Parents often ask me about getting testing done through the school systems. As someone who provides private evaluations, I am not a disinterested party, but I do try to provide parents with the information to help them make the best decision for their child. I once gave a public presentation that included this subject. The two slides I initially created were titled “Benefits of a private evaluation” and “Drawbacks of a school evaluation.” That does reflect my bias that many parents will see significant benefits from a private evaluation.
One major benefit of a private evaluation is that the evaluator does not have any financial stake in the outcome of the testing. If a school system identifies a learning disability, it obligates them to provide interventions for the student. Some argue that this creates a disincentive for the school system to find issues.
Another major benefit to an outside evaluation is it is not as narrowly focused. When a school system performs an evaluation, they typically have a very narrowly focused question: is the school system required by law to provide services for this student? A private evaluator approaches an evaluation with a broader perspective: Why is this student struggling, and what can be done to help the student experience success.
The format of school based evaluations can be very confusing as well. Most school-based evaluations tend to include several different reports generated by a number of different evaluators. Most of these reports end with the statement, “the information included in this report should be considered by the committee in considering whether the student is eligible for special education services.” In the model school systems use, a committee makes diagnostic decisions about including a child in special education services. The rationale behind making this decision is usually not explained in writing at any point, and is generally indicated by whether or not a box on a standard form has been checked. This procedure has questionable clinical utility, and it often results in parents being quite confused about the assessment process and results. It amazes me how many times I have encountered parents who have gone through this process and are not able to tell me what the basic diagnostic conclusions of the evaluation were. There is no document that clearly outlines what the diagnosis was, and what the intervention programs should be.
The bottom line is that the nature, quality, purpose, and outcomes of school based and private evaluations are often very different. I often tell parents that if it is a very clear diagnosis that is impossible to miss, that the school system might do an adequate job. However, if the parents want a clear understanding of what is going on with their child and how to help most effectively, a private evaluation is often a better choice.