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California Department of Education, Special Education Division’s special project, California Services for Technical Assistance and Training (CalSTAT) is funded through a contract with the Napa County Office of Education. CalSTAT is partially funded from federal funds, State Grants #H027A080116A. Additional federal funds are provided from a federal competitively awarded State Personnel Development Grant to California (#H323A070011) provided from the U.S. Department of Education Part D of the Individuals with Disabilities Education act (IDEA). Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the U. S. Department of Education.
Volume 18, Number 2
Topic: Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act
Written from an interview with Art Cernosia, Attorney and Education Consultant, Institute for Program Development, Vermont
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), first enacted in 1975, represents a landmark in federal legislation that has vastly improved the lives of more than a million children with disabilities and their families. On December 3, 2004, President George W. Bush signed the latest reauthorization of IDEA entitled "The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004." Suggestions and comments from the public, as well as from governmental and nongovernmental agencies, were solicited for incorporation into the proposed regulations.
Parents, teachers, and other professionals familiar with IDEA '97 are naturally asking, "What's new in IDEA 2004?" and "What do the changes mean to me?" While many of the changes will not take effect until July 1, 2005, and the final regulations are not likely to be available until months thereafter, some new features in the laws and guidelines, as well as reservations and concerns, can already be noted here. In brief, there are numerous, clear gains in the legislation:
A widely hailed feature of IDEA 2004 is its goal of implementing unbiased testing and evaluation procedures to reduce misidentification of students from diverse cultures for special education.
Overall, there is greater flexibility seen throughout the new law, but the price for it is greater responsibility on the part of agencies, educators, and families.
There are several areas in the new law that support increased flexibility for parents, educators, and service providers.
There is new flexibility in the rules regarding meetings and composition of the IEP (Individual Education Program) team. A team member may now be excused from a meeting with the written consent of the parents and LEA (Local Education Agency). A valid reason for excusing attendance might be that the person's curriculum or service area is not being discussed. If a person's curriculum or service area is being discussed, he or she can still be excused with the agreement of the parent and the LEA, with the proviso that he or she provide written input for meeting attendees. Meetings may now be held by videoconference or conference call, again provided parents and the LEA agree.
In an effort to reduce paperwork and streamline processes, short-term objectives or benchmarks will now be required only for those students assessed using alternate achievement standards (students with significant cognitive disabilities). IEPs may be amended between annual meetings without calling a formal meeting, provided that the parents and LEA provide agreement in writing. Changes to the IEP must be recorded, as well.
Also an important part of an IEP, these must now be addressed no later than when the student turns age 16 and culminating with the student's graduation or "aging out" of an instructional program. Previously, the law had specified age 14 for the introduction of transition services. This is now an area where providing services to a younger student may be viewed as exceeding the federal guidelines at the discretion of state and local agencies.
There is both greater regulation and greater flexibility among the new IEP eligibility determination procedures. Under the new law, screening by the teacher is not deemed an evaluation, potentially adding a new step to the evaluation process.
The change was made in an effort to improve consistency and reliability of the determinations. Now, the evaluation must be completed and eligibility determined within 60 calendar days from the date of consent (previously the timeframe was unspecified). Individual states may establish a different timeframe, however. Exceptions are allowed in situations where the student moves to a new LEA prior to the eligibility determination or if the parent fails to produce the student for the evaluation.
On the flexibility side, once eligibility for services has been established for a child, reevaluation will take place at three year intervals--unless parents and LEAs request it less or more often. On the other hand, parents and the LEA can waive annual or three-year scheduled reevaluations, so there is a potential for workloads to either increase or decrease. Parents should not waive the right to have their child reevaluated without careful consideration; agencies will need to use discretion and good judgment in this area as well. To prevent any misunderstandings and later disputes, it is important to ensure that all stakeholders are clear about any reevaluation waivers and that they obtain in writing parental consent or LEA refusals of more frequent reevaluations.
In another example of flexibility, LEAs may opt out of the "severe discrepancy" between ability and achievement criteria for a specific learning disability (SLD) and use their own criteria based on the "response to scientific research-based intervention" (RTI) alternatives that have emerged from pilot programs throughout the country. State leadership will be important, and operational guidelines must be provided to staff. The greater flexibility in operations and programs may be confusing for parents, particularly when the family moves from one district to another with differing guidelines.
Early intervention services are supported by IDEA 2004. Included in this area are services to children in public schools not identified as needing special education or related services but who need additional academic and behavioral support to succeed. The Council for Exceptional Children, a national special education lobbying group, is requesting that early intervention services be offered not only to school children in grades kindergarten through 12, but to preschool children (from age 3) and young adults at the post-secondary level (ages 18-22) as well.
Schools retain the right to impose suspensions for up to ten school days under their regular disciplinary policies. Students remain entitled to a "free, appropriate public education" (FAPE) beyond the ten-day expulsion period. Also, Interim Alternative Education Setting (IAES) placements are provided for up to 45 school days in cases of serious bodily injury occurring in school, at a school function, or on school premises.
The definitions in this area have been expanded in the new legislation to include substantial risk of death, extreme physical pain, protracted and obvious disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty.
A manifestation determination shall be made by the parent, LEA, and IEP team members to decide if the behavior was caused by--or had a direct or substantial relationship to--the disability, or if it was a result of any failure to implement the IEP.
A due process hearing must be initiated within two years of parents knowing of the disputed decision, unless a state decides otherwise. This rule also applies to parents who may claim not to have known the disputed decision within the two-year time frame (such cases are a reason for the current emphasis on written acknowledgements). Resolution meetings are to be held within 15 days of the hearing request between parents and relevant members of the IEP team.
If no resolution is reached within 30 days, a due process hearing will be scheduled. Court appeal by any party is the final option and must be submitted within 90 days of receiving a decision from the due process hearing. Parental rights statements should be amended to include this timeframe.
In an effort to reduce frivolous lawsuits, local and state educational agencies (LEAs/SEAs) may seek attorney's fees against the parent's attorney if the latter's action is deemed "frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation" or if they unnecessarily prolong the litigation. The recourse is available if a parent’s complaint was presented to improper purposes, such as to harass the district.
Parents have the right to refuse special education services for their child, and there is no override provision if a parent does not provide informed written consent. However, it isn't clear if this covers only the initial provision of services or before any service is rendered. It is hoped that the final regulations will clarify this area.
LEAs are charged with informing the state agencies of the statistics on children with disabilities evaluated and eligible for special education services who attend private schools and the numbers of children served in these nonpublic settings. Further, LEAs must reach out to private school representatives and parents regarding "child find" procedures and obtain written affirmation that this has been carried out.
