By Paul Meschter, PA Licensed and School Certified Psychologist
Entering college is a challenging transition for all students, and one that is particularly demanding for learning disabled students who have benefited from a learning support IEP. The IEP likely includes accommodations that have helped the student acquire and retain the curriculum, as well as enhance their ability to demonstrate their knowledge. Students with specific learning disabilities will greatly increase their chances of success in college if they continue their accommodations at the college level. However, most parents are unaware that the student will need an independent evaluation in order to do so.
A current psychoeducational evaluation is required by law to confirm that the student will continue to need learning support accommodations upon entering college. When students graduate from high school, they are no longer under the protection of P.L. 94-142 – the federal law that guarantees a free and appropriate public education to all students regardless of learning, developmental or health challenges. If accommodations as a learning disabled student are needed in college, the student must be evaluated and recertified under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This evaluation must provide a formal diagnosis from the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – 4th Edition), explain the functional limitations of the disability and why accommodations are still necessary for the student to succeed. The evaluation must be administered within three years of starting college to be valid.
Taking proactive steps before graduation is the best strategy. An updated comprehensive evaluation will not only provide documentation required by the college to allow accommodations/support services, but will help the student prepare for the transition. As many of the same questions arise, the following may help clarify the issue:
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 a student’s Transition Plan. However, it is the opinion of education attorneys that the District is not responsible for providing the evaluation as it a.) does not affect the current IEP, b.) is not relevant to graduation requirements and c.) is for use by the student and a third party agency 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. Unfortunately, no. Evaluation Reports and IEP’s do not meet the requirements for documentation established by the ADA. These may be helpful as supporting information 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. 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. 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. In reality, only 16% of entering learning support students actually complete a four-year degree. However, students prepared with current documentation, a thorough understanding of their disability, self advocacy skills and knowledge of how to successfully navigate the changes in their learning environment will stand a far greater likelihood of success.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Meschter, M.S., CSP is a Pennsylvania licensed and school certified psychologist with over 25 years of professional experience. In addition to long-standing associations with Germantown Academy and the Radnor Township School District, he has served as staff member/consultant to area school districts, independent schools and private foundations for special needs children. Since 1999, he has devoted the majority of his practice to assisting learning support students document their need for continued accommodations at reasonable cost. A complimentary consultation regarding your student’s individual requirements is invited by calling 610-489-2177 or e-mailing email@example.com. Further information will be available shortly at http://www.collegelearningsupport.com