When your child is failing in school, it is a stressful time for both student and parent. If your school communicates that they want to test your child, it just adds to the fear that there is something wrong. Take a deep breath, though, because the school just wants to help your child learn. Testing is a good way to identify the best way to do that. According to Pamela Wright and Pete Wright, Esq. of WrightsLaw.com, “If school employees know or have reason to suspect that a child has a disability, these school employees have an affirmative duty to act on the child’s behalf” (emphasis in the original).
Let’s start with two laws you need to be familiar with. They govern how the school handles children with learning differences and their testing. The first is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of1973 (also called “504”). This law makes public schools provide a “free appropriate public education” to every student with a disability within the school district’s boundaries. That is true, no matter the type or severity of the disability.
The other law is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which necessitates that schools have a process in place for assessing disability. This can be early intervention services for children under the age of 2 or special education services for those between the ages of 3 and 21. According to a New York Times blog by Jessica Lahey, “The definitions of what is or is not a disability, and whether those disabilities qualify vary wildly. ‘Qualified’ simply means that your child has been determined to have a disability that is covered under the law.”
Communicate with the school to find out what, specifically, they are concerned about. This can help you figure out what kind of testing will be done. Testing may be more intelligence or academic ability-related or behaviorally-related. There is no way to tell initially whether the testing will determine if your child will have a permanent label or whether there are some regular classroom-based interventions. These interventions might suffice to help your child succeed outside of more in-depth special education services.
If testing has identified that your child has a disability, the school will create an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). The IEP process is one in which you, as the parent, should participate. You must have a clear understanding of what the interventions child will receive. You must understand what goals your child is trying to reach based on the IEP. The end goal is to help your child learn in the way that is most meaningful to them. Advocating for your child and participating in discussions along the way with the school is vital to your child’s success.
You may choose to have your child evaluated privately by a professional you choose. This is called an Independent Educational Evaluation. You can also refuse testing. Even if your child is in private school, the state still has some responsibilities toward your child. They are different in each state, however, understand your state’s laws by contacting your state’s Parent Center. When you know your rights as a parent, you’ll be better prepared to advocate and assist your child in getting the right support to help them succeed. You can also visit the Center for Parent Information and Resources page for more information about how you can help your child through the special education identification process.
L. Hughes-Page, M.Ed.
L. Hughes Page is a Field Supervisor to student teachers in the Graduate Department of Education at Gwynedd Mercy University.