Sandra Roland | Educational Evaluations in Family Law Cases

Today we’re excited to welcome Sandra Dodson Roland, Ph.D., ABPP, to the Texas Family Law Insiders podcast.

Dr. Roland is Board Certified in Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology. She’s licensed in the State of Texas as a Psychologist and Licensed Specialist and has spent nearly 25 years working with children, adolescents and their families. She provides evaluations including 
autism spectrum, cognitive, ADHD, and child custody and adoption evaluations.

Today we are sitting down with her to discuss educational evaluations and how they can be used in family law cases. Listen as she walks us through:

  • When parents don’t agree on education for the children – what factors go into deciding what is best for the child
  • What are the components of the educational evaluation
  • There are more options than public or private schools. Why it’s important to consider ALL the education options (for each child)
  • And much more

Mentioned in this episode:


Sandra Roland: Really strive for both parents to be included when people like me are asked to provide psychological, psycho educational, educational evaluations. Really letting both parents be involved. Because it’s still important for that parent to give input, because they’re still a parent. They’re still involved in the child’s life. And you really have a lopsided evaluation if you don’t have both parents’ input.

Voiceover: You’re listening to the Texas Family Law Insiders podcast, your source for the latest news and trends in family law in the state of Texas. Now, here’s your host attorney Holly Draper.

Holly Draper: Today we’re excited to welcome Sandra Roland to the Texas Family Law insiders podcast. Dr. Roland is board certified in clinical child and adolescent psychology. She is licensed in the State of Texas as a Psychologist and is a Licensed Specialist in School Psychology. She has spent nearly 25 years working with children, adolescents and families. Dr. Roland spent 16 years working in a local school district and then served as the Director of the Psychology Department at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children. She left the hospital to focus on her specialty of psychological evaluation. Her areas of interest include autism spectrum evaluations, cognitive evaluations, ADHD evaluations, mood disorder evaluations, and child custody and adoption evaluations. She also offers court related consultations and expert testimony. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Sandra: Thank you for having me.

Holly: So why don’t you just tell us a little bit about your background.

Sandra: So as you mentioned, I spent my degree is in School Psychology, and I spent the first part of my career in the school district. I worked as a school psychologist, serving 12 different schools, a high school two junior high’s, and nine elementaries, including the preschool evaluation team and the autism evaluation team. So lots of experience with those all ages of evaluation. I moved up within the school district to be the Director of Evaluation and Compliance. So within the special education field, there’s lots of different speech pathologists, specialized teachers, diagnosticians, school psychologists, that all work to help the children be the best they can be and determine if there’s any disabilities that we need to be intervening for. And I was the Director over that group of people that also included being the Director of Disability Compliance.

So some, some compliance issues along the way, I got to learn a whole lot about. And then I moved on to the Scottish Rite Hospital, which I was the Director there, and that helped me learn the complex medical needs that children have. So added to the breadth of knowledge about special needs, developmental needs, medical needs, that children may have, and learned a whole lot more about that. And that was very, a very exciting time. But then towards now that I’m in the end of my career, I wanted to just specialize on evaluations, stay a little bit closer to home, you know, kind of pick and choose what I wanted to do.

Holly: So what is the difference between being board certified with child and adolescent psychology, and someone who is just generically board certified in psychology, or that or someone who deals with adults.

Sandra: So the board certification lists out different, like, there’s different areas that you can be board certified in, and then you pick the one that you have the most experience with, to go for that. So since I had spent 16, 20 years plus, with children, that is the way that I went. I could now go back and do a forensic specialization if I wanted, but there are you can be board certified in adults in forensic, in school, I could have done that one too. There’s lots of different different ones you can be board certified in.

Holly: Okay, so it sounds kind of like it is with us as attorneys.

Sandra: I think so.

Holly: Okay. So how would you describe your current practice?

Sandra: So my current practice is all evaluation and consulting. So no therapy, I get called about once a week asking for therapy appointments. I don’t do therapy anymore. So there’s a couple of components to the practice. So there’s a clinical component, meaning just any parent, or individual can call and say I would like psychological evaluation, or I want this for my child or I want an educational evaluation for my child. And they would come in my office, I would do that. Routinely do like ADHD type evaluations in my office. Sometimes physicians require that before they were prescribed medication. They require the person to have an evaluation an actual diagnosis of ADHD before they start prescribing. So have that as for the clinical part, and I do see all ages, even though I specialize in children I can do evaluations on on all ages.

