Who Should Do the Testing?
In general, there are two choices to be made when deciding where to have you child evaluated. One is to have the testing done in the school vs. privately. The other choice is whether to have it done by an individual expert vs. a team.
- SCHOOL: The advantages of school testing are that it is usually free, it is often a pre-requisite for receiving extra help or specialized services from the school even if other private testing has been done, and the validity of school testing is seldom questioned by school personnel. Disadvantages of testing by the school are several. The background, training and, quality of evaluations provided by the school varies greatly. Some are very good, but others may be lacking. It can be difficult for parents to evaluate the qualifications of personnel on the school staff. Moreover, personnel who are working for the school virtually always have a certain “conflict of interest” when evaluating children for LD’s. A person working for the school can’t simply give an objective opinion about what would hypothetically be in the child’s best interest, but has to temper his or her recommendations with knowledge of the school’s available resources as well as the needs of the student’s classmates. Moreover, a second kind of conflict comes about when a child has been receiving services from the school for some time. In this case, testing which demonstrates a lack of progress reflects poorly on the school’s interventions, services that may sometimes have been delivered by the evaluator him/herself. The extent to which an individual evaluator in the school system allows these conflicts of interest to influence them varies greatly, but it can be hard for a parent to tell the extent to which it has occurred. The results of school testing may be very valid, but they are always suspect on this basis.
PRIVATE: The advantages and disadvantages of private testing are in many ways the converse of testing carried out by the school. Private evaluators work for the parents and are free to give their best professional/expert opinions about what would be best for a particular child without bias or conflict of interest. While the quality of private evaluators also varies widely, parents have more freedom of choice in selecting an evaluator and are usually more able to investigate a particular evaluator’s background, training and credentials. The disadvantage of private evaluations is that they are often quite expensive. This can sometimes be mitigated by health insurance, although many health plans will not cover investigations of this sort. It is also possible to sometimes get the school system to pay for private evaluations (see below) although this has disadvantages in terms of the delay it entails as well as sometimes engendering some bad feelings between the school staff and the parents. Often times, parents end up having to pay this bill themselves.
When looking for private evaluators, there are many different sorts of professionals that one might utilize. These include Education Specialists (Reading Specialists, Tutors, LD Specialists, etc.), Psychologists, Speech & Language Pathologists, Neurologists, and Developmental Pediatricians. In general, no one specialty is better than any other for these kinds of evaluations, although none of them are able on their own to “cover all of the bases”. Therefore, a team evaluation is almost always best. Ideally, the team should include psychological, medical, and educational components. Unfortunately, team evaluations in the private setting can be hard to find and often require a trip to a teaching hospital to obtain. There can also be long waits for such evaluations. Financially, they are often bargains (compared to their individual components obtained separately), however, and the results are the most comprehensive, accurate and reliable.
- SCHOOL & PRIVATE SIMULTANEOUSLY: An ideal situation can be for parents to obtain private testing at the same time that the school is proceeding with their own evaluation process. This is best because it has the effect of “leveling the playing field”. When its time to meet with a school to agree on an Individual Education Plan (IEP), parents who allow the school to do all the testing are at a disadvantage – the school plays the role of “expert” and the parents have little choice but to accept what they are told. On the other hand, parents who go into such a meeting with their own testing already completed have their own idea of what is wrong and what needs to be done which may or may not jive with the schools plans and perceptions. The situation then turns into something more closely resembling a negotiation between equals.