Entering college with a Documentation Evaluation, and using the accommodations recommended therein, significantly increase a student’s likelihood of degree completion. However, its importance remains unknown to most students and parents, as well as many school personnel. The following questions have arisen most frequently about the procedure, timeline and the parties responsible:
Q. Will the high school provide this evaluation?
A. No. There is no law requiring the school to do so. Some parents have challenged school districts and even initiated lawsuits contending that the evaluation should be provided as part of the student’s Transition Plan. However, it is the overriding opinion of education attorneys that the District is not responsible for providing the evaluation as it does not affect the current IEP, is not relevant to graduation requirements and is for use by the student and a third party after graduation. Furthermore, the evaluation cannot be requested as an IEE (Independent Educational Evaluation) as it will not be used to redirect the IEP. Even so, schools may be reluctant to inform students and parents of this necessity for fear of litigation or being billed for outside testing services. Families need to accept that the evaluation is one of many expenses that will be encountered for college-bound students. This just happens to be the first.
Q. Won’t colleges accept the recent ER and IEP as proof that continued accommodations are needed?
A. While two-year colleges will sometimes accept the ER and IEP, four-year colleges are becoming increasingly stringent about having an updated evaluation that meets documentation requirements established by the ADA. The IEP and ER will be helpful in establishing the student’s history of needing support/accommodations although the evaluation must present current data and utilize the most recently standardized testing instruments appropriate for the student’s age.
Q. Who should perform the evaluation?
A. Only a state licensed and school certified psychologist who is familiar with the most current testing instruments and mandated report format should be consulted. Choosing an evaluator who is unfamiliar with the requirements has often resulted in a costly and time consuming waste of resources. Colleges are not required to accept inappropriate or insufficient documentation.
Q. When should the evaluation be administered?
A. Anytime after the student reaches their 16th birthday, as an adult intelligence scale is required. Ideally, the evaluation should be administered during junior year and no later than fall of the senior year. This will identify areas that need to be strengthened and give the student time to work on the recommendations generated, including any assistive technologies. Postponing the evaluation until the summer before the student enrolls in college is not recommended.
Q. When should the evaluation be presented to the college?
A. Once the student has been accepted and a tuition deposit made to the college of choice, the evaluation should then be forwarded to the college support services office. The evaluation should not be sent with the student’s application for admission unless it is specifically requested.
Q. What about students who have Chapter 504 service plans? Do these students need an updated evaluation as well?
A. Yes. Under the ADA, regardless of health impairment or physical disability, the student must initiate the process to receive accommodations and present current documentation of need. For those students who carry a service agreement for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, documentation is becoming increasingly stringent and requires an extensive developmental history with the evaluation to differentiate between ADHD and possible emotional disorders. Students with a psychiatric diagnosis must have the evaluation performed within six months of starting college.
Q. Aside from documenting need for accommodations, what else can the evaluation provide?
A. Depending on the types of tests administered, the evaluation can help students understand their learning styles, strengths and weaknesses of executive function, personality variables and vocational interests. Having this information available prior to college can help clarify career goals, provide strategies to enhance productivity and assist with course selection.
In addition to the ADA format evaluation, students needing accommodations, and possibly support services in college, will greatly benefit from transition coaching. Most students only have a vague awareness (or even pronounced misperceptions) of the differences between high school and college. A qualified transition coach or group counseling experience can make a significant difference by having students understand impending changes and their need to adapt in advance. Research has confirmed students who utilize their documentation; have a thorough understanding of their disability and self advocacy skills to discuss it; and knowledge of how to successfully navigate the changes in their learning environment stand a significantly greater likelihood of degree completion.
On a final note, make sure you obtain copies of the student’s records upon graduation. Surprisingly, high schools are required by federal law to only keep records for three years after the diploma is granted. Some Districts will save records on microfilm while others do not. This has caused considerable frustration for students who seek accommodations a few years after completing their secondary education.