Mass Public Schools/learning Disability

Updated on June 14, 2011
L.B. asks from Groveland, MA
11 answers

My friend suspects her son has a learning disability and since my daughter had similar issues as a child, she asked my advice. I advised her to have him tested. She believes that the family would be required to pay for private testing. Is this true? In every state my children attended public school, they were required to perform the evaluation if a parent requested it. In most states there is a prescribed time frame in which the testing must be completed after the parents' written request. Is this not the case in Massachusetts? She believes that she would be required to pay because his grades are too high (an average/below average student - not failing.) I've searched and can't find any policies online anywhere. Thanks in advance for your help!

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So What Happened?

Thank you so much everyone! I will pass all of this great information along to my friend. She's aware that it's really too late to start testing this year. I had already suggested that she still write the letter now so things can be in motion when the new school year starts. I couldn't agree more about grades not being the issue. When a child is spending 7-10 hours a week on spelling and still can't spell the words, something is wrong!

You've all been so helpful! Thanks again!

Featured Answers



answers from Boston on

Once you give a written request the school has 5 business days to contact you. After you sign a letter giving them permission to test they have testing complete within 30 business days and a team meeting within 45 business days. You are allowed to request a copy of the report 2 days before the meeting.
Everything she needs can be found on the mass dept of education website. Hopefully Martha (although not from mass) will chime in with some of her wisdom.

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More Answers


answers from Hartford on

First off, please know that a school CAN NOT make any sort of diagnosis on any sort of disorder because it's illegal for them to do so. What schools CAN do is evaluate kids to see if they have delays or other areas that need targeted help/services that the school system can provide. The school would pay for this evaluation. Your friend must make this request in writing for it to be official, and once she makes the request the school MUST perform the evaluation.

If the school hesitates then she should get an independent evaluation which her insurance might cover, although it depends on the laws per state and if the insurance people are dicks about loopholes. If he ends up with a diagnosis of some sort then the school will cover its butt and perform that evaluation faster than you can say "you're now getting special services, let's schedule a Triennial, a PPT, and IEP."

So depending on what she thinks the problems are, she can seek advice from a Child Psychiatrist/Psychologist; Pediatric Neurologist; Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician. Any or all of those specialists. The best would probably be a D-B P but they're in very high demand and it can be very difficult getting in to see one. She would want one that specializes in whatever her specific concerns and diagnoses end up being.

Edited to add: I have to also agree with others that a child's grades make not one bit of difference. Children with special needs and learning delays can have excellent grades but comes with a lot of hard work. Pulling great grades doesn't mean that a child doesn't need services. By that reasoning children with speech delays or speech impediments shouldn't have school sponsored speech services because they're so intelligent that their grades are fine. Intelligence and grades have nothing to do with it. Don't let them brush her aside "just because" her son is intelligent.

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answers from Pittsfield on

No, we live in Mass. I had testing done for my son- he's not even close to failing & my son doesn't even go to the public school.

If I remember correctly, his principal contacted the public school, and they called me. If your friend's son is in a private school, tell her to talk to the principal @ her son's school. If she is homeschooling, she can contact the principal in her local public school herself.

We also had private testing done because our insurance covered it . Without the insurance, it would have cost more than $1,000. If she can convince the insurance co. to pay for testing, it's worth the effort. They are very thorough.

Our son wound up having some sensory issues, and needed an occupational therapist. The public school would have provided that, but we went with a private OT since our insurance covered it. The other reasons are we would have had to pick him up from school, and bring him to the public school, and then back again- I don't remember how many days/ week. I was concerned about the amount of school he'd be missing. Also, I was told the OT at the public school can only work on the issues that directly impact his schoolwork. There were other things he benefitted from working on that affected his daily life too.
Hope it helps :)

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answers from Boston on

You can write a letter to the principal outlining your concerns and request a full evaluation which will be at the cost of the school. The request has to be in writing, which sets in motion legal time tables that the school has to adhere to. They will most likely try a "win-win" approach with some assistance or accommodations without having to go the IEP route (we did that for 1.5 years). But then we pulled out the big guns and pushed harder with professional help. We have been battling our school system for 2.5 years to get my daughter who has dyslexia on an IEP. I found our school system unwilling to spend money and denied, denied, denied. We had the school test her, but we disagreed with their finding of non-eligibility. We then paid ourselves for additional private testing (who found dyslexia and non-attentive ADD). Still, it took 3 IEP eligibility meetings over all those years AND the attendance of a super legal advocate AS WELL as the neuro-psych who tested her for the school to admit there were issues. The law is written such that the adherence of the law is on the backs of the parents, and in my opinion school deny and many parents do not have the time or money to keep pushing. Also, the school will say the grades are OK, but the law talks about more than academic issues, it includes social, emotional and "the child's own potential" in the wording.
If you need an advocate I can highly recommend the one we used, she is top notch and works for a law firm in Boston. You can contact me via messaging on Mamapedia if you like. Also our neuropsych is a well respected and acknowledged expert that I can highly recommend.
The three steps are: 1) finding eligibility 2) writing the IEP 3) testing that IEP provides the 'effective progress' that every child is entitled to under the law. We are done with step 2 and the total out of pocket cost for us with some testing covered by our mental health coverage is at about $3K+ at this point. Yearly testing by the neuro-psych will determine if her scores on the various evaluations have gone up in relations to where she was with respect to her peers.
I would say that physical or obvious disabilities (hearing or speech issues) probably get better response from the schools than dyslexia. Good luck.

