Adult Students

Many people are surprised when we tell them that our school psychology practice has many adult clients.  In fact, at least half of our clients have already completed their K-12 education by the time they see us. 

Why might adults need services to support their learning?  Even though we tend to think of children when we think of students, adults are students too!  And just like children, they have a wide variety of experiences that lead them to seek school psychological services.  Some come to us already having a diagnosis but needing updated assessment and documentation for accommodations.  Others come never having been diagnosed before.  Generally, these students have experienced a lot of struggles in their K-12 experience but, for whatever reason, they never received any special education services or accommodations.  Sometimes these are traditional college students who have even greater difficulties in college.  Others are adults who, because they had such negative learning experiences, go back to school later in life but want to get answers and support to help make their college a better experience.  Other adult students have gotten vocational training but need accommodations to do well on their board exams.  And the list of circumstances in which adult students find themselves is endless.

Many adults need services to facilitate their learning including assessment, tutoring, or mental health supports.  We will be dedicating our future blogs to address topics of interest to our adult learners.  Please check back to learn more about strategies you can implement in the postsecondary setting and resources that can support you.  We will also be inviting guest bloggers to share about their areas of expertise. 

What should I do if I disagree with the results of my child's evaluation?

Over the past few weeks, we have been writing about the evaluation process and the IEP process that follows when a team decides that a student has a disability.  Many times, the school team and parents agree about whether the child has a disability, and what needs the child has.  When this happens, the team is able to is able to use the information from the assessment to come up with a plan to best meet the student’s needs through the creation of an IEP.

Unfortunately, not all evaluations go as smoothly, and you may disagree with the school’s findings.  Eligibility determination meetings, where teams decide whether students qualify for special education services, can be stressful and emotional.  This is especially true when all team members are not on the same page.  We will be visiting some of the options you have so that you can make the best decision for you and your child during these meetings.

First, do not feel pressure to make a decision in the moment if you do not feel comfortable doing so.  At the end of the ETR, parents are asked to sign and date the document and check the “agree” or “disagree” box.  You may find that the team’s report reflects what you know to be true about your child.  In this case, you may be comfortable agreeing with the evaluation at the time of the meeting.  On the other hand, there may be times in which you know that you disagree with the findings of the report and will choose to disagree.  When you disagree, you will be asked to write a statement to provide information about why you disagree with the findings.  You do not have to do this on the spot; in fact, it is probably a better option to write a letter to the school district once you go home and are able to review the information and organize your thoughts.  Other times, you may not be sure about whether you completely agree or disagree with the findings.  In this case, we recommend that you sign and date the evaluation to indicate that you were in attendance and to note that you will be reviewing the report before making a final decision.  If you are feeling conflicted, you do not need to make any decisions in the moment, even if you feel pressure to do so.  It is reasonable to be able to take more time to look over the information that has been provided in the evaluation to make an informed decision.  While you do not want to take too long to decide, a day or two can make you feel more comfortable in knowing that you are making the best choice for your child.

If you disagree with the ETR, you have the right to an Individual Educational Evaluation (IEE).  IEEs are evaluations conducted by a qualified examiner who is not employed by the school district responsible for the education of your child.  They must be funded by the school district if you disagree with the results of their evaluation.  Often, a school district may be able to provide you with a list of practitioners who conduct psychoeducational evaluations.  You have the right to choose your own evaluator, so feel free to do your own research and decide who you would like to evaluate your child, even if they are not on the list provided by your district.  After the IEE, the team will reconvene to decide if the new information changes your child’s special education eligibility.  The IEEs should provided additional information that will make it clearer whether or not your child qualifies for special education services.  Many disagreements can be rectified through the IEE.  However, if there is continued conflict between you and your team, or you do not feel they appropriately take the information from the IEE into account, you may wish to seek legal counsel to guide you in Due Process.

The School-Based Evaluation Process

After the team agrees a disability is suspected, a school-based evaluation will be initiated. There are three stages to the school-based evaluation process: the planning and consent, the evaluation process, and the eligibility determination. The school-based evaluation process is known as the Evaluation Team Report (ETR). You may also hear it referred to as a Multi-Factored Evaluation (MFE), which is the term used prior to ETR. Through this process, typically, the school psychologist is the team chairperson and is best able to respond to your questions.