Although well-intentioned, new requirements for "highly qualified" special education teachers are expected to further strain the many educational systems already burdened by teacher shortages. Under IDEA 2004, and effective immediately, special education teachers need to be certified as such; emergency credentials are not sufficient. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, they must also demonstrate competency in core subject areas by passing "rigorous" state academic subject tests, possessing an undergraduate academic major or graduate degree in a given area, or holding an equivalent certificate or credential. Teachers not new to the profession will have until the end of the 2005-06 academic year to meet this requirement.
Special education teachers providing only consultative services and related service personnel must be fully licensed and certificated but are not subject to the "highly qualified" subject credentialed criteria. The new law does not, however, specify a "right of action" on behalf of a student or class of students for failure to employ highly qualified staff.
Underfunding is the second major area of challenge in IDEA 2004. Just two days after the legislation was reauthorized, Congress passed funding that fell short by $1.7 billion of the amount authorized to implement it. Further, the amount budgeted is $481 million short of the amount President Bush requested for special education. State and local governments, most of which still struggle to make ends meet after years of funding cutbacks and a weak economy, will be asked to make up the shortfall. The stated goal is to reach federal funding of 40 percent of the national average per pupil cost by 2011.
States are being required to identify rules, regulations, or policies that exceed those set at the federal level and then to inform the local and federal agencies when this is the case. The law instructs the states to hold such excesses to a minimum.
For California, the reauthorized IDEA presents moderate rather than major changes since, overall, the federal legislation is catching up to this state's leadership in special education. Racial and cultural bias in testing has been an issue in this state for a number of years, and steps have been taken to reduce it. Parental consent has also been a state requirement and will now be a federal one. Likewise, California has already expanded its special education outreach to the preschool and postsecondary age groups. It should be noted that California may choose to continue to exceed federal benchmarks for special education services. To help stakeholders stay abreast of the implications of the new law as they unfold, the California Department of Education will offer trainings throughout the year for parents, teachers, and related service providers.
The concerns mentioned above, along with others not detailed here, were submitted by specialists and the public to the federal Department of Education during the comments period. It is expected that some of these will be addressed, and clarifications and definitions provided, in the final regulations to be issued by the end of December 2005.
Art Cernosia is an attorney and education consultant with the Institute for Program Development in Burlington, Vermont. He also teaches at the University of Vermont's Education Law Institute. Mr. Cernosia previously served as an assistant attorney general for the Vermont Department of Education. He provides training, consultation, and technical assistance services to state and local education agencies and parent organizations throughout the nation on disability law issues. He has conducted numerous workshops and is a frequent presenter at state and national conferences.
Websites related to this article:
By Dr. Alice D. Parker, Director, California Department of Education, Special Education Division
In 2004, the nation observed the 50th anniversary of Brown v. the Board of Education and thirty years of civil rights for children with disabilities in our schools. In that half century, special education has focused on developing quality programs. With the passage and implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, and with the new Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, special education is seeing a renewed focus on high expectations for all children and improved educational outcomes, creating a push for increased access to quality, standards-based education and for systems that are accountable for improving outcomes for every child. This type of challenge needs to be our focus for the next 50 years!
For too long in education, children with disabilities have been excluded from the "table of rigor." It is no longer acceptable to think that quality standards and high expectations are for others; they are for all children. Our specific goals need to include improved access to standards, core curricula, and powerful and proven techniques. In order to reach these goals, we need to retool at all levels--general education, special education, and higher education--and take responsibility for all children, including those with significant learning disabilities.
We also need to significantly change the way we categorize students with disabilities and the way we conceive the Individualized Education Program (IEP). In the past, how these two issues have been understood and acted on has actually shaped the way people think and the way they provide services to children with disabilities--and not always for the better.
Specifically, categorization has produced several unintended, negative consequences, foremost of which is the segregation and isolation of children, even with the inclusive education practices and the least restrictive environment (LRE) requirements of the IDEA. The mindset around categorization has also made it more difficult to diagnose discrete disabilities. Complicating the problem is the way the definitions of categories change from one state to another: a child who has a disability defined one way in one state can find himself significantly relabeled when he moves. At the same time, this lack of precision or understanding of the variances among disabilities does not keep children from being assigned and sorted by labels.
Another negative consequence of categorization is the overlay of a complex service delivery system that has grown up around the categories. This system classifies children and teachers and, based on the categories, establishes programs, program standards, and guidelines, creating an interesting paradox, considering the fundamental premise of IDEA: individual needs and individual entitlements. Absent from too many conversations is the absolute right of children with disabilities to break out of rigid categories and gain access to and make progress in standards, core content, and rigorous curricula. Our continued vigilance and hard work is needed to make sure this practice changes.
Recreating the IEP is the easier of the two goals to realize in this state, since California has already taken the forward-thinking step of preparing for just that opportunity through the State Superintendent's IEP Task Force.
The implementation of IDEA 2004 offers a perfect opportunity for all of us to become catalysts for change in every area where it's needed. By working within the system, providing information to all, and objectively evaluating the system itself--with the good of each child in mind--we can realize a vision of positive outcomes for all children.
This requires our ability to revision: to see children with disabilities as unique individuals and general education participants first. And it requires us to see ourselves as partners. This is no small task. So we must try, every day, to hold a child's face in our mind's eye; and every day never to forget that this child is depending on the success of our efforts. If we do this, we will be able to find the necessary vision, energy, and commitment to ensure that child of equity, access, and every chance of finding eventual success in life.
By Dr. Richard A. Villa, Educational Consultant on Collaboration, Co-Teaching, Differentiated Instruction, Inclusive Education, and Systems Change; President, Bayridge Consortium in San Diego
Every time special education law is amended, parents and advocates for students with disabilities worry that hard-earned rights and procedural safeguards might be lost. It is no different with IDEA 2004. However, despite the changes within the law, there is one comforting fact: the six principles that have previously guided special education law and the provision of services for students with disabilities will remain in effect:
While some of these articles remain untouched, others underwent subtle and important changes under the new law. I will focus here on the IEPs.
Under the new law, many things that shape the IEP do remain the same. For example, the following people remain members of the IEP team:
In addition, the IEP will still be required to contain the following information:
Finally, the IEP is still designed to promote movement from school to these seven important outcomes:
All of the above rests on solid ground, and it should be an assurance to parents, educators, and students that the original intent behind the IEP remains intact. The changes appear designed to address the perennial concern over the amount of paperwork and time that the IEP process seems to require--time that often has to be taken away from instructing students.
Under the IDEA 2004 amendments, up to 15 states may apply for a waiver, allowing them to move from yearly IEPs to three-year IEPs. It remains to be seen whether or not California will apply for such a waiver. There might be some practicality and/or value in creating three-year IEPs for some students who have transitioned beyond school and whose IEPs deal with community-based training, job development, independence in the community, and education on college sites. The goals for some of these students may remain the same over a three-year period.
