The first component of the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) program was Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). This is an educational right for those students who have disabilities. It entails the provision of special or regular education to those that are handicapped in any way as those that are not would.
In addition, it states that there should be aids and services as may be required that should adhere to the procedural safeguards as is outlined under the law. This program is under the Department of Education that outlines regulations that define the manner in which individualized programs with special aids are provided, preferably in the regular curriculum, to those that have a disability that disrupts normal learning.
The goal of the program is simply to guarantee an individual with a learning disability a normal life with opportunities for further education, independent living and employment. IDEA stated that all those between the ages 3 and 21 years and had disabilities had a right to education.
The initial program also stated that the number of those with disabilities in this age bracket and under the care of the state would increase by 10% starting in 1979 when the program actually began. The services must be provided at no cost to the individual and all costs must be covered by the state.
Secondly, the individual with the disability should be evaluated. The nature of the evaluation has to be full and individualized focusing on the specific disabilities that he/she has. Trained personnel are involved in this process and there should be many evaluations done as a single one is not allowed by law.
The individual’s evaluation should be done in the areas of his/her disability, by a multidisciplinary team, in his/her native language and with the specific goal of identifying need areas. There should also not be any kind of discrimination on any line including on the disability itself.
Thirdly, those individuals with disabilities are entitled to an individualized education program (IEP). The program should be built by teachers in conjunction with counselors, parents of the individual and the principal in the school responsible. The program details the services that the affected individual is entitled to receive, the environment in which the program will be conducted and the duration of time that the program is expected to take. The result of this evaluation should be a detailed plan of action that is focused on the individual’s particular affliction.
Fourth on the list is consideration of the most suitable environment. The IDEA describes it as the LRE which is the least restrictive environment.
The most considered environment is in the general classroom setting. Before any special schools are thought of, the experts must always consider the public curricula and attempt to use it as the base environment. It is important to consider the additional and supplementary aids or services that are going to be utilized.
There is a continuum of alternative placements should the concerned experts feel that the particular person with the disability cannot do well in the public learning environment.
The fifth consideration is the participation of the parents and the students in decision making. By strengthening the role that parents play in the process of educating those with disabilities, it is believed that better results can be gotten. The parents have to be involved equally in the decision making process, they have to be given notice of any developments and also they have to consent to any additional evaluations and any other changes that may be deemed necessary by the concerned experts.
Finally, there are procedural safeguards that have to be put in place for the success of the program. As a starting point, the rights of the parents and their child have to be upheld at all time. Additionally, the student and his/her parents have the right from the onset to be provided with all the facts about the disability and also all the relevant interventions necessitated. Lastly, procedures for conflict resolution and mediation to any arising problems must be decided from the get-go.
The reauthorization of 1986 was very detailed and expounded on the IDEA of 1975. It detailed the population that was eligible to receive special education as from the ages of 3 to 21 years.
It also stated that the diagnosis has to be made by a school psychologist, a psychiatrist or a qualified mental health professional and must be multidisciplinary. Furthermore, programs that were to be used in enacting this reauthorization were listed with the challenges that were being faced ironed discussed and amicable solutions crafted. There was also the topic of the funding of the IDEA.
The most notable change was that the original act of 1975 was renamed from EAHCA to IDEA. The previous act touched on children but this was corrected to reflect individual whereas the term “handicapped” was replaced with “with disabilities”.
There was also the addition of categories to reflect autism and traumatic brain injury. There was also the obligation of development of individuals transition plans (ITP) for people below the age of 16 years as part of the IEP. The related services were also expanded to include Social Work Service and Rehabilitation Counseling.
The reauthorization stated that an IEP must detail how a given disability limits the learning ability of the students. It also stated that goal and benchmarks must be stated for the IEP’s. Also, special education, related services and supplementary aids must be stated with the IEP being reviewed annually. The IEP tem members were defined and included parents, a representative of the LEA (local educational agency), a child’s teacher, a child’s special educator and the child where appropriate.
The students under IEP were expected to be assessed regularly in state and district assessments and the state itself was meant to be accountable for the IEP’s by using performance indicators. The reauthorization also mandated the team members to provide progress reports to the parents of the students under the program and also expected them to conduct the IEP’s under the most favorable environment.
There was also a list of special considerations that needed to be assessed before the IEP including English proficiency, visual and hearing impairments and behavior.
The reauthorization of IDEA in 2004 contained the additions detailed below. The individualized education programs had to be benchmarked. In the previous versions, only short-term goal were mandated but that changed for those students with severe learning disabilities. The pilot program for having multiple IEP’s was rolled out in 15 states and allowed schools to offer them but not to exceed 3 years. However, this required parental consent before being implemented.