Planning and Consent for Evaluation (ETR)

From the date that the team suspects that your child may have a disability, the school has 30 days to gain your consent for an evaluation. Within that 30-day period, the team will hold at ETR planning meeting. Typically, this meeting consists of you, your child’s general education teacher, intervention specialist, school psychologist, and district administrator. This meeting is designed to gain your informed consent for the school team to conduct an evaluation of your child. At this meeting, the team will discuss which areas of disability are suspected under IDEA. These are the thirteen categories in which the team can suspect that your child meets disability criteria under: Autism, Deaf-Blindness, Deafness, Emotional Disturbance, Hearing Impairment, Intellectual Disability, Multiple Disabilities, Orthopedic Impairment, Other Health Impairment, Specific Learning Disability, Speech or Language Impairment, Traumatic Brain Injury or Visual Impairment Including Blindness. Then, the team will develop an evaluation plan based on the reason for referral and the areas of disability that are suspected. This is done through completing the following documents: Referral for Evaluation (PR-04), ETR Planning Form, Parent Consent for Evaluation (PR-05), and Prior Written Notice (PR-01).

The Referral for Evaluation (PR-04) form explains the reason that your child is being referred for an evaluation. The reason for referral is supported by information regarding your child’s educational history, attendance, background information, health data, and environmental factors. The ETR planning form determines which assessments will be completed and incorporated in your child’s evaluation. This form details all of the assessment areas that are related to the suspected disability categories, whether or not current data is available in those areas, whether or not additional information will be collected in a particular area, and who is responsible for conducting the assessment. The planning form drives the entire evaluation; therefore, it is extremely important that you are comfortable with the things that are detailed on this form, and you agree that it will provide a comprehensive evaluation for your child. The Parent Consent for Evaluation (PR-05) is the document in which you grant your voluntary, informed consent for the school team to put the evaluation plan into action. Signing the consent form also verifies that you received a copy of the A Guide to Parents Right in Special Education, which is a document detailing your rights and your child’s rights through this process, and that you understand the all the information provided. The district should also provide you with a Prior Witten Notice (PR-01), which explains the type of action the district is proposing to take and an explanation as to why the district is proposing that action. We would recommend asking for a copy of the paperwork for your records.

Throughout the evaluation process, new areas of concerns may arise that the team will want to assess further. In order to evaluate additional areas, the team must amend the planning form. Adjustments to the planning form can only be made with your express consent. Another Prior Written Notice (PR-01) should be provided to you detailing the amendments made and the data supporting why additional assessment is necessary.

Special Education Evaluation (ETR)

From the date that you attend the planning meeting and grant your consent for your child to go through the ETR process, the school has 60 days to complete the evaluation and hold an ETR results/eligibility determination meeting. During this 60-day period, the multidisciplinary team will complete assessments in all of the areas indicated on the ETR planning form. Typically, the multidisciplinary team consists of the parent, school psychologist, general education teacher, intervention specialist, speech/language pathologist, occupational therapist, and a district representative. Other team members can be added depending on the areas of concern. Almost all psychoeducational evaluations will include assessment in the following areas: standardized assessment in the areas of cognition, academic achievement, communicative status, and social/emotional skills; information provided by parent; background information; observation; progress in the general curriculum; data from interventions; and vision and hearing screenings. Depending on the referral concerns and the disability suspected the team can also assess: fine motor skills; gross motor skills; adaptive skills; behavior; physical exam/general health; vocational/transition; Braille needs; audiological needs; and Assistive Technology needs. These assessments are almost exclusively conducted in a one-on-one testing session with the individual with expertise in that particular area.  

The ETR document has four separate sections. After completing the testing portion of their evaluation, each examiner completes what is known as a Part 1. A Part 1 is a written report that is divided into three sections. In the first section of a Part 1, each evaluator summarizes the results of the assessments that they conducted with the student. The results section should be data driven. It will provide the standard scores that your child received on the assessment in order to compare them to their same aged peers across the country as well as a narrative description of the assessment given and describe the specific areas of strength and weakness your child demonstrated. The assessor then completes the Part 1 by providing a descriptor of the child’s educational needs based on the testing results and the implications that those needs have on the student’s instruction and progress monitoring.

Part 2 of the ETR is a Team Summary. Each evaluator summarizes their evaluation results, needs, and implications into a team summary that provides a brief overview of the evaluation. This should provide a cohesive summary of your child’s strength and weaknesses in relation to all assessment performed and information gathered.