In my mind, however, it is hard to envision how changing the time period for review and development of an IEP from yearly to every three years in an effort to reduce paperwork will have educational benefit for most students with disabilities. Goals should be fitting and responsive to students' progress and, therefore, fluid and subject to change.
And even though there is the possibility that IEP goals under this approach would be rewritten only every three years, student progress will still need to be monitored on a regular basis throughout each year of the three-year IEP cycle. It is encouraging to note that, even with the prospect of some states receiving the three-year IEP waiver, the final federal regulations will require parents to formally agree to change from a one-year IEP to the three-year.
Changes in the new law also affect the language dealing with the frequency of reporting the progress a student is making toward IEP goals. Rather than requiring the progress of students with disabilities to be reported as frequently as progress reported to parents of non-disabled children, the progress of students with disabilities will now have to be reported at least four times a year, regardless of other reporting patterns--an attempt to reduce the overload of paperwork that most special education teachers face.
Another significant change in the IEP eliminates the requirement for developing short-term objectives or benchmarks for each of the annual goals, unless the student is among the one percent not participating in the statewide or district-wide assessments. It remains to be seen if individual states or districts will continue to require short-term objectives or benchmarks, and/or how progress toward an annual goal will be measured without them.
Most educators will agree that there is potential damage in officially getting rid of the requirement of developing short-term objectives. To avoid this possibility, we need to remember that any effort to monitor student progress should be designed to help parents, students, and educators determine the appropriateness of the student's goals and the effectiveness of instruction, supports, aids, and services. Toward this end, it would be particularly helpful for everyone involved to ask the following four questions:
While awaiting the regulations and guidance in how to implement the changes to IDEA, I suggest that educators take this opportunity to reflect on the efficacy of their current practice as it relates to the development of IEPs for students with disabilities. If used correctly, the IEP has tremendous power and serves as a very effective tool. While an IEP is, in part, designed to provide lawmakers with a means to monitor and enforce special education implementation, as well as provide education agencies with a means to demonstrate legal compliance, it is also intended to do the following:
It is my belief that many of the above purposes have not been realized, and it is this failure that has led to some of the changes in IDEA 2004.
I have asked thousands of participants in training sessions across the country the following two sets of IEP-related questions--with very interesting results:
How many of you believe that IEPs actually do what they are intended to do? In other words, how many of you believe that an IEP truly gives educators working with a child a sense of that child's strengths, interests, learning styles, and educational needs? How many of you think that it provides educators with the necessary supplemental supports, aids, and services necessary for a student to achieve the goals listed in their IEP?
Of the thousands of general educators, special educators, related service personnel, administrators, parents, and students with IEPs who have answered this question, perhaps one percent has responded that the IEP actually serves the purposes that it was designed to address.
Assume that there are five people in attendance at an IEP meeting. Who is the first person at this meeting who will get a glazed look over their eyes? Is it the general educator, the special educator, the administrator, the parent, or the speech and language pathologist?
The vast majority of respondents answer that it is the parents who first get that glazed look--not because of disinterest or a lack of love for their child, but rather because of multiple factors:
I do not raise these questions to disparage any group or to minimize the time, energy, and commitment that go into crafting IEPs and attending meetings. Rather, my hope is to help individuals reflect on their own beliefs and experiences and reclaim or find a commitment to realizing the original promises and intentions of IDEA. The changes in IDEA will mean little if we don't align our practices to make this happen.
How can we address these potential problems?
Let's begin with the first problem: the fact that so many people believe that the IEP is inadequate. It is important to realize that IEPs can be extremely helpful if crafted correctly and if all the necessary data and perspectives are collected and considered. The problem with many IEPs is that they are created in meetings that focus on a child's deficits and thus result in deficit-based documents that describe what a learner cannot do. We will never figure out how to teach, motivate, relate, or support a learner by focusing on what they cannot do.
We need to focus our assessment and discussion primarily on what a child can do--how they are smart rather than how smart they are (or aren't) or what disability label we've attached to them. After that refocus, we need a complete set of data about the child and the classroom demands (see chart below). It's at this point that we can finally determine whether a child needs support and what kind of support that might be. And we might then be able to effectively motivate the child to learn.
Another common problem with IEP meetings is that they often occur at the end of the school year; and when they do, the classroom teacher(s) in attendance are usually not the teacher(s) who will instruct the student the following year. To address this problem, the person coordinating services for a student with an IEP should provide the educators who are (or who soon will be) teaching the child with facts about the way the child learns (see left-hand column below), and ask them to describe the content, process, and product demands of their classroom (see right-hand column). Together, and/or with other members of the IEP team, they can then explore any potential mismatches between these facts--the way the child learns and the demands of the classroom. They can then brainstorm solutions to address any mismatches.
It is important to note that in classrooms employing differentiated instruction and approaches to universal design (see end of article for resources), more effective instruction and fewer mismatches exist between the learner and the classroom demands. As a result, fewer additional supplementary supports, aids, and services need to be called into service.
How do we address the fact that the "collaborative" IEP meeting is often something less than . . . collaborative? Structured approaches to collaborative planning can assist team members in being more effective in their effort to build and maintain a good working relationship. The following strategies have proven to be effective in encouraging increased collaboration in meetings between parents and educators:
1. Know the two primary goals for every collaborative meeting: achieving the task and maintaining positive relationships among the collaborators.
2. Know with whom you need to collaborate. As educators, we often find one of the greatest barriers to effective collaboration with parents and students lies in our own thinking about who is the "expert." Often the designated expert is someone who has a high degree of training in a particular area but who may not know or understand the particular (or whole) child. The person with the most direct experience of the child is the child him/herself, the family, and then the connected professionals (e.g., this year's teacher, last year's teacher). So your collaborators can include the child, other students, parents, other teachers, specialists, community members, and advocates.
3. Establish and clarify team and individual goals to avoid hidden agendas.
4. Begin each meeting with something positive--a strength or talent displayed, a goal reached--about the learner who is the focal point of the meeting. Each member of the team, including the parent and student him/herself, should be encouraged to contribute a fact or experience that puts the student in a favorable light. It may seem like a small measure, but it effectively transforms the climate of the meeting by creating a more positive, collaborative tone.
5. Provide training to all members of the collaborative team on procedures for task accomplishment and small group interpersonal skills.
6. Avoid using mystifying jargon and acronyms.
7. Recognize and respect what motivates the different people on your collaborative team, and make sure incentives are varied enough to meet their individual preferences. To this end, create flexible scheduling that includes time to meet and plan; training opportunities for learning how to collaborate; and visits to successful, collaborative sites that give team members an opportunity to witness effective teams working together.
