accommodations, services, and supports independently? So when we think about that, we think about students who are understanding of how their disability impacts them in the classroom, how to access supports that they need after identifying that support, and then can they access help if they're having trouble with that support?
And that would come from both the student, so hopefully, we're hearing the student voice in this particular area. And then also from educators who may give feedback that the student is accessing these supports without prompts. And ideally, we have someone going in to observe this student to collect data on that to support the fact that the accommodation might still be necessary, but it might not be something that every teacher has to implement, because the student is implementing it on their own.
Andy: Gotcha. So really, we're not just looking at just tear away services from a kid who needs it. But more talking about, we're looking for evidence that they're making progress to do some of these things more independently.
Kate: Yeah, absolutely. Because that's the goal. Disabilities don't just disappear. And that means we have to teach students how to understand what they need and how to access it.
Andy: So we've been talking about why kids need to be reevaluated and understanding that reevaluations happen every three years for identified kids for special education due to the law. What do those reevaluations look like? And how do you explain this to families and the kids themselves?
Kate: So the first step is always going to be our school psychologist reaching out to the family, letting them know, you know, the reevaluation period is coming up. Either we need permission to access more testing, or we're going to complete a records review. At that point, then the student possibly undergoes testing with the school psychologist. They would likely get observed by the school psychologist in a couple of different settings. And then input is gathered from the teachers and from any other professionals that that student sees, such as speech and language, counseling, occupational or physical therapy — all of these people are providing input.
Our school psychologist then compiles all of that into a document. And then the IEP team, after that document is finalized, we'll look at the recommendations in place. And then an IEP meeting will be held following that evaluation. What I like to tell parents is that especially at the high school level, your student's voice is critical in this, because there's always going to be data and different perspectives. But what matters in this whole scenario is your student and their needs. And if they find that needs are not being met in a particular area, we need to hear that, because we need to make sure we're then either collecting data or getting insight on that area to address it.
Andy: Kate, I want to pause here to note a jargony phrase that parents may hear, which is "triennial evaluation." That's the technical term for the reevaluation that needs to happen every three years. OK, so how often do triennial evaluations get skipped or significantly modified?
Kate: I think this depends on the district. And the caseload of the school psychologist definitely plays a role in this. Also, it depends on the student and their progress. And so I have seen at the secondary level, oftentimes we talk about a records review as — you know, we're not updating the testing. So, you know, I've seen that happen quite a bit at the secondary level, especially for ninth- and 10th-graders who have been qualified under the same disability for quite some time. And so you know, the school psychologist reviews the records, they feel like we don't need any updated testing, and hence they have skipped any new testing. So I've seen it happen quite a bit.
I've seen it happen more over the past few years with COVID and the impacts of, you know, more students being identified and being referred to special education. Hence, we have upped the caseloads of some of these school psychologists and made it so that, you know, they just don't have time to get a lot of this testing done.
Andy: Gotcha. So one part of this is that parents have to consent for however this process goes. If the parent then gives permission to say, we're going to do a shorter or a file review evaluation, because the child has autism, or the child has ADHD, and it's been well established, and there have not been substantial changes, parents can give consent to have merely a file review, perhaps, and an observation. And that will hold the place of doing a more comprehensive assessment.
I think in most cases, you had mentioned, Kate, that in some cases where schools are overwhelmed with referrals, and they don't have adequate staffing to complete referrals. And in those cases, I want to emphasize, the parents still need to consent to skip or to make a smaller assessment goal. And that's really important. If a parent wants that assessment, by law, they're entitled to it.
So when we think about how kids approach reevaluation versus their first evaluation, have you noticed any significant differences in the kids you work with and their parents — how they respond to reevaluation versus the initial evaluation?
Kate: I have. I've noticed with the initial evaluation, it's almost more parent heavy, even at the secondary high school level. We have a lot of questions from parents, which are great. And parents should ask questions and make sure that they're getting answered.
When I look at reevaluations and the students that are undergoing those, they're a little bit more comfortable. So they usually have had a case manager for quite some time. And so as a case manager, I might be the first line of defense for questioning, you know, well, do I have to meet with the school psychologist? And what are they going to ask me? And do I have to do those tests again? So the questions there are coming more from the student because they have a familiarity with our team of the special ed department at their school, versus that initial evaluation where that student doesn't even know who I am in my role in the school. So we're getting more questions from the parent end.
Andy: Totally. So one of the things that parents express as their biggest fears is that reevaluation is going to lead to their child's services being discontinued. There are times where kids are making such good progress, that they're ready to discontinue an IEP, or maybe move to a section 504 plan. What advice would you give to parents about deciding if their child continues to need special ed services, and how they can safely know if it's time to discontinue?