Part 3 of the ETR is specific to children who are suspected of having a Specific Learning Disability. This portion of the ETR is where the team determines the areas in which the child meets criteria for having a learning disability in: Basic Reading Skill, Reading Fluency Skills, Reading Comprehension, Written Expression, Mathematics Calculation, Mathematics Problem Solving, Oral Expression, and Listening Comprehension. This is also the portion in which the team summarizes the data utilized to support the eligibility decision in those areas utilizing either a response to scientific, research-based intervention or a pattern of strength and weaknesses. The team must also determine that the learning disability is not due to any of the exclusionary factors: a vision, hearing, or motor disability; mental retardation; emotional disturbance; Limited English Proficiency; environmental or economic disadvantage or cultural factors. The team must also document that the student’s underachievement is not due to a lack of appropriate instruction. 

The ETR culminates in Part 4, which is the eligibility determination section. All four of these components comprise a complete ETR.

Eligibility Determination for Special Education Services

Part 4 of the ETR remains incomplete until the entire team meets for an eligibility determination meeting, which is held within 60 days you granting consent for the evaluation. In this section, the team must answer three questions in order to determine whether or not a student meets eligibility criteria for special education and related services including: is the determining factor for the child’s poor performance not due to a lack of appropriate instruction in reading and math or the child’s limited English proficiency; does the child meet the state criteria for having a disability based on the data provided in the document; and does the child demonstrate an educational need that requires specially designed instruction. If the answer is yes to all three of these questions, then the child is eligible for special education services under one of the thirteen IDEA categories. Following the ETR meeting, the school has 14 days to finalize the document and send a copy to the parent.

If your child meets eligibility criteria for having a disability under IDEA, then the next step is for the team to create an Individual Education Program (IEP), which we will discuss in our next post.

How do I request an evaluation if I suspect my child has a disability?

In our last blog post, we talked about the steps you should take with your school’s education team if you suspect your child may have a disability.  We suggested that you work with your child’s teacher and the rest of the team first (sometimes called Intervention Assistance Team, RTI Team, MTSS Team or Problem Solving Teams) so that your child can get the extra support they need in school and so the team can gather helpful information about what interventions work best for your student. 

But what should you do if your child is receiving intervention and is not showing appropriate growth or if they stay significantly behind their peers?  In this case, you may choose to request an evaluation to determine if they qualify for special education services.  In Ohio, schools must respond to your request within 30 days of receiving it.  This does not necessarily mean that they must conduct the evaluation, but this begins the process.  It is best to put your request in writing and provide it to your child’s school psychologist, teacher, or principal. 

Request a Special Education Evaluation

In order to write the most effective letters, we recommend to include the following:

  • State that you are formally requesting an evaluation to determine if your student is eligible for special education service.

  • Provide information about your child such as their name, date of birth, school, grade, and teacher’s name.

  • Indicate that your child is not making expected progress, and that you suspect a disability.

  • Note any specific areas of difficulty your child may be experiencing (academic skills, attention, social/emotional, behavioral, communication, motor, social skills, sensory, etc.).

  • Provide information about what makes you suspect a disability. This might include:

    • Past and current interventions, and any progress monitoring information

    • Report card information

    • Assessment information from state testing or the classroom

    • Any current medical diagnoses.

    • Any outside support your child receives, such as tutoring, mental health counseling, or other therapies

    • All of the support you provide them because of their difficulties.

Meet with the Team

Within 30 days, you should be invited to speak with the team.  At that time, you will review the data, and the team will decide if they suspect a disability and whether to move on with an evaluation.  If you have not received a response within 30 days, you should follow up with the school’s principal and/or the superintendent.  If your student has been provided interventions and there is data to demonstrate their difficulties in school, the team will likely agree to an evaluation.  If the team does not suspect a disability, the should come up with a plan on how to address your concerns and schedule a follow up meeting to go over new data based on the plan.

Unfortunately, at times you may find yourself disagreeing with the team.  It is important to know that you have rights and that there are resources for you.  You may opt to pursue a private evaluation.  While this type of assessment would be at your own expense, you also have more input about the evaluation process, and your concerns drives it much more than it might in a school setting.  Additionally, many schools have a parent mentor that is free of charge to you and can offer you information and attend meetings with you.  You may also choose to seek a private advocate.  In this case, make sure that you choose someone with a strong educational background and good reputation in the area.  The Ohio Department also offers information about parent rights on their website that can be accessed by clicking here.  The Ohio Coalition for the Education of Children with Disabilities (OCECD) may also be another helpful resource if you are having difficulty coming to a resolution with the school.

Next post, we will write about what happens during the evaluation process once the team suspects a disability.

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.

What is a school psychologist?