I am unique though I think I’m one of the few in the Metroplex that will go down as low as two years of age for evaluations. And I love the little ones, that’s probably my favorite. And a lot of people won’t do that. Then I have a forensic component that is comprised of court ordered psychological evaluations for all ages, court ordered educational evaluations for children, child custody, adoption, guardianship, those children who have special needs that are 17, about to turn 18. And they maybe can’t take care of everything by themselves. A psychologist or other medical doctor has to kind of state what type of how much help they need, or if they can handle their finances, and medical and everything all on their own. So I do some of that.

I also do expert work. So behind the scenes, helping attorneys on cases or as a testifying expert, when it comes to school placement, the child’s special needs, things like that. So my practice spans special education law, family law and disability law. And then I have, I still continue to do some work in the schools. I do some contract work, I want to I want to make sure I stay current and, and abreast of all the changes that are happening with today’s youth. I’m often asked to do independent evaluations. So in special education, if a parent disagrees with the school district, they can request a special second opinion, so to speak, or an independent education evaluation at the school district’s expense. And I’m often called to different districts all over the Metroplex, and as far away as Tyler to do those type of evaluations. And I’ve been an expert in some due process hearings, which is the school districts equivalent to a trial.

Holly: Okay, so you mentioned that you are unique in that you do evaluations of children as young as two. What age do most cut off? How big of a an age range are we talking about where other professionals tend not to do those younger children?

Sandra: Most professional, I think, would start about eight. Seven or eight. I recently was hired for a case and it was a six year old. And they were having a hard time finding someone who would do the evaluation because she was six. But yeah, a lot of people definitely don’t want to do the preschool age. So you know, they want to make sure, they want them to be in first grade, basically.

Holly: I imagine there are a lot of unique challenges involved with trying to evaluate a child that young.

Sandra: Yes, yes.

Holly: So one of the parts of your practice that I know is unique, and that we’re going to talk about today relates to the educational component, and consulting that you do for attorneys on the educational piece. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Sandra: Sure. So um, I am hired a couple of different ways. Sometimes I am hired as a neutral consultant, or both sides have agreed for me to come in, take a look at all the data, maybe the child’s had a past evaluations, look at their school data, maybe even talk to teachers, and determine what the how the child’s functioning in school. What else, that what other supports they may need. What both parents, what their vision is, or what their wants are for their child and their education, and then try and offer some opinions about the best placement. Whether it’s private school, public school, those sorts of things. Sometimes I’m hired to also do the evaluation. So if a child hasn’t had the evaluation, I’ll do the educational evaluation, and then suggest, offer opinions to where I think the child would, you know, progress most and make the most difference in their life.

Holly: What’s involved with that educational evaluation?

Sandra: So educational evaluation consists of cognitive evaluation for the child, academic evaluations, so seeing where they are getting data from teachers about attention and how they get along at school. And looking at all those components. If there’s any disabilities, there learning disability or an attentional disability, anything like that.

Holly: Do you generally find that teachers and schools are cooperative when you’re doing those type of independent evaluations?

Sandra: Yes, and no. Depends on the district. I have learned over the years though, I had do a cover letter and I kind of let it out that I’ve worked in the schools long term, you know, really stress how important teacher data is, you know. A lot of times they’re scared if they think they’re going to have to be subpoenaed to go to court and try and put them at ease that you know, this is just all data gathering and you know, if I have this information, I’ll be the one going to court, not them. And, you know, I don’t know, I maybe I get teacher data 75% of the time, I think.

Holly: So you said that you’re usually neutral that the parties agree upon? Do you ever do educational consulting we’re only one side is hiring you. And maybe you’re a consulting expert, the other side doesn’t even know you’re there?

Sandra: Yes. And I have been hired in that aspect as well. And I’ve also been hired by one side to do the evaluation. So if one parent has sole rights to consent, or they have independent rights to consent for psychological evaluations, or educational evaluations, then I have done that. It’s not my preference. I prefer both sides to be involved, and agreeing to, you know, figuring out what’s in the best interest for their child.