8. Expect to be responsible and expect to be held accountable. Effective collaborators act responsibly: they follow through on their agreements; they attend scheduled meetings; they support the participation of their fellow collaborators; they consciously practice effective collaborative skills; and they celebrate team and individual successes.
For years we have heard the concern that many general education teachers do not show up at IEP meetings; and, when they do, they appear disinterested and non-participatory. For this problem, I offer three suggestions. First, administrators need to clarify that collaboration is an ongoing responsibility rather than a voluntary or whimsical act. It must be an integral part of mission statements and job descriptions.
Second, staff need training and practice in collaboration and in the habits described above. Rotating various tasks, including the job of building and maintaining relationships and responsibilities among team members, can help to make the work fresh and the meetings more fun, collaborative, and productive.
Finally, general education teachers need to understand not only their responsibilities but also the rights they enjoy:
Student-led IEPs and the MAPs (Making Action Plans) process represent two powerful approaches that address the shortcomings illustrated in the question/ answer scenarios described above. In the first, students with disabilities are actively participating in, and sometimes leading, their own IEP meetings, thus providing educators and family members with valuable insights into how the students learn and what interests them. At the same time, they're acquiring valuable self-advocacy skills that, ideally, they will be able to carry into their futures.
The second approach, MAPs, offers an eight-step, student-centered, and family-friendly planning process. An experienced, neutral facilitator guides the assembled team members through a series of eight questions. At each step of the process, the child and the family speak first. Professionals listen and learn about the family's history, dreams, nightmares, and thoughts before sharing their own. By reversing the usual order and allowing the individual and family to speak first, the professionals establish trust and gain valuable information.
As the nation awaits clarification of the changes in the new IDEA through the impending regulations, we have a perfect opportunity to recommit ourselves to true collaboration and to renew our determination to make our meetings and paperwork translate into beneficial outcomes for students--outcomes that can have benefits now and in their futures. The strategies offered here were chosen to support that effort and to ensure that our meetings and IEPs are family-friendly, student-centered, positive, and collaborative. The end result will be not only the implementation of the law, but also the realization of the true spirit and promise of IDEA.
Villa, R. (2002). Collaborative Planning: Transforming Theory Into Practice. National Professional Resources. (Video)
Villa, R., Thousand, J., and Nevin, A. (Eds.). (2004). A Guide to Co-Teaching: Practical Tips for Facilitating Student Learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
By Dennis Kelleher, Consultant, California Department of Education, Special Education Division
IDEA 2004 offers positive change as it shifts legislative focus away from mere compliance and duplicative, burdensome, and confusing rules toward an emphasis on ensuring that required procedures and programs help children learn. To this end, state education agencies have expanded monitoring, data collection, and enforcement responsibilities to establish measurable and rigorous targets of achievement for all students as part of the state performance plan.
One service area where IDEA 2004 offers some additional provisions is in transition services and programs. The term "transition services" means a coordinated set of activities that is designed with results in mind, focusing on improving the academic and functional achievement of a child with a disability and facilitating the child's movement from school to post-school activities, including post-secondary education, vocational education, employment, continuing and adult education services, independent living, and community participation. These activities are determined and coordinated as part of a student's Individualized Education Program (IEP).
These transition services are based on the individual's needs, taking into account a student's strengths, preferences, and interests. They include instruction, related services, community experiences, the development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives, the acquisition of daily living skills, and functional vocational evaluation.
Under IDEA '97, transition service activities that helped a student initiate planning for life after high school began by age 14. Though IDEA 2004 changed the requirement to age 16, the Workforce Improvement Act (WIA), which is currently being considered by Congress, is expected to reinstate the requirement to age 14.
There is also an option for up to 15 states to take part in a pilot study to develop a three-year IEP. The 15 states that elect to participate in this study would be able to explore the impact of IEP development every three years, as opposed to the currently mandated one-year requirement. Supporters contend that this flexibility will reduce unnecessary duplication of effort, especially for secondary students whose needs do not change over a three-year period, and that this change will also give the staff time for two important things: the time they need to work effectively with students who require intensified services and whose disabilities require--and justify--an annual IEP; and time to focus on effective transition planning.
Ideally, transitioning students into the world beyond high school involves a partnership among a broad base of public and private agencies, including, but not limited to, education, rehabilitation, employment, social, and health services. This "Community of Practice" model, as this collaborative effort is being called by the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition, reflects the recognition that cooperation among community agencies enhances the opportunities for students' successful integration into the community. To encourage collaboration, the new law now allows federal funding to be used for the development, implementation, and coordination of transition services.
IDEA 2004 not only focuses on transition services for post-secondary students, but it acknowledges the importance of "natural transition points" throughout the school career. These additional points are identified as those periods that are close in time to the movement of a child with a disability from preschool to elementary grades; from elementary grades to middle or junior high school; and from middle or junior high school to high school. While transition services in IDEA '97 were mentioned for levels other than secondary students, the new law now stresses the importance of guiding and supporting a smooth transition for students between all program levels. New requirements for the transfer of student records to help make this a reality are included in IDEA 2004.
The new law adjusts several additional, important areas of the IEP. It includes language that clarifies when an IEP team meeting must be held. This clarification will help avoid misinterpretations; the hope is that it will reduce the number of complaints and procedural safeguard hearings needed to resolve disagreements about this issue.
The law also requires that a lead agency be identified as responsible for implementing and coordinating the transition effort.
Two new requirements help ensure smooth transitions: when it is time to begin planning a student's transition, parents may now request that representatives from the program where their child was previously served attend the IEP meeting as part of the transition team to assure a smooth transfer. In addition schools are expected to take reasonable steps to promptly send or obtain student records, including the IEP and other supporting documents.
The new law more firmly secures transition services for children with disabilities. If a participating agency other than the local education agency (LEA) fails to provide the transition services described in a child's IEP, IDEA 2004 requires the LEA to reconvene the IEP team to identify alternative strategies to meeting the transition objectives for the child set out in the IEP. For example, if California Children's Services is expected to provide physical therapy to a child who has an orthopedic impairment and is unable to do so, the school district could convene an IEP meeting to consider other options, such as directly contracting for services with a physical therapist. The law goes on to require the state to monitor and oversee local service delivery using objective criteria. If the state determines that the local, required service is out of compliance, sanctions are now in place that can be used to compel conformity with special education law.
The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs has begun holding public hearings around the country to solicit comments that will assist them in developing regulations by December 2005 that will further clarify the various provisions for transition in this new law. The California Department of Education (CDE) has also introduced legislation to align current California law with the provisions of IDEA 2004. In addition, CDE has reconvened the IEP Task Force and Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) Task Force to develop recommendation for effective implementation of IDEA 2004.