Kate: So I think the first thing is, let's look at the data. Because if we're at this point in the conversation, we have a lot of data accumulated. And I think also what we discussed earlier with the lens of, they might still need that support. But guess what? They're accessing it on their own, which is amazing. We always try to frame those conversations with parents as what a success that your student is able to access the supports that they need, and be successful in the classroom. And we might still need some of these supports, which might present in a 504 plan. Or your student might be accessing these supports and doing them independently. And we might be able to exit all services completely. Not to say they don't still need the help. But what an amazing accomplishment that they feel confident enough in both their need and their ability to access support that they can do it independently now.
Andy: So how do you help parents understand that their child might no longer need a specific service, or a formal IEP?
Kate: I think the first step is to understand where the student is at through the data. So if a student is meeting their goals, if we are as an IEP team, adjusting those goals to make them more rigorous, to make them more applicable to that student's transition plan, so where does the students see themselves after high school? If we're doing all of those things, and the student is meeting them, that's a great starting point for that conversation to say, here's what we're putting in place. Here's the challenge we're presenting. And here's your student meeting that challenge.
And then we also have the discussion about what sort of supports do we get as people outside of a school building? So me, as an adult, I can still access help at my job. I just have to know how to do it. So we can focus on those soft skills for many of these students who would be exited from the IEP services and reassure parents that if your child has made it to this point, and we are seeing this much progress, that we also have covered these other skills that your student is going to need to be a successful person.
Andy: Gotcha. Let's talk about that next big transition, the reevaluation around maybe getting ready for college. What would be a common reason why kids would get reevaluated as high school is getting ready to end? And can you talk about like how your evaluation teams at school usually help with that?
Kate: Sure. So when we think about this process, the first step to it usually happens between ninth- and 10th-grade year where the special education team mentions to the parent and student you know, if you're considering postsecondary education, which might look like a community college, might look like a trade school, might look like a traditional four-year college, you need to understand that your IEP doesn't come with you. So although we can offer you services within the district until you're 21, that might not be the best plan for every student. So if your plan is once you hit that fourth year of high school, and you've accumulated the appropriate credits, your plan is to graduate and move on to another educational setting, you need to understand the difference between what supports can be provided there versus what we can provide here in your home school district.
So we mention to parents, you know, if you start visiting schools, you need to make sure that you're stopping at the Office of Accessibility, to understand what supports that college is able to provide your student on a regular or as-needed basis. And most commonly, those supports might look like a separate space to take a test, extended time on assignments, copies of the professor's notes, things of that nature. In order for your student to access those supports at that level, they're going to need documentation on file with that school. Depending on the school, they may require the IEP, whatever the most recent IEP is, and potentially updated testing. So we make this very clear to the parents, because you might encounter a school that's saying, oh, you had a record review done recently. And we need updated testing within — I've seen it anywhere from three years to one year — in order to consider this disability and have it on file and have your student receive accommodations. So we make sure by 11th grade year that our parents understand if you feel as though you might require this updated testing, we want to make sure you have it done by us. And you have our paperwork with our recommendations for your student to make sure that they're accessing those supports at the secondary level.
And the other key piece that we hear back from parents as well: We're not really sure if we want that. And I tell them it's better to have it on file and not need it than to be in a situation where your student has to access supports that they don't have a record of needing.
Andy: That's really good advice. So the next step in the reevaluation process is deciding whether you agree or disagree with the results. In our show notes, we also have a link to an article on what to do if your child is losing IEP services. Kate, what a great chat we've had today. I really appreciate all your input.
Kate: Thank you so much. This was a great conversation and an important one.
Haizel: When it comes to the reevaluations or any evaluation that Sayeira has had, I don't feel that the evaluation themselves have been difficult. She tends to like attention. And she does well one on one. So she did well with that. I think the hardest thing I've had to deal with when it comes to Sayeira having her IEP is her realizing she had an IEP. For many years, she received the services and had no idea that she was any different. It wasn't until we were doing the high school application process where there is an opportunity for different consideration of students that have IEPs, and unfortunately it states in the booklet that you look at it — so students with disabilities, they have a different code for those students who apply to high schools. It wasn't until then that she realized that she had an IEP and that she had a disability in the sense of how the DOE considers it. And that was probably the hardest conversation I had with her. To help her understand there's nothing wrong with her — that everyone needs support. Everyone learns differently. It's just that in her case, she has a little more support than other students.