In honor of School Psychology Awareness Week, we would like to highlight our chosen profession! At its core, school psychology is a helping profession, which lends itself more to a week of awareness than appreciation-awareness about all of the ways school psychologists are trained to help reduce educational barriers and improve outcomes for clients and their families. According to the National Association of School Psychologist website, school psychologists' graduate training develops knowledge and skills in the following areas: data collection and analysis; assessment; progress monitoring; school-wide practices to promote learning; resilience and risk factors; consultation and collaboration; academic/learning interventions; mental health interventions;  behavioral interventions; instructional support; prevention and intervention services; child preparedness, response, and recovery; family-school-community collaboration; diversity in development and learning; research and program evaluation; and professional ethics, school law, and systems (NASP, 2014). 

School Psychology Training

School psychologists receive graduate training in education and psychology aimed to develop skills in psychological theory, educational strategies, and assessment. Training includes both coursework and practical experience. School psychologists take classes in child development, assessment, diagnosis, educational skill development, academic interventions, social/emotional interventions, problem-solving consultation, group and individual counseling, diversity, special education laws, and ethical issues.

Currently, there two degree tracks that school psychologists complete: specialist-level or a doctorate. A school psychologist with a specialist-level degree completes at least 60 credits, which takes three years of full-time study, and typically earns either an Educational Specialist degree (Ed.S.) or a Psychology Specialist degree (Psy.S.). Some individuals who received their training in the early stages of the profession may hold a Master's degree. To earn a doctoral degree, school psychologists complete at least 90 credits and write a dissertation, which generally takes between 5 and 7 years. Both those with specialist-level and doctoral degrees end their training with a year-long 1200-hour supervised internship. In addition to competing the coursework and practical components, school psychologists must also pass the Praxis School Psychologist examination (NASP, 2014).

Although all school psychologists receive similar training, work setting often drives the skill set that they use most often. School psychologists may work in public schools, private schools, independent private practice, hospitals, preschools, school district administration offices, school-based health and mental-health centers, community-based day treatment or residential clinics, and juvenile justice programs. We will cover public schools, private schools, and private practice, where the greatest number of school psychologists work. The information below is based on school psychology experience in Ohio. It is important to note that each it may vary depending on the specific state you reside and its laws.

School Psychologists in Public Schools

The majority of school psychologists (81%) work in public school settings (NASP, 2017). These school psychologists are licensed by the State Board of Education, and their main role is to support students academically, behaviorally, and social-emotionally within the school setting.

A large part of supporting students happens through Response to Intervention (RTI) and Multi-Tier Systems of Support (MTSS) frameworks. Both RTI and MTSS, which are similar, are tiered systems that use a problem-solving approach to provide increasing levels of support for school-related needs. Fully integrated RTI or MTSS systems address both academic and social-emotional/behavioral concerns.

In the academic RTI/MTSS system, school psychologists use their knowledge of child development, academic skill development, and grade-level curriculum to ensure that effective instructional practices are driving instruction within the general education classroom. School psychologist also use data to determine which students still need additional academic interventions and supports despite receiving quality instruction in the classroom.

On the behavioral side of RTI and MTSS, school psychologists work to implement a multi-tiered approach to social, emotional, and behavioral interventions and supports though the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) framework. Within this infrastructure, school psychologists and their school teams create school-wide supports to promote healthy social-emotional development and appropriate school behavior through positive strategies. Similar to academic supports, behavioral and social-emotional interventions intensify based on the student's response to the supports provided. If a student fails to respond to the school-wide behavior plan, the student might need an individualized plan. School psychologists are uniquely trained to conduct Functional Behavior Assessments (FBA). During FBAs, data is collected to determine the triggers and consequences of specific behaviors to find out why a student behaves in a certain way and how the behavior is being reinforced. Based on the results, school psychologists and team members create a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) to reduce the unwanted behavior by providing ways in which a student can get his/her needs met while behaving in a more positive and appropriate manner. School psychologists may also provide individual or group counseling to students through the intervention process.

School psychologists' skills allow them, along with a team, to design an intervention plan, monitor the student's progress, and evaluate if intervention is being provided with fidelity to determine whether or not a student has responded to the interventions. Based on the team's findings, after receiving intensive interventions, a student may be referred for an evaluation if the team suspects a disability.