Currently, specific plans for transition services in California include the formation of a Transition Stakeholders Group to promote interagency collaboration and plan a Community of Practice conference to improve the outcomes of California transition service for students with disabilities. CDE intends to establish a transition listserv and Web page, with links and resources to facilitate the exchange of information. Transition service providers will be invited to contribute information and materials about effective program practices and research data demonstrating what works, along with replication strategies, to a CDE Transition Clearinghouse and Resource Center.
The purpose of school is to prepare a student to have sufficient academic and social skills to get along with others and be able to acquire and maintain employment that allows him/her to live independently. With this in mind, one needs only to review the current data regarding post-secondary employment of students with disabilities to recognize the importance of transition services. The dropout rates are significantly higher and the graduation rates lower among students with disabilities than the rates of their peers without disabilities. Of those students with disabilities who do graduate, the percentage who become gainfully employed or who are able to live independently is significantly lower than that of the general student population.
In addition to the academic, social, and technical skills required to be successful in a career in the adult world, individuals need self-advocacy skills. This is even more important for students with disabilities if they are going to be able to effectively speak up for themselves, to know what they need, and to have realistic strategies to acquire necessary skills and supporting resources in order to live their lives to the fullest.
Comprehensive transition services are the key to assuring that a greater percentage of students with disabilities become self-sustaining, productive members of the community. IDEA 2004 strengthens transition services to help achieve that goal.
California Department of Education's Transition to Adult Living Guide for Secondary Education, found at http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/sr/documents/transitiongde.pdf
By Adam Stein, Program Specialist, Sonoma County SELPA
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 2004 functions as two things: a civil rights law and a grant/funding law that supports and regulates educational and related services for children identified as having a disability. The law is intended to guarantee that these children receive a free, appropriate public education (FAPE); it is also designed to support appropriate student behavior and give the schools a balanced authority to discipline students with disabilities.
In light of these two efforts, the law also attempts to do a third thing: bridge the sometimes contentious divide between the advocacy groups that represent students and parents and the groups that represent public schools. While there were several larger thematic shifts in the law, this article will focus solely on changes to elements dealing with behavioral support and discipline in an effort to provide the reader with a concise overview of how the law has changed in these two areas. In reviewing the following information, keep in mind that many of the pieces of the new law await clarification and definition through the regulations, which are to be released sometime later this year (although it may take longer). In the mean time, both the federal Department of Education and its California equivalent will periodically provide advisories in an attempt to guide us in applying the law.
On the topic of student behavior as it impedes learning, the language in IDEA 2004 remains essentially the same as in the previous version of the law, IDEA '97. It states that the IEP team must, in the case of a child whose behavior impedes the child's learning or that of others, consider the use of positive behavioral interventions and supports, and other strategies, to address that behavior. Some advocacy groups, such as the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), have recommended language for the upcoming regulations that would attempt to clarify what the IEP team must consider. The CEC recommends that the team consider effective, research-based interventions that have demonstrable and clear outcomes in terms of both academics and behavior. They take this a step further by suggesting that the IEP team recommend to the local education agency (LEA) that it (the LEA) use these interventions at the schoolwide level as a preventative measure to improve overall school climate.
Of course, numerous groups and individuals are giving input to the government on what the regulations should include, but since IDEA 2004 consistently endorses the inclusion of research-based and validated practices, the CEC's recommendation emerges as a particularly sound and fitting one.
The "positive behavioral interventions, strategies, and supports" mentioned in IDEA have been taken by behavioral support personnel to mean that teams should, at minimum, develop positive behavioral goals and objectives. Optimally, a program would include a Positive Behavioral Support Plan* based on a Functional Behavioral Assessment,** a methodology that is mentioned in IDEA only in relation to changes of placement and is never defined in the law. Nevertheless, the use of positive behavioral interventions, strategies, and supports is generally understood to be "best practice" in cases where the child's behavior impedes his or her learning or the learning of others.
In terms of discipline, the new law offers several changes. Again, keep in mind that these are subject to interpretation until the regulations are released, and they may remain unclear until interpreted by the courts and state hearing offices.
School personnel are now given authority to consider unique circumstances for each case when contemplating a change in placement for a student whose behavior is not found to be a manifestation of the disability. Some advocacy groups see this as an opportunity for schools to make exceptions to their disciplinary policies for some children with disabilities, while also allowing the schools greater flexibility in how they apply their own policies. For example, if a child with disabilities is considered for expulsion due to a major violation, such as possession of a controlled substance, the school personnel (the school board, in this case) may choose to suspend (revoke) the expulsion if the case review indicates that expulsion would not be in the best interest of the child. Again, this is not yet defined, and we must wait for the regulations to provide clarity. This change may also allow school personnel to increase the penalty based on the case analysis.
School personnel may remove a student to an interim, alternative educational setting (IAES) for no more than 45 school days (formerly 45 consecutive days) for the previously established reasons of carrying or possessing a weapon or using or selling controlled substances, but adds the following condition for this removal: if a student inflicts bodily injury on another person either at school, on the campus, or at a school function.
The school must still conduct a manifestation determination (a process to determine if the behavior in question is a manifestation of the disability) within ten days of a decision to change the child's placement. There are some new criteria for determining whether or not the behavior is a manifestation:
Formerly, this was to be determined by the IEP team with a specific list of questions that needed to be asked. The change to more general language listed in the above bullets may result in the school having an easier time determining that a child's behavior is not a manifestation of the disability, thus making it easier to discipline the child in the same manner as a child without disabilities. One of the major criticisms of IDEA '97 by schools was that it was too difficult to discipline students in special education.
Congress also sought to clarify that a behavior is only a manifestation of the disability if it is directly and substantially related to that disability. Previously, parents charged that a behavior tangentially related to the disability (e.g., low self-esteem) could be construed to be a manifestation of a disability. These changes also place the onus on the parent to demonstrate that the behavior is a manifestation of the disability. In the previous version of IDEA, the burden was on the school personnel to prove that the behavior was not a manifestation.
The make-up of the team of individuals who conduct the manifestation determination has also changed: it now includes a member of the LEA, the parent, and the relevant members of the IEP team. Previously, the review was to be conducted by the IEP team and other relevant personnel. This team is still responsible for reviewing all relevant information in the student's file.
Schools keep the right to apply the same disciplinary procedures to a student with special needs as they apply to general education students, if the behavior of the student with the disability is not determined to be a manifestation of the disability.
