Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Is it Time for an Outside Evaluation?

For the past few weeks, I’ve been sending many emails and having several informal meetings on one topic: three-year evaluations. It seems the majority of my students are due for three-year evaluations in the upcoming months. I’ve written on the topic of comprehensive assessments before (see posts HERE and HERE) but I have some unique cases right now, including students who need outside evaluations—specialized evaluations that the schools cannot provide.

A Fine Line
            Recommending an outside evaluation can be tricky. First of all, these evaluations cost school districts money. Second, there’s a fine line between suggesting that a student will benefit from an outside evaluation, and potentially insulting the school team who would otherwise be doing the testing. In my case, the outside evaluations are often done by Clarke (more about CEE here), which can make it seem that I’m simply advocating for my own organization. So for my current students, I’m working to justify their testing needs while maintaining my current relationships with school personnel.

Who Can Benefit
            One student I’m recommending for an outside evaluation is a high school junior. She’s brilliant. This student is taking a full AP course load and excelling. She is college bound for sure. Knowing that this student has just one more year left of high school, I’m recommending an outside evaluation for her three-year because I’m not sure the school team is experienced in identifying gaps and areas of need for such a high-functioning student. Generally, students in special education have noticeable gaps and deficits but for this student, that is not the case. As her teacher of the deaf, I see her gaps in terms of awkward syntax in her written work, and general vocabulary (recently, while reading a short story together, she didn't know that navel was a synonym for belly button), but those gaps are not always clear to her teachers and others working with her. An outside evaluator, specializing in testing students with hearing loss will be able to identify the areas of need so that I can focus my sessions and ensure that this student is prepared for college.

            The second student I am recommending for an outside evaluation is an upper elementary school student who was diagnosed with hearing loss late; has noticeable learning needs and vocabulary/knowledge gaps; and has never had any type of comprehensive evaluation. With this student heading into junior high, as a team we need to know where his strengths and areas of need really are so that we can better address these skills. Because of a complicated history and the late diagnosis of hearing loss, an outside team with experience testing students who are deaf or hard of hearing may be better able to identify what needs are caused by hearing loss, and to answer our diagnostic questions regarding a possible secondary diagnosis.

Taking Next Steps

            In both cases, I first met with my case manager at each school to discuss the need for testing. Then I proposed my questions and concerns, and finally broached the topic of outside testing. I have good relationships with both students’ teams, which is also important. (Because schools are the ones responsible for paying for the testing and I am hired by the school, I begin with my school team before discussing the topic with parents when I am recommending outside testing.)

I emphasized the diagnostic questions as well as the need for a testing team familiar with how hearing loss impacts language and learning, citing specific examples from each student. One team was more readily receptive than the other, but both took the information I provided and were willing to explore the option.

These will be ongoing conversations but I am confident that in the end, both students will get the comprehensive testing that they require.