School psychologists in the public schools can assess students for a variety of reasons, but the majority of the time they are conducting special education evaluations. School psychologists serve as the team chairperson and case manager of psychoeducational evaluations, known as an Evaluation Team Reports (ETR). These reports are referred to as an ETR because a team approach is used to determine if a student has an educational disability under one of the 13 disability categories defined in Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The school psychologist and other evaluators on the team provide a description of the child's educational needs and the implications that those needs have on instruction and progress monitoring. Based on those needs and implications, an Individual Educational Program (IEP) is created for the student with specific goals the student will achieve the following year and the services that they need to meet those goals. 

Despite having many responsibilities in a public school setting, the child remains the school psychologist's main focus. Advocating for the best interest of the student is the foundation of all work that a school psychologist does. Family involvement is essential, so a large part of student advocacy involves collaborating with the family. School psychologists also work to link students and families to outside services to ensure that the student’s needs are being met.

School Psychologists in Private Schools

The role of school psychologists in the private school setting vary greatly. In private schools, their role is typically shaped by the type of students the school serves and what both the school and individual students need.

School Psychologists in Private Practice

School psychologists who work in private practice only need to be licensed by the State Board of Psychology. Most individuals engaged in private practice have licenses from the State Board of Education and the State Board of Psychology.

To gain a license from the State Board of Psychology, a school psychologist must have four years of experience working as a school psychologist and pass an oral exam to demonstrate understanding of laws governing school psychologists. This additional license allows those who work in private practice to provide diagnoses within their areas of expertise.

Depending on their focus, those who work in private practice primarily use their expertise in assessment to conduct comprehensive psychoeducational evaluations. Such evaluations include assessment of intellectual ability, learning patterns, achievement, motivation, behavior, or personality factors directly related to learning problems for both children and adults. These evaluations are conducted based on client self-referral. While assessments are chosen by the school psychologist, the driving force behind the assessment is the client’s presenting concern.

In a school setting, a school psychologist is conducting a psychoeducational evaluation to determine if the student has an educational disability that needs to be addressed through special education. In a private practice, a school psychologist is evaluating based on the diagnostic criteria of DSM-5 or ICD-10 to determine if the client has a disabling condition. A private school psychologist can provide a diagnosis and make recommendations regarding disability categories that the school should assess, but only a school team can determine if a student qualifies for special education services.

School psychologists in private practice also frequently complete Independent Educational Evaluations (IEEs). IEEs are evaluations conducted by a qualified examiner who is not employed by the school district. If a parent disagrees with the outcome of the evaluation that a school district has completed, the parent can request an IEE. School psychologists in private practice are uniquely positioned to complete IEEs because of their familiarity with both DSM diagnostic criteria and educational disability criteria under IDEA.

As part of an evaluation, school psychologists in private practice incorporate recommendations that can be used in educational planning. For K-12 students, this may include strategies for the child's teacher, private tutor, or family members to use at home, such as accommodations and/or direct instruction strategies. For adult clients, recommendations may include accommodations for a Section 504 Plan in the classroom setting or standardized professional assessments as well as strategies/supports for the client to implement themselves or seek out from professionals.

Within their private practice, some school psychologists may provide services that are recommended. School psychologists' training prepares them to provide counseling, academic intervention, behavior intervention, and tutoring services.

They may also provide advocacy services. Having worked both in public schools and private practice, school psychologists understand the complicated special education process. As advocates, school psychologists are available to attend meetings with clients and their educational team to help guide them through the process and act as a bridge between clients and school staff to ensure that their client's educational needs are met so they can achieve their fullest potential.

No matter what setting school psychologists are employed in, their main goal is to help individuals thrive within their educational setting.

References
For more information on school psychologists, please visit the National Association of School Psychologists website at https://nasponline.org.  

National Association of School Psychologists. (2017). A Career in School Psychology: Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from https://www.nasponline.org/about-school-psychology/becoming-a-school-psychologist/a-career-in-school-psychology-frequently-asked-questions

National Association of School Psychologists. (2014). Who Are School Psychologists. Retrieved from https://www.nasponline.org/about-school-psychology/who-are-school-psychologists

Welcome

Hello, and welcome to our new blog! 

We are Greer and Jen, Directors and School Psychologists at Achievement Advantage Assessment & Services. 

We are excited for the opportunity to bring an additional resource to parents, clients, and educators by providing blogs related to education and learning exceptionalities, including information about special education law, the evaluation process, instructional practices to best meet the needs of students with learning differences, and much more!

Additionally, we will be inviting guest bloggers who work in the education, mental health, and medical fields to share about their areas of expertise.

Our goal is to provide information that you will find beneficial.  Do you have a topic you would like to learn more about?  Please let us know by contacting us via email at achieve@achievement-advantage.org.  We welcome your input!