There are several reasons why an outside perspective may be beneficial for the student. The most common issue is a disagreement between the parents and the school district regarding the results of the evaluation or the provided recommendations. In this situation, it is always advisable to seek the opinion of a third party, to ensure that the wellbeing of the student is put front and center.
Although school districts everywhere are working extremely hard to support their students, they face the challenge of a nationwide shortage of school psychologists. This results in school psychologists having to take on a staggering number of cases. One clinician reported that they were responsible for 5 different schools and that they have completed over 120 initial evaluations and re-evaluations over the past year. Considering that there are only 40 weeks in a school year, this person was conducting roughly three evaluations per week. With those overwhelming caseloads and the lack of resources in many districts, it is very difficult to give each and every student the amount of individualized attention they need, resulting in less comprehensive evaluations at times. In these cases, pursuing an IEE not only gives the student all the attention they need.
Another reason to seek an IEE might be the need for a specialist to address a particular issue. As a school psychologist, professionals have to address a vast number of conditions, such as traumatic brain injuries, learning disabilities, anxiety, or emotional behavioral problems, in a very diverse population. At the moment, most of the school psychologists are generalists, sort of a “primary care doctor” in the psychology world, that can address the majority of the issues. Nevertheless, as the primary care doctors frequently refer to cardiologists, neurologists, dermatologists, and endocrinologists when advanced training is needed, in the psychology field sometimes specialists are required as well. Therefore, seeking a specialist in a particular area may give a different perspective or more in-depth recommendations to address your child’s educational needs.
To all the above-mentioned circumstances, school psychologists face yet another difficulty when performing their professional duties. As part of a larger system, they are impacted by deadlines and politics that sometimes arise when working at a school. To be able to serve and meet all the educational needs of a large population, school districts have to adhere to budgetary constraints and strict deadlines that even the best and most well-mean psychologist might find difficult to navigate. Independent evaluators, however, are not held to the constraints as they are, by definition, separate from the school system.
Finally, school psychologists can legally opt to perform a re-evaluation by reviewing the available records instead of carrying out formal cognitive and achievement testing. The number of school psychologists that have re-evaluated students by performing a records review has increased over the past year, due to COVID-19 making in-person assessments difficult, in many areas of the country. For most of those re-evaluations, a records review was the appropriate course of action. However, updated testing during re-evaluation is strongly recommended if a student is not progressing in their academics, there was a major change to symptoms presentation impacting their functioning in the classroom, or the student is about to graduate from high school. In those cases, if the school district is not able to perform a re-evaluation that includes formal testing, requesting an IEE might be the best option for some families.