State departments were mandated to have defined qualifications for special educators and certifications necessary with defined responsibilities except for private schools. Schools were expected to base achievements on the level of interventions and not on the amount of instructions that were given to students. They were expected to revert to response to intervention rather dependence on IQ measurements.
The burden off determining whether a certain behavior was as a result of a disability in students was shifted from the teachers to parents. The schools were also mandated to remove students from school for up to 45 days in special circumstances e.g. assaults or drug use, even if the behaviors were a manifestation of disability (Gargiulo, 2009).
The mandated IDEA guidelines and processes for referring a student with a suspected disability for evaluation for special education services
There is need for a pre-referral process in order to assess whether a change in accommodation of a modification can change the behavior of a child and render the need for special education redundant. It has been proven that having a cascade of service delivery in the mainstream curriculum improves the quality of learning in those that have disabilities (Watson & Skinner, 2004, p.178).
Therefore, trying to change the approach of student learning prior to referral might improve the student’s results and behavior, ultimately disqualifying special educational evaluation. The strategies that are to be exercised here will attempt to draw the strengths of the student towards his/her educational life.
An initial assessment is done with the aim of gathering information about the disability. This is done by a multidisciplinary team that is comprised of a teacher and other professionals including psychologists and educational diagnosticians that vary from district to district.
Despite the composition, the team is charged with the responsibility of identifying cognitive and academic performances of the individual in order to determine what the specific disability entails. One of the assessment tools used by the team is norm-referenced tests that rank the performance of the individual with that of the others in the same class (Stiggins, 1994).
In this pre-referral phase, a pre-referral team will be used referred to by many names including; student intervention team, child study team, student study team and so on depending on the school. The purpose is to put the student’s strengths into action in order to evaluate whether they can be of help in a bid to coming up with amicable solutions to the educational problems of the students.
The pre-referral team has no known rules governing its membership. It should however be multi-disciplinary, reflecting the various school departments and parents. The process for the pre-referral phase begins with the identification of a flaw in the student in terms of behavior and academic performance.
The teachers and parents are the most capable people at detecting any flaws in the behavior of students. Mostly, academic performance will be assessed by the teachers whereas behavior will be observed by the parent. After the flaw is noticed, the student should be referred to the team.
The person making the referral, either the teacher or parent, will be required to explain to the team the exact area of concern. The team will then start by reviewing the child’s strengths, talents and interests, then, they discuss the exact reasons that warranted the referral. In assessing the strengths of the student in question, the teachers may again employ criterion-referenced test in order to gauge the level of knowledge.
The team then notes the various interventions tried before and their relative rate of success. They brainstorm on these interventions while comparing them to the behavior of the student and then decide which interventions to try.
A plan is then developed detailing the exact steps and the time limit for their implementation. The team then meets regularly to discuss the progress of the student and the intervention. After a specified time (a couple of weeks or a trimester), the team evaluates the performance of the intervention and draw conclusions.
If the intervention works, then, the school will choose whether to continue with it or not. This means that the special educational evaluation may not be needed. However, if the intervention dos not bear any fruits, the team decides on another intervention or refers the child for a special educational need evaluation.
After the initial pre-referral has been completed, the student that has had no improvement in behavior or education is then formerly referred by the pre-referral team. There is then a process that is undertaken to decide the level of the individual’s problem. The stage is then preceded by deciding whether the individual is eligible for the specialized education program.
If the person is found to be eligible proving that a disability is present, the school together with the state appointed professionals embark on developing an IEP that is concurrent with the needs assessed. The IEP should reflect in detail the role of each member who will be involved in implementing it. After the implementation, the IEP should be evaluated constantly and the review should yield a course of action depending on the progress achieved.
In conclusion, there are a few things that have to be done to ensure that individuals with disabilities receive the desired results according to the government. First, if an individual is thought to need specialized education, he/she must go through a referral process. If he/she is referred, then it means that all pre-referral efforts did not work.
Here, the law requires that the person be subjected to an IEP. This entails the involvement of qualified personnel and the specification of the program to fit the particular individual’s needs. An IEP should as a requirement be customized to meet individual needs, should encompass all specialists recommended by the law and should be reviewed constantly to see whether desired results are being achieved.
Gargiulo, R. M. (2009). Special education in contemporary society: An introduction to exceptionality (3rd ed.). Los Angeles: SAGE Publications, Inc.
Stiggins, R.J. (1994). Student-Centered Classroom Assessment. New York: Merrill
Watson, S. & Skinner, C. H. (2004). Encyclopedia of school psychology. New York: Plenum publishers