IDEA 2004 drops the criterion that students have the ability to understand the impact and consequences of their behavior and have the ability to control the behavior in order to be disciplined in the same way as a child without disabilities. Some analysts feel that this may make it easier for school personnel to remove a child from a less restrictive setting (e.g., general education). Again, we won't know the full implications of this change until the regulations come out.
IDEA 2004 clarifies that in cases where behavior is determined to be a manifestation of a student's disability, the IEP team must do the following:
IDEA 2004 adds a section that mandates that a student who receives a change of placement, regardless of whether the behavior in question is determined to be a manifestation of the disability or not, must continue to receive educational services to assure progress towards meeting the IEP goals and to receive, as appropriate, a functional behavioral assessment and resultant behavioral supports and modifications to address the behavior.
In another change from IDEA '97, IDEA 2004 stipulates that, no later than the date on which the decision to take disciplinary action is made, the LEA must notify the parents of the decision and provide them with information on the relevant procedural safeguards.
There are several changes in the rights of a parent or an LEA to appeal a decision about placement or a manifestation determination:
An LEA may request a hearing if the LEA believes that maintaining the current placement is likely to result in an injury to the child or others. Previously, only parents held the right to request a hearing to ask for a change in placement if they believed their child was significantly at risk if he or she remained in the current placement.
The hearing officer now has some specific authority, including the ability to order a change in placement, which the law now defines as either a return of the child to the placement from which he or she was removed, or an order to place the child in an IAES (for not more than 45 school days) if the officer believes that keeping the child in the current placement may result in injury to the child or others.
Existing law retains language that allows a parent who disagrees with a placement or manifestation determination decision to request a hearing.
There is a change to the "stay put" provision in the law. Under IDEA 2004, when either the parent or the LEA appeals a decision about a child's placement, the child is to remain in the IAES pending either the hearing officer's decision or the ending of the time period for the disciplinary infraction. In the previous law, during an appeal the child could be removed from an IAES if the school and the parents agreed to change it, or if a hearing officer rendered a decision. This could mean that it would be more difficult to remove a child from an IAES during the appeals process. The new law also requires that, when an appeal is requested, the State Education Agency (SEA) or LEA must arrange for an expedited hearing that occurs within 20 school days from the request. The determination (or decision) that results from the hearing must be made within ten school days after the hearing takes place. Prior law allowed for the expedited hearing but gave no timelines.
Finally, the law adds greater protections for children who have not yet officially been found eligible for special education, but whose inappropriate behavior has them being considered for disciplinary action. With the new law, when an LEA is deemed to "have knowledge" that the child has a disability, and that knowledge exists before the behavior that precipitated the disciplinary action took place, then the child is protected from the normal disciplinary response to the inappropriate behavior. An LEA is deemed to have this knowledge if any one of the following conditions is met:
However, schools gain certain protections, as well. An LEA is not deemed to have knowledge of a possible disability that could affect a child's behavior if the parent has not allowed an evaluation or has refused services, or if the child has been evaluated and not found to be eligible for special education and related services.
In its many areas related to behavior, the newly reauthorized IDEA has a promising face. How that face smiles on children with disabilities will, in some part, be determined by the regulations that are forthcoming. But, regardless of the look those regulations eventually assume, the responsibility for their ultimate success will rest on the shoulders of parents, educators, and service providers who work with children who have disabilities. More critical than any law is the ability of these adults to keep uppermost in their minds the good of the child.
* Positive Behavior Support (PBS, sometimes known as Behavior Support Plans, or BSP) is an environmental, systemic approach to supporting and reinforcing positive changes in behavior and learning, while preventing problem behaviors such as self-injury, aggression, property destruction, defiance, and disruption.
** Functional Behavioral Assessment is a problem-solving process for addressing
problem behavior in students. It relies on various techniques and strategies to identify the purposes of specific behavior and to help IEP teams select interventions to directly address those purposes.
Current California law provides procedural safeguards, like mediations and due process hearings, against alleged violations of provisions of Part 30 of the Education Code, related state laws and regulations, and provisions and regulations of the Individuals with the Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). However, families and school districts have been harmed with disrupted relationships, and the state has been financially burdened by the increasing number of due process hearings requested, as well as the cost of litigation, mediation, and investigation. And, while the IDEA encourages mediation between families and local educational agencies, what often happens is that parents and local educational agencies disagree on what is best for their children. A common dispute is the interpretation of what is a free appropriate public education (FAPE). The California Legislature has declared that all individuals with exceptional needs have a right to participate in FAPE; special educational instruction and services for these persons are needed in order to ensure the right to an appropriate educational opportunity to meet their unique needs. However, parents understandably often want simply the best, thus leading to disputes.
SB 605 proposes funding special education local plan areas (SELPAs) to triage disputes through alternative dispute resolutions and to resolve those conflicts that do not absolutely require state intervention. In the instances of disputes over FAPE, SELPAs can work with families to reach a reasonable agreement for all parties, without pursuing due process hearings or litigation. According to the sponsors of the legislation, solving disputes locally could reduce state costs with only a small initial investment to fund SELPAs. SB 605 would give every SELPA $50,000 towards developing and providing the alternative dispute resolutions. The bill's sponsors say that SELPAs can provide personal services, such as ensuring that parents' rights are not violated and providing parents with a variety of options. This bill was placed on the Senate Education Committee suspense file on March 30, 2005.
California law currently requires school districts, special education local plan areas (SELPAs), and county offices of education (COEs) to provide staff development programs for staff who work in special education, including paraprofessionals. While paraprofessionals have been peripherally included in the required provisions for staff development, the proposed amendment requires establishing staff development programs specifically for paraprofessionals. This effort to properly train paraprofessionals is California's attempt to meet IDEA 2004 requirements. This bill was amended on March 29, 2005. Go to http://www.leginfo.ca.gov to track its progress.
The California Department of Education invites those who attended the State Superintendent's High School Summit in October 2004 to continue learning about effective educational strategies at a follow-up summit in October 2005. This new event will offer research-based strategies for increasing the performance of students with disabilities in the core areas of English/language arts and mathematics and for helping them meet state standards. Also on the agenda are updates on the State Superintendent's High Performance High Schools Initiative and research about high-achieving high schools and their practices in raising educational achievement for students with disabilities. Key speakers include such notables as Drs. Bill Daggett, Larry Gloeckler, and Richard Villa.
The summit will be held on October 18-19, 2005, 8 am-4 pm each day, in the Los Angeles/ Burbank Area, with the specific location to be announced soon. Registration fee is $75 and includes a continental breakfast, lunch, and afternoon breaks for both days. Go to http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/ac/hsstrng.asp for the most current information.
The RiSE (Resources in Special Education) Library lends materials to California's public free of charge. Go to http://www.php.com to view the library's complete holdings and to request materials online. To order by phone, call Judy Bower at 408/727-5775, extension 110.