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answers from Charlotte on


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answers from Oklahoma City on

All public schools have psychologists employed by their district. They can observe the children and make suggestions to the parents. If they are not a trained Diagnostician they can't really make a diagnosis. But a Psychiatrist or Developmental Pediatrician can. We had our 3 year old grandson evaluated for Autism and other sensory disabilities as soon as he turned 3 and it was through the public school system, free. They came and observed him during his class time at Mothers-Day-Out. He had started acting out and it was obvious something was not right.

They observed him over the period of several weeks and came back with a plan to help him. He didn't qualify for the special needs class for 3 year olds at that time. The changes they suggested worked very well to keep him calm and more focused. The Director moved him from the 2-3 year old class to the 3-4 year old class and it was night and day. He did marvelous in the older classroom.

At Head Start this past year he has not done very well and the school Psychologist is making sure he gets in a Pre-K classroom with the public school. He can be evaluated and observed over the period of the year and they can make suggestions and requests through out the year this way.

Call a Children's hospital in your state and find out what services they might offer in the way of evaluating and testing.

I have a friend who now lives in Billings MT that did some training and could evaluate for learning disabilities. She did it for people and did not charge because she just wanted to help kids learn.

Your friend can also make an appointment with an Eye (glasses) doc that can evaluate for eye/brain disabilities. They can basically retrain the brain in how it receives information and processes it. They use glasses similar to those used by Nicholas Cages character in National Treasure where they flip different colored lenses and read a particular worksheet. They also have exercises they do to strengthen weak areas. My grandson was nearly blind in one eye due to not having glasses, his brain had stopped processing the information that eye was sending it. He did exercises with the odd glasses and he can see perfectly now with corrective lenses, his brain is processing the information very well now.

There are many ways a parent can go about this. Getting help earlier is better than latter.

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answers from Boston on

Of course your friend is dead wrong. All states cover testing. I'm in MA in a town notorious for denying services so it took two rounds of testing to get my son on and IEP but it can be done even with a reluctant school district.

All she has to do it put the request in writing and address it to the principal, who had a certain number of days to respond. I don't know how it will work with school letting out, but she can get the request in now and if testing can't be done until the fall, they can at least schedule it now.

In my son's case, his first grade teacher would not refer him for testing so I requested it anyway. He tested as low at the 26th percentile in one area but had to be in the 25th or below to qualify for an IEP, so I did pursue independent testing (covered by health insurance) which picked up on AD/HD but was unclear on dyslexia. I hired a private tutor for a year to get him reading, he struggled through grades 2 & 3 with a 504 accommodation plan for AD/HD and then his 4th grade teacher suggested testing again and he qualified for an IEP then.

His grades don't matter - tell her read up on and get that request in now.

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answers from Boston on

It is the law in every state that the school will do the testing free of charge. Have her contact the principal and put her request in writing for a complete evaluation.

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answers from Sacramento on

The school will do the testing if she requests. However, given the time of year, because there isn't enough time left to complete the process, they'll likely ask her to start in the fall.
Even if she did private testing, she'd likely have to have him tested with the school anyway (educational service qualifying criteria are often different than simply having the diagnosis).

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answers from Salt Lake City on

First, the definition of learning disability is "Normal or Above Normal IQ/Intelligence, with low performance or aptitude in one or more specific areas" ... so average grades fit into it, and they shouldn't look at that at all.

Second, the testing done in public schools falls under federal law, so it shouldn't be any different in MA than here.

She should have specific reasons why she thinks he has a learning disability (for example, struggles more than expected with reading or with numbers, or something), then she needs to start by talking to the classroom teacher and then the special education coordinator. I'm going through the process, too, with my son (for ADHD in his case), and there is a lot of communication back and forth, forms I need to fill out, etc, but it is all free (there may be a point where they ask for the pediatrician to do medical assessment, don't know yet, but that should be covered under insurance).

Bottom line is, she won't know more until she asks. The school is really the place to start - that's even what the pediatrician recommended to me.

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answers from Lewiston on

Like others have said, your friend should contact the school directly by writing a letter outlining her concerns and asking for an evaluation. For learning issues, that is the best place to start rather than a private psych eval. Going through the school is free, but after that if you want another evaluation done if you disagree with the school's results, they'll pay for that too, but only after the school has evaluated him. If you're looking at a learning disability, his grades aren't the only thing that they look at, but rather someone will do achievement testing to examine his academic achievement compared to his overall intellectual ability.

The school has 45 school days to do the testing, so they won't do it until the fall.

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