Holly: Do you have courts appointing you in this role as a neutral as well? Or is it mostly just when the parties agree?

Sandra: I do. I have, I work off a court orders probably more than not, more than I then just them people just asking. So most of the time, I do have that court order, or they’ve already gone to court, and it’s been ordered that they find someone to do this, to help them, you know, come to an agreement on educational things.

Holly: So it’s not unusual as a family lawyer for us to see parents who aren’t agreeing on, you know, should this this district that mom’s in is better than a district with dad’s and vice versa, or somebody feels like private school is appropriate. What factors go into deciding what school environment is best for a child?

Sandra: So number one, what the child needs. Because all children aren’t, aren’t the same. Even within a family. I can my two kids needed different types of, you know, learning environments. So what what type of learning environment the child needs, where the parents are, so if I am if it is two public schools, then looking at the districts and what they have to offer, in way of their curriculum, extracurricular activities, what each school has. Looking at their ratings through the Texas Education Agency.

Looking at the teachers, the teacher ratio, teachers, you know, student ratio, how many teachers maybe have advanced degrees, what the turnover rate is in school, things like that I want look at. If it’s a private school that’s in the mix, then what do they offer, you know, if they have have any awards, or any distinctions that set them apart? Depends on the child’s age, and, you know, high schoolers takes a whole different looking at a whole lot more than maybe elementary school. But then if they’re in elementary kind of making a plan that they can follow, until they graduate.

Holly: Do you ever have situations where there’s multiple children involved, where you’re doing this type of evaluation? And you have to factor in kids possibly being at different schools? And what does that look like?

Sandra: Yes, one of the ones recently, I had the children probably will be, you know, as suggested that the one child needed this type of environment and the other child, you know, would be just fine in that it was a private school, and then maybe one going to public school. That happens, some. Yeah. And it it is maybe challenging, from a travel perspective, maybe or getting them there. But I truly look at what is in the children’s, you know, what they need to be successful and thrive.

Holly: Is the information that you’re gathering about these schools, typically public information you’re able to get from either state sources or the district website or something like that? Or do you actually have to go digging into the schools getting their cooperation and getting information from them?

Sandra: Both. So I get a lot from public domains. But then if it is a private school that I’ve never been to, I’ll go visit, and meet with the admissions staff and let them tell me about their school. And what’s, you know, the key points about it. Public schools, I often don’t go, if I haven’t been to a district or know much about a district, I’ll reach out. And having worked in a district, I can use that and I can usually at least get some phone calls and get some information from people who are in my, the position that I was in. And so that was helpful, I guess, then just someone else calling. I have a little bit of an in, but all, I do investigation all different ways.

Holly: So one of the factors that usually in my mind, keeps one parent from wanting to go the private school route is the cost. To what extent does that get factored into your analysis of whether or not a particular child should be in a private school or not?

Sandra: It does I mean, if it’s no way possible, then it doesn’t seem like it’s feasible. So there are other schools in between public and expensive private schools. So there are charter schools that can be looked at, which are public education, but specialized. There are, you know, parochial type schools that could be considered. A lot of times, even private schools have scholarships. And that may go on you. So there may be even though it is an expensive school, there may be a way to have a reduced tuition that is affordable for the family.

Holly: So do you ever get hired by a family lawyer to be consulting and possibly testifying expert with respect to whether or not a particular child should be going to a private school or school based on our client’s address? And are you able, if you can’t evaluate that child because it requires joint agreement or something like that, then are you able to just use whatever records already exist related to that child and make recommendations? Or is it impossible without you personally evaluating the child?

Sandra: Well, I don’t know that it’s always impossible. In some cases that may be so I guess my answer is it kind of depends. So I one of my very first cases where I was an educational consultant, they basically just, the attorneys, and the family didn’t know where to look for some of this information, so I, I basically just created an exhibit for them to use at a at a hearing that compared the schools, and from the TEA rankings and from what the schools offered. And that’s what they needed. And I was able to do that without seeing the child. And so, you know, it depends on what’s needed. And I’ll be honest, if, if they want one thing, and I can’t do it, because I can’t see the child, then I’ll say that and kind of offer what I can do.

Holly: So when you do evaluations, I would assume it’s either by court order, or by the parties agreeing to it. Do you typically make diagnoses of children? Are you doing a full psychological evaluation of them? Are you strictly looking at the educational piece?