Collaborative Planning/Collaborative Teaching Set: Transforming Theory into Practice
By Richard Villa. National Professional Resources: Port Chester, NY; 2002. Two videos (35 minutes each). These videos provide a comprehensive understanding of the five components essential to an effective, collaborative teaming process. They also address co-teaching environments and staff development sessions, addressing obstacles and offering useful techniques to overcoming them. Call number 23388.
Consultation, Collaboration, and Teamwork for Students with Special Needs
By Patty Dettmer, Linda Thurston, and Norma Dyck. Allyn and Bacon: Boston, MA; 2002, Fourth Edition. 400 pages. Designed to serve as a bridge between theory and practice, this book provides background information and field-tested recommendations to help educators work effectively together. Call numbers 22931, 22932.
1-2-3 Magic for Teachers: Effective Classroom Discipline Pre-K through Grade 8
By Thomas Phelan and Sarah Jane Schonour. ParentMagic: Glen Ellyn, IL; 2004. 248 pages. This book explains in straightforward language exactly how teachers can establish and maintain a constructive learning environment in their classrooms. Call number 23511.
ABCs of Emotional Behavior
By Attainment Company: Verona, WI; 2005. DVD (33 minutes). This DVD addresses myths and misconceptions of emotions, effective instructional strategies that address emotions, the use of role-playing to de-escalate and resolve conflict, and more. Call number 23577.
Learning and Behavior Problems in Asperger Syndrome
By Margot Prior. Guilford Press: New York, NY; 2003. 326 pages. This book reviews current knowledge on the core learning, behavioral, emotional, social, and communication difficulties associated with this complex disorder. Call number 23410.
Positive Intervention for Serious Behavior Problems: Best Practices in Implementing the Positive Behavioral Intervention Regulations
By Diana Browning Wright and Harvey Gurman. California Department of Education: Sacramento, CA; 2001, Updated Revised Edition. 311 pages. This publication describes best practices in implementing the Hughes Bill (AB 2586) with questions and answers and processes for developing a behavioral intervention plan. Call numbers 14445, 22445.
Why Johnny Doesn't Behave: Twenty Tips and Measurable BIPs
By Barbara Bateman and Annemieke Golly. IEP Resources: Verona, WI; 2003. 122 pages. The first half of this book features 20 "tips" to help you deal effectively with behavior problems. The second half consists of sections dedicated to functional behavioral assessments and behavioral intervention plans (BIPs). Call number 23453.
Commonsense Methods for Children with Special Education Needs: Strategies for the Regular Classroom
By Peter Westwood. RoutledgeFalmer: New York, NY; 2003, Fourth Edition. 245 pages. Fully revised and updated, this book includes expanded chapters on learning difficulties, effective instructional strategies, behavior management, self-regulation, teaching literacy and numeracy skills, and differentiation across the curriculum. It also includes new chapters on the learning characteristics and specific needs of students with intellectual, physical, or sensory disabilities. Call number 23389.
Whole School Success and Inclusive Education: Building Partnerships for Learning, Achievement, and Accountability
By Wayne Sailor, editor. Teachers College Press: New York, NY; 200. 260 pages. The book calls for an elimination of the medical model for categories of exceptionality and advocates for a merged partnership in which general and special educators work together for improved learning of all students in one educational system. Call number 23543.
The California Department of Education provides links to important references and resources on the reauthorization of IDEA.
This website hosted by the federal government offers the entire text of the new Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004.
The National Early Childhood TA Center offers a cogent overview of the new IDEA reauthorization from an early childhood perspective.
NICHCY, the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities, offers some great information on the reauthorization, with various titles including "The Latest Scoop!," "What’s Reauthorization All About?" and the "Committee on Reauthorization."
Pacific Resources for Education and Learning (PREL) joins educational research, theory, and practice and works with schools on curriculum development, assessment, and evaluation. On this site is a highly recommended free download of a summary of key vocabulary research: "A Focus on Vocabulary."
The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvementcompiles articles and research in a convenient online library. The collection includes documents about models of whole school reform and program evaluation, as well as tools and "how to" information to aid school reform planning and sustained change.
The Center for Education Reform offers a central location for reform news--local to national--and includes links for parents, reformers, policy makers, educators, and entrepreneurs.
The Education Trust-West website offers reports analyzing AYP, STAR, and CAHSEE data. Some titles include "Achievement in California: How is Our Progress"; "Achievement in California: Where Are We Now"; and "Are California's High Schools Ready for the 21st Century."
The National Center on Educational Outcomes focuses on research, collaboration, information dissemination, and technical assistance.
Southern Regional Education Board: High Schools That Work offers a model for high school reform that combines challenging academics with vocational studies to raise achievement.
The 2002-03 Pocketbook of Special Education Statistics, downloadable from this site, contains information about enrollment, program characteristics, student achievement, and personnel for the school year 2002-03. Trends based on data over a longer time period are also included.
The new Fact Book 2005 provides statistics and information on a variety of subjects concerning education in California.
The California Disability Community Action Network, a non-partisan network, offers information on local and state public policy issues related to disability.
The National Association of Protection and Advocacy Systems, Inc., is a national network of protection and advocacy systems (P and As) and client assistance programs (CAPs), with authority to provide legal representation and other advocacy services to individuals with disabilities. In California, P and A: http://www.pai-ca.org/; CAP: http://www.rehab.cahwnet.gov/.
The National Center on Secondary Education and Transition helps youth with disabilities achieve desirable futures. The center coordinates national resources, offers technical assistance, and disseminates information related to secondary education and transition.
California's Advisory Commission on Special Education (ACSE) is launching goal, the Grazer Outstanding Achievement in Learning. Hollywood producer Brian Grazer, whose accomplishments include producing the Academy Award-winning film
A Beautiful Mind, has made a generous donation to sustain the award for a decade. Each year, the goal will be granted in a different area. This year the award will be given to programs and/or students with an outstanding record in transition to adult life. The ACSE is honored to launch goal and welcomes this opportunity to recognize the accomplishments of dedicated professionals in the field of special education.
The Commission will send out self-nominating applications to all SELPAs (special education local plan areas) and county offices of education in June. The deadline for application will be August, with judging taking place in September and October. The goal award ceremony is scheduled for November in Sacramento. For more information, contact Dennis Kelleher by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 916/327-0842.
May 2-5, 2005
26th Annual National Institute on Legal Issues of Educating Individuals with Disabilities
LRP Publications focuses this institute on the IDEA 2004, offering a mix of general sessions, intensive workshops, and seminars. Topics of note include helping IEP teams comply with the IDEA and NCLB Act and legal battles in the education of students who are deaf, autistic, and dyslexic. Las Vegas, NV. Register online at http://www.lrpconferences.com/institute_index.html, by fax at 561/622-2423, or by phone at 800/727-1227.
