Differences Between Public Education and Private Practice Evaluations

Having worked in both public education and private practice as school psychologists, we are often asked about the difference between school and private practice evaluations.  As with most things, there are pros and cons for each.  In this post, we will share some information about each to help you make the best choice for your own situation.

Public School Special Education Evaluations

You have the right to request an evaluation from the school district in which your school is located.  The school district has 30 days to respond to your request.  When you speak with the school district, it is important to provide as much information possible about your areas of concern.  A school district may deny your request if they do not suspect a disability based on student data (assessment scores, grades, etc.).  If the team agrees that an assessment should take place, it will be at no cost to the student’s family, and it will be completed by the education team within 60 days of signing consent.  When the team goes over the results, they will determine if the student meets the definition of a student with a disability, as outlined in the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA).  These are educational diagnoses that may differ from medical diagnoses that may be given by counselors, psychologists, or doctors.  Essentially, if the student is determined to have a disability, they will then be provided special education services through an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

Private Practice Evaluation

If you choose to pursue a private evaluation, you typically will be responsible for the cost.  While this can be a deterrent for some people, it also allows client additional flexibility and control that they likely will not have in a public school evaluation.  This means that you will be able to choose who conducts the evaluation and your concern drives the entire evaluation process.  You will also receive a diagnosis based on the information found in the evaluation.  As mentioned before, it is important to note that educational and medical diagnoses do differ, and only a school team can decide whether a student qualifies for special education.  However, they will generally use the information obtained during a private evaluation during their evaluation process. 

Additionally, you may get an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) from a private practice at your school’s expense.  If the district conducts an evaluation and you disagree with the findings, you have the right to request an IEE, which is completed by a qualified examiner who is not employed by the school district.  Upon completing the IEE, the school team reconvenes to consider the new results and determine whether the student qualifies for special education services.

While we now work in private practice, it has been very helpful to have a background in public education as school psychologists.  With our experience, we are able to conduct evaluations that are accepted by the school team and provide recommendations that educators can easily put in place within the school setting.  It also allows us to better advocate for our clients since with are familiar with what is available in a school setting.  If you are pursuing a private evaluation, please consider the background and reputation of the practitioner so that you are able to get the most helpful services possible.  Those who have worked in public education or who frequently conduct evaluations for school age students will likely be an asset during the entire process.