Sandra: It depends on how the order was written and what’s agreed upon. So before I get started, if it’s if it’s a psychological and educational that’s called psycho educational kind of mix those two big, big words together, and that does look at all aspects of mental health and learning. And yes, there can be diagnoses that include ADHD, or learning differences, disabilities, mood disorders, any of those. So if I do an actual evaluation, whether it’s just educational, or psychological or psycho educational, if there’s, if the child meets criteria for certain diagnoses, I will list those.

Holly: When should attorneys be requesting a psycho educational evaluation as opposed to just a psychological or just a an educational evaluation?

Sandra: So when people get a psychological evaluation, they rarely get, especially children, like if you said, I just want you to give me a psychological then I wouldn’t even really get school information. It would all be really focused on is there a mood disorder here? Anxiety, depression, behavioral something like anger, something like that? So if you want the educational piece, you know, how do they do in school? Is there any attentional difficulties? Is there a learning disability involved, then that would encompass that psycho educational part, and do both.

Holly: So I know you also are sometimes involved in cases with high conflict parents who can’t agree on school placement. How is that different than when the parents are agreeing, we want to have this evaluation done.

Sandra: Well, it makes it harder. Of course, anything if there’s high conflict makes makes any other process harder. I don’t know what the best way to answer that question is. It takes a lot more maybe education on my part to both of the parties so that they understand how important it is that they both kind of be open minded, as much as possible. As we’re looking at what is in the bath, you know, we’re looking at what’s what your child needs, and to try and keep that in mind. And so I think I do quite a bit of, of just education with them about, you know, what, how they can help their child.

Holly: When you’re doing these evaluations, to what extent are you getting information by evaluating the child solely individually, as compared to kind of collateral information you’re getting from mom or dad?

Sandra: So I like getting it all. So I like I like being able to see the child. I like getting you know, separate information from mom and dad. It really gives a more and from the teacher really want to get that teacher I mean the child if you think about how much time a child spends as at school with teachers, they have a lot of information. And they have, you know, everybody has good information, it’s very different. And you have to take it all, all the puzzle pieces go together in order to work the puzzle for the child.

Holly: How long does it typically take you to complete one of these evaluations?

Sandra: So with children, if I’m looking just educational or psycho educational, I’ll see the child in my office usually once just for them to get used to my office, and for us to kind of get to know each other. So the nervousness goes away. And then I’ll schedule usually two different testing sessions. Cognitive testing takes a couple of hours. Educational testing takes a couple of hours. And then if I throw in some of the psychological components, usually three hours and three hours for testing. And then I get the collateral forms from each parent, and from the school, review any past evaluations, but it can be done within a month.

Holly: Do you normally have sessions where you talk to the parents and ask them questions or anything? Or is it just based on their written forms that they’re submitting?

Sandra: Both. I’ve done it all different ways. So sometimes families, I’ll just say I do. Sometimes I do meet with each of them, and they give me their input. Sometimes it’s phone interviews, depending on where they live. Or if they can’t get here, sometimes they just want to provide written information that their attorney has already reviewed.

Holly: So what are the limitations on what you can do as an educational consultant?

Sandra: Well, I definitely can’t make any possession or access recommendations, because that can only be done by someone who’s completed the child custody evaluation. So I can’t do that. And then I think that not having both parents’ input is definitely a limitation, you know, in that process.

Holly: So aside from educational consulting, what are some other services that you offer for attorneys who may need help from a mental health professional?

Sandra: And so the expert like reviewing school records, helping them understand what the child needs, helping them understand a diagnosis. I’ve been hired before, in an infant case to help educate everybody on attachment, primary attachment. Helping them understand maybe what services the child should be getting at school, or getting in the community based on their diagnoses, some of that consultation education.

Holly: Do you ever work with attorneys to kind of come up with cross examination questions or come up with the types of questions that they should be asking of the teachers or of other mental health professionals or whomever may be testifying in a particular case?

Sandra: Yes, I’ve done that.

Holly: I know that that can be a huge help when you have a mental health professional on the other side, and we think we know what to ask. But when we don’t have that background, it can be helpful to bring in the consulting expert to help us with that piece.