Andy: So we've been talking about how reevaluations help schools and families see if a child's strengths and needs have changed over time. But what can adults say to kids about getting reevaluated? My next guest is Amanda Morin. She co-hosts Understood's "In It" podcasts about the joys and frustrations of parenting kids who learn and think differently. She's the mom of two kids who learn differently. And she also worked as a classroom teacher and as an early intervention specialist. Amanda, welcome.
Amanda: Thank you.
Andy: So you know getting reevaluated can be really challenging for some kids and no big deal for others. What kinds of things do you advise parents to say to their kids about reevaluations?
Amanda: There are a couple of things that really matter here, right? Sometimes kids don't have a good experience in a previous evaluation, especially if it was their first evaluation, because they didn't know what to expect, or they felt on the spot, or they didn't have a good rapport with the evaluator. And I think it's important to know ahead of time, from the school, who is going to be evaluating. And if it's the same person, then I think there's an opportunity to say to your child, I know this was tough for you the first time. And also, you get to show this person how much you've grown. For older kids, sometimes you may just have to say to them, this is the grind. This is the grind, this is the part that's tough. This is the part that you may not want to do. And also think of how well things are going in school for you. Hopefully, things are going well, right. And I want to make that point, if things are going well in school, you can say like, think of how well things are going in school. If we know where you're at now, they could be even better. And if things aren't going well in school, this is your opportunity to say. The reevaluation is to really get a better sense of why school isn't going as well as it could be for you. So we can get more information together. So we can make a plan. So things get better.
Andy: And I think that for a lot of kids, that becomes really, really important. The idea that we're really, we're getting almost a report card on the interventions. And by giving the same sort of evaluation tools three years later, we can really see: is the stuff working for you? And I think that if it's not and you continue to be frustrated, it's really important that you're involved in this.
Amanda: I love the idea of describing it as a report card on of what we've tried. It's such a good way of sort of changing the framing of that, to be able to say to your child, "Hey, guess what, you're going to be the person who's grading on this one."
Andy: And also being able to say to them, you know, this is another way of showing what's working for you and what's not. And I think that's a great opening question for a lot of kids. Like when we start off these meetings, and we're talking about getting reevaluated an older kid is at the table, and we say, maybe you can tell us about what do you think's working for you here? What do you think isn't working for you?
Amanda: There are things to avoid in this as well, right? There are things that I would suggest parents don't say. Don't make promises, right? Don't make promises that this will bring about change. Don't make promises that this is going to keep things at a status quo. Because sometimes we don't know. A lot of parents worry about a reevaluation because they worry about what it means in terms of eligibility. Are we trying to test my child out of the supports they have? Right? I would not suggest passing that anxiety on to your child.
I would also suggest for parents to maybe think about that a little bit differently. And realize that if that's what's happening — if what the reevaluation is showing is that your child has has gained so much from the supports and accommodations that they don't need the specialized instruction anymore — that's something to celebrate. That's something that's very, very cool. You may be anxious about it, because you may worry about what happens if then my child needs that again? And I think for you as a parent and for your child, if that comes up, you can say, "We can always have this conversation again." Don't worry that you've done well, right? Let's celebrate that.
Andy: So we've talked about the what, why, and how of reevaluations. If there's one thing you can take away from this discussion, it's that reevaluations can help you and the school see how your child's strengths and needs have changed over time. So don't be afraid to ask lots of questions until you understand what's happening and why. As always, remember that as a parent, you are the first and best expert on your child.
In our next episode, we'll focus on how to talk to your child about different steps in the evaluation process. We hope you'll join us.
You've been listening to Season 1 of "Understood Explains," from the Understood Podcast Network. If you want to learn more about the topics we covered today, check out the show notes for this episode. We include more resources as well as links to anything we've mentioned in the episode.
And now, just as a reminder of who we're doing all this for, I'm going to turn it over to Amalia to read our credits. Take it away, Amalia.
Amalia: "Understood Explains" is produced by Julie Rawe and Cody Nelson, who also did the sound design for the show. Briana Berry is our production director. Andrew Lee is our editorial lead. Our theme was written by Justin D. Wright, who also mixes the show. For the Understood Podcast Network, Laura Key is our editorial director. Scott Cocchiere is our creative director. Seth Melnick is our executive producer. A very special thanks to Amanda Morin and all the other parents and actors who helped us make the show. Thanks for listening. See you next time.
Andy: Understood is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently discover their potential and thrive. Learn more at understood.org/mission.
Andrew Kahn, PsyD
is a licensed psychologist who has served as an evaluator and consultant in public schools for nearly 20 years. Dr. Kahn, who describes himself as neurodivergent, is a subject matter expert at Understood.
July 13, 2022
How do schools evaluate kids for special education? For a quick preview, listen to the trailer for Season 1 of the Understood Explains podcast.