Getting a child assessed in BUSD: pros and cons?

Hi All,

Before the shelter in place our child’s first grade teacher mentioned it might be worthwhile to get her assessed for a learning disability (she and another intervention teacher who worked with our child thought she might have a processing issue). We were ready to request an assessment and then the pandemic happened.

Our child completely fell apart under distance learning and in the last two weeks of school her teacher identified some strategies for her to try.

We’ve tried to keep summer light and breezy but are uncertain whether or not to proceed with the request for an assessment. We’ve since been told it’s terrible for your child to get assessed by the district because then she’ll be labeled and that label will follow her into perpetuity. I just want the kid assessed so we can figure out the best interventions to support her not to feel like a total failure when it comes to school.

Should we get her assessed through the district or try to go outside the district for the assessment. I’d really appreciate your thoughts and experiences.

Thank you.

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As both an elementary teacher and also a mother to a daughter with an IEP I recommend that you take the school up and have your daughter assessed. I would start by having the district do it. In my experience, it is rare that a district offers a first grader testing. If she was thinking it is a good idea then it probably is. If your child qualifies For services, which is not that easy, it means she has some issues that should be addressed. Don’t feel bad about having her labeled because it could really help her get services that she needs. There has to be a big discrepancy between what your child is doing and what she is capable of doing so if she qualifies then she definitely needs some help. You can always say no to any services offered.

I work in the district and work closely with students who have IEP and 504 plans, so I've seen the pros and cons of assessment first hand. In my opinion, I would do the assessment through the school. It's free and will give you a lot of information about how your daughter thinks and learns, which will be helpful even if you don't decide to give her a support plan. The nice thing about assessment is that whatever the outcome is is only a recommendation. If they suggest an IEP plan and you aren't comfortable with it, you do not need to approve it. If you don't want your child pulled out of class for extra support, you have the right to say so. I think getting the assessment makes a lot of sense and will give you much more information that you can then use to decide what interventions or strategies, if any, you would like to put in place for your child going forward.

Feel free to email me if you have further questions!

CC

Sometimes the labels are the only thing that get you services. If she has a learning disability then the label just helps everyone know what general category to look in when they are considering services. And labels can help you understand more about how she learns.

Several years ago my kid was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, ADHD and PDD-NOS, then later the DSM V called the PDD-NOS ASD instead. We still really have no idea exactly what the autism diagnosis really is for our kid since there are a lot of things that fit and some things that don't. But if you say "autism" to the school district, they get an idea of the possible challenges and you have more "ammunition" with which to fight for services. We don't really care what you call it. Our kid just says they are "neurodiverse."

Hi,

This is a hard time to face such a decision, and asking the questions is the best first step. This is more an info dump than advice persay.

One difficulty right now is that remote testing has limitations, and in-person evals -- for which the student and the assessor have to be in the same room for several hours (with masks? which could affect building trust between evaluator and student, as well as basic intelligibility of speech) -- pose their own challenges. That will be true of any private assessment now as well.

It isn't necessarily terrible for a child to be assessed by the district. But the eval will essentially go in the cumulative file (I believe psychological reports have more restricted access though). But that would also be true of a privately conducted eval that you shared with the school - it's just that you have the option to share it or not if you have it done privately. But if you don't share it, it's hard to request any accommodations or services recommended. If your child grows up to need accommodations or extra time on testing (including the SAT's or ACT's), it's easier to get if you have a long-standing documented history of need. Having a good assessment should also help you understand how your daughter learns, and (when school is back in session) will help her teachers best support her particular learning style, and give her any accommodations or services she needs to be successful in her education (realistically, implementation probably depends on the passion, energy, and innovation of the given teacher). And a good eval will help you advocate for her, and help your daughter to be her own advocate as she grows.

As a clarification, a district assessment won't actually result in a "diagnosis," although a private assessment could. The school district will "classify" students who meet criteria for classification (e.g., Speech or Language Impaired, Specific Learning Disability, Autism, etc. - ADHD usually falls under Other Health Impaired).

The risk of a label needs to also be balanced out by the risk of struggle. Leaning differences, left unchecked, can start to affect a student's self-esteem, emotions, and even social relationships, as well as their academic performance. In the best outcome, a label will be secondary to your daughter having a better understanding of her strengths and struggles and she will feel empowered as well as supported by the adults who understand how to help her.

Since it sounds like your gut instinct is to proceed with an assessment, the questions are whether to pursue one now, or wait, and whether to get an eval free through the district or pay (often out-of-pocket, though sometimes insurance will cover some of it) for a private eval. Advantages to the private eval are that you get to pick the evaluator (and thus have a bit more control over the quality), and you have full control over who gets to see the results. That will partly depend on your personal circumstances. Waiting might be more feasible if the strategies suggested by the last teacher were ultimately moderately-to-wildly successful. If the new teacher is willing to have a video meeting with you to discuss your daughter's challenges and what has worked thus far, that might also buy you some time. It also depends if the school psychologist is currently conducting evals at all.