Sandra: Right. Also in the special education law realm. I’ve done that too, helped, you know, make sure that people know what questions to ask the school to make sure the child is getting what services that they should be getting per their IEP.

Holly: So I imagine that a lot of what you do in an educational consulting role deals with kids who have learning challenges, or they may be behind, or they’re not thriving for whatever reason. Do you ever deal with kids sort of on the other end of the spectrum, where we’re dealing with acceleration or dealing with the need to challenge children, skipping grades, those type of things?

Sandra: Yes, I’ve done that. It’s it’s more rare than the other. But yes, parents who are concerned that their child’s not being, you know, pushed or they’re bored in school, and what can we do to help with that?

Holly: And is that something that you can help parents? Kind of as an I guess this would be an either situation? Are you able to help parents as an advocate in fighting for those things with whatever school the child is in?

Sandra: Well, I would help them. I have helped parents with suggestive questions, ask the school if they can do this, and see if this is offered in your particular school. I have done those sorts of things. Yes, that would help advocate. If I’ve tested a child that seems to be someone who needs you know, above everybody else, then I’ll put in my recommendation, some suggestions, and some of those are for the school as well. And so the parents can give my report to the school. And since I have that credential to be a licensed specialist in School Psychology, it’s they often tend to accept my reports more than maybe just a psychologist who doesn’t have that and put some of implement some of those recommendations that I’ve made.

Holly: So one of the questions that I like to ask everybody who’s on the podcast is, if you could give one piece of advice to family lawyers, what would it be?

Sandra: Oh, that’s a good one. So I think I actually have two, is that okay?

Holly: Yes, we’ll take all the advice we can get!

Sandra: Okay. So one would be if you if you have a, if you have a case where the child does have special needs that and you’re looking for a child custody evaluator that you really make sure you agree upon someone who does have the background in child development. Who understands children with special needs, how that changes, and transitions may be hard for them. Understands what each parent should know, and should be doing for that child, regardless of what the disability is. So have a breadth of knowledge about childhood disabilities and medical issues. And really making sure you have someone who has that expertise.

And then the other piece of advice is to is to really strive for both parents to be included, when people like me are asked to provide psychological, psycho educational, educational evaluations really letting both parents be involved, because a lot of times it is the attorney that’s like, no, we don’t want the other side to give their opinion, because they’re doing X, Y, and Z. Well, I’m going to see that they’re doing X, Y, and Z. But it’s still important for that parent to give input because they’re still a parent, they’re still involved in the child’s life. And you really have a lopsided evaluation if you don’t have both parents’ input. And and it doesn’t always work well in court when it’s lopsided. So, you know, to, to let I know the evaluator have received input from both sides. It’s another piece of advice.

Holly: So I think your your first piece of advice about the child custody evaluations is excellent advice. I think that’s something you know, you look for these criteria in the code can you do? Do you have ABCDE, in order to make you qualified to do a custody evaluation, but maybe, especially if you have kids with special needs, we need to be going a step further than that. And making sure a particular evaluator has exactly the right criteria to address those situations. What should we be looking for on someone’s CV, or in talking to them about their qualifications?

Sandra: What their knowledge is about childhood development and special needs? Do they have you know, what’s on their CV as part far as continuing education, with children being members of besides just AFCC, but being member of special psychology groups that look at evaluation, or look at developmental psychology, children with special needs. You can look at my CV and you can see all the continuing education. And there wouldn’t be a doubt in your mind that I couldn’t handle a child that had autism, or you know, any other special need based on what’s on there. So just really looking and scouring through their continuing education and what groups they’re a part of.

Holly: And probably if you can’t tell from the CV then you know your answer that the person is not qualified to dive in on those issues.

Sandra: Yes.

Holly: So we’re just about out of time, but where can our listeners go if they want to learn more about you?

Sandra: I have a website. It’s And it has all the information about me there.

Holly: All right, perfect. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. And I think you gave me a new tool to put in my toolbox as far as representing clients and custody cases and hopefully other lawyers will feel the same way.

Sandra: Great, thank you.

Voiceover: That Texas Family Law Insiders podcast is sponsored by the Draper Law firm. We help people navigate divorce and child custody cases and handle family law appellate matters. For more information, visit our website at

Subscribe to the Podcast

Follow Us


This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.