“Educational Evaluations of Children with Special Needs: Clinical and Forensic Considerations”
By David Breiger, Kristen Bishop, and G. Andrew H. Benjamin
American Psychological Association
Washington, D.C., 2014
Instructive book highly recommended
Reviewed by James K. Luiselli, Ed.D., ABPP, BCBA-D
Special education litigation represents a fertile area for psychologists functioning as evaluators, consultants and legal advisers. Unfortunately, graduate school training rarely touches on this topic, there are few continuing education opportunities available for practicing clinicians and most interested practitioners have to learn “on the job.” Furthermore, you must look far and wide to locate relevant publications, of which there are few.
This book is a step-by-step guide for conducting independent educational evaluations of children who have special needs, “to aid in the determination of eligibility for special education services or accommodations in the public school setting.” The authors first explain how psychologists typically receive such referrals through parents, physicians, school districts, and attorneys. A psychologist’s role must then be clarified before committing to an evaluation. As the book shows, there are many steps along the way.
At a mere 94 pages of text the book is brief but so well organized and written that the reader will come away fulfilled and more knowledgeable about the evaluation process. Context and history of special education evaluations are presented as a backdrop to legislative actions that define present-day requirements and standards. Notably, the authors detail provisions mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2001, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Any potential evaluator should be fully versed about this legislation and the practice implications.
Once a psychologist accepts a special education evaluation, there are critical steps in building alliances with the parties involved, adhering to due process prescriptions, managing multiple tasks and usually, dealing with conflict resolution. The book provides a very thoughtful 12-step analysis of these and other activities, including administering test protocols, conducting interviews, and collaborating with collateral professionals.
In my experience, many psychologists are challenged by writing a final report that summarizes their findings and is geared properly to the receiving audiences, particularly attorneys and court hearing officers. The authors of this book do a great service in walking through the sequence of preparing a report and then illustrating their recommendations with an exemplar. This sample report shows masterfully how to write concisely, to the point, with supporting documentation and truly independently.
Finally, the book examines the actions of a psychologist in the event of a due process hearing and demand for legal testimony. Like report writing, this can be an arduous undertaking for novice evaluators but the authors’ many recommendations offer solid ground for behaving effectively. Among many tips, they advise about maintaining demeanor under direct and cross-examination, handling provocative questions, keeping testimony consistent with the written record and preparing diligently before taking the stand.
Unquestionably, this is the book I would recommend to any psychologist seeking to become an independent evaluator in special education cases. There are many take-away points which can be absorbed after a single reading and applied effectively many times over. In addition to wonderfully crafted narrative and the illustrative report, the authors included an appendix with a parent agreement form, summary of procedural logistics and list of common mistakes when performing evaluations. Thus, the book is instructive and pragmatic, the best of both worlds, in a compact, engaging, and highly readable text.
James K. Luiselli, Ed.D., ABPP, BCBA-D, is Chief Clinical Officer, Clinical Solutions, Inc. and North East Educational and Developmental Support Center, Tewksbury, Mass..