Wishing you the best of luck! You're welcome to private message me if I can be of any more help.

We had our younger child assessed by the school district.  She has a 504 plan.  We get a meeting at the beginning of each year, and the main thing we tell them is that if she just stands there when they tell her to do 3 things, she is not being defiant.  She can learn better when her teachers know she has a learning disability.  For us it has been a good thing.

Absolutely have your child assessed! My child was assessed and it was such a sigh of relief to know why he struggled so much! (auditory processing issues for him). I really have never heard that getting a 'label' is a problem. Much more of a problem is actually GETTING the right diagnosis, because the district tends to give only the easy tests on the assessments and then they say, 'see nothing is wrong'. That happened to us too and then we ordered a private NeuroPych eval which was just soooo amazing. the neuropsychologist was so great about verbalizing to my son why he struggled, it was not that he was'stupid' etc.

In most situations, the truth is the best thing, and it's no different when it comes to what your child's learning style/differences are. Your kid will be labeled regardless of being assessed, but at least the assessment is more likely to result in an accurate and more kind "label".  If your child is struggling at school, the easiest thing for teachers would be to say they are, well, not smart.  But, it could be that they have ADHD, or slow processing speed, a hearing issue or dyslexia which are not labels at all and aren't offensive. Plus, once you know what learning issue the child is dealing with, there are strategies to help them succeed.  My son's preschool teacher and director told us that he was retarded (in so many words!) and would be best served by special ed classes. They wrote a letter saying that much and the Kaiser developmental doctor who assessed him read it, and despite swearing it wouldn't influence his opinion simply paraphrased preschool's letter to produce his "assessment".  He saw him only once, and didn't even bother to check either his hearing or temperature (turns out my son had a hearing issue and was running fever later that day). The preschool also pushed us to get an assessment from the Berkeley School District, and while I was just as apprehensive as you are about that, especially after the fiasco with the Kaiser doctor, it turned out to be the best thing we could have ever done for him.  It was a team of specialists who observed him on multiple occasions and prepared a thoughtful actionable report. And yes, they were the ones who figured out my son had a hearing issue combined with a muscle tone issue, which resulted in speech and motor delays. They provided speech therapy for him, and I was hugely impressed by their speech therapist.  She was knowledgeable, enthusiastic and devoted to getting my kid to talk.  It was totally worth it driving him across town to see her server days a week.  My son is in college now (Cal Poly SLO), and he never had to be in a special ed class in spite of the labels his teacher awarded him.  It's been incredibly helpful to know what learning issues he had, because teachers and us parents knew how to help him succeed at school.  He's had 504 plan throughout all of his school years, and that translated into accommodations at college.  I have a friend who's never assessed her son who's now struggling in college, and she's going to pay for a private assessment in hopes to get him accommodations.  Up to you, but I'd recommend going ahead with an assessment if it's possible now - you may need to wait until the pandemic is over. School district won't push their services on you. It's the opposite, you should fight for your kid and get her all the help she needs.  Good luck. It will be fine.  They grow up. :)

Getting an assessment by the school district in no way marks  a child in perpetuity.  Just getting an assessment can be a challenge, and getting an  assessment by the school district is no guarantee there will be any intervention arising from it. If anything, school districts in the Bay Area, with a few notable exceptions, will do their best to NOT qualify students for intervention through an IEP. IEPs are legally binding and require follow up yearly and retesting to make sure the student continues to qualify. So no, the process is an ongoing one, and no one gets labeled unnecessarily, and services are not provided automatically. Some districts will rely heavily on 504, not IEPs, but that usually only involves classroom level accommodation that is not enforceable. Actual  interventions with remediation and specific therapies provided by and paid for by the school district are actually really hard to come by. The other option is to have a kid assessed privately, but I would caution against doing that. From a practical standpoint of pandemic, given the barriers of masking and social distancing and heavy reliance on doing remote assessment, the validity of data gathered is an issue as norms are not based on these conditions. The  quality of the information gathered Is questionable at best. Second, school districts usually don’t accept outside evaluations anyway, so even if the data were valid, it would’t be used for eligibility or for intervention planning.

No one has planned for pandemic and special education, so there are no legal guidelines for how districts have to proceed given the realities of distance learning.  I would call up DREDF ( disability rights and education defense fund) and ask what is happening these days and get a sense for how to best proceed... 

Best of luck!