May 3, 2005
Using Rubrics to Evaluate and Improve Student Performance
This Web seminar offered by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development discusses tools to improve and evaluate student performance. To register online, go to http://www.ascd.org/; click on Professional Development; click on Web Seminars; and then choose this title: Using Rubrics to Evaluate and Score Student Performance. For more information call 800/933-2723.
May 11, 2005
Developing and Writing IEPs under the New IDEA
This audio conference, facilitated by Jose Martin, Esq., explores the intricacies of writing IEPs in light of the new IDEA. Go to http://www.lrpconferences.com/audio/edaudio4.html for more information.
May 11-13, 2005
The Annual Conference of the California Mental Health Advocates for Children and Youth (CMHACY)
The goal of this year's conference is to spread the spirit of family empowerment, community partnership, well-being of children and families, hope, and diversity through training, usable information, and skills. Asilomar/ Pacific Grove, CA. For more information, call 707/795-4251 or email email@example.com; or visit http://www.CMHACY.org for registration materials.
May 23-24, 2005
RespectAbility: Action and Advocacy Conference
This conference of the Western Law Center for Disability Rights addresses youth in the disability community; advocacy in health care, civil rights, education, and other community-based services; and social change, organizing, and litigation in California. Sacramento, CA. Go to http://wlcdr.everybody.org/ for more information; to register, contact Doreen Wong at firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone 213/736-8365 (voice) or 213/736-8311 (TTY).
June 14-15, 2005
Policy and Practice Implications for Secondary and Postsecondary Education, Transition, and Workforce Development for Youth with Disabilities
The National Center on Secondary Education and Transition's summit will help state leadership teams revise action plans and discuss issues of accountability and collaboration. Washington, DC. For more information, go to http://www.ncset.org/summit05/index.htm; email email@example.com; or call 612/624-2097.
July 18-21, 2005
What Works in Schools: Translating Research into Action Academy
The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development helps schools develop a four-year plan for comprehensive school reform based on proven research. Santa Monica, CA. For more information and to register online, go to http://www.ascd.org/, click on Professional Development, and on Browse by Location. Scroll down to Western. Confirm registration at 800/933-2723.
July 19-21, 2005
Special Education Leadership Institute
This annual event at California State University San Marcos has students interacting with nationally known experts in the field of special education; educators gathering to discuss plans and engage in problem solving; and parents either becoming aware of student rights or finding out how to work for effective service delivery for their children. San Marcos, CA. Go to http://lynx.csusm.edu/COE/outreach/Summer.Institute.htm or phone 760/761-4916 for more information.
August 4-5, 2005
Summer Institute on Neurodevelopmental Disorders
The University of California at Davis M.I.N.D. Institute will present its Summer Institute on Neurodevelopmental Disorders for professionals to address theoretical, research, educational, and treatment issues for children with neurodevelopmental disorders. Sacramento, CA. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 916/703-0228.
By Bobbie Coulbourne, Project Director, Exceptional Parents Unlimited
While reflecting on how I was going to present my thoughts as a parent about the 2004 reauthorization to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, I remembered back to the early days of special education legislation. I remember being a single mother of two young children, one of whom I knew was struggling to learn to read. My daughter did not receive additional services from a resource specialist until fourth grade. I remember her frustration and the damage to her self-esteem from feeling like she could not learn the same things that came easily for other students. Even after she began receiving help, it was a constant effort for her to find ways to understand and retain information. We had not yet heard of dyslexia or auditory processing disorder, but my daughter was fortunate to have the support of dedicated teachers who gave her the tools she needed to be able to advocate for herself. As a student, and later as an adult, she came to know the accommodations she required to be successful. She has used these strategies to become a successful pediatric nurse. She is also the mother of four. Her sixteen-year-old, Nick, has Down syndrome, and twelve-year-old Trent has the same learning disability that she has.
At the time, I knew nothing of the struggles taking place in our nation's Capitol that would make educational supports and services available for all children with disabilities. I am still awed by the reality that it was the parents of children with disabilities who were the driving force behind this legislation. Little did I know that I would find myself defending these rights so many years later. Like every grandmother, I cherish all of my grandchildren. But the two with disabilities have changed the course of my career and brought me into the arena of education and advocacy for all children who have disabilities. As a result, I interact daily with the parents of children with a variety of disabilities and needs, and I see how legislation translates into the real world.
IDEA has been amended and revised numerous times over the years to better address the needs of students and to ensure that their rights to an education are enforced. In 1997, sweeping reforms increased parents' rights to be full members of the IEP team that serves their child. For the first time it stipulated that students with disabilities have access to core curriculum and that parents receive reports regularly during the year regarding the progress their child was making toward meeting their IEP goals.
With a focus on paperwork reduction, IDEA 2004 has diluted or removed some of the very important safeguards that parents have to measure their child's progress. Benchmarks and short-term objectives that are used to measure progress towards the annual IEP goals will no longer be required for the majority of students. Only students with the most significant cognitive disabilities and who take alternative assessments (less that one percent) are allotted these measures. My grandson Nick will be one of them, while his brother Trent will not. I find it ironic that we no longer have formal ways to track Trent's progress, while it is from him that we expect the most growth. If we are to expect progress, then it is imperative that we be able to measure it throughout the year.
Because parents must now request that the IEP describe how their child's progress will be reported, I am very concerned that parents who may not understand their responsibility to request this information--and their right to receive it--will not receive these reports.
A second concern is the removal in the new law of any reference to the extent to which progress must be made. This will make it difficult to monitor appropriate progress; and it could be a rude awakening for a parent to discover at the end of the school year that her child made little or no progress.
As a parent, as well as an advocate, I'm also concerned about the removal of the requirement that discussions about transition services begin at age 14. I am pleased with the new language that states that the transition process for a student with a disability begin at age 16. This is intended to ensure that a transition plan is not merely a written document, but a process that may include the involvement of a variety of agencies. Regarding the new age requirement, we have been fortunate that California law stipulates that discussion about transition must begin at age 14. I remain hopeful when the state regulations are written that California will maintain this requirement.
I actually think the ideal time to begin talking about transition is at age 12, when most students are beginning middle school. This makes sense when you think about the requirements of the High School Exit Exam and the continual pressure of achieving to higher standards. As the nation struggles to align IDEA with No Child Left Behind, a majority of students with disabilities are put under demands to meet the same requirements as students who do not have disabilities. Starting transition services at age 12 would allow time for students, with their parents' help, to envision where they want to be as an adult and what steps they need to take each year to reach their goal. Students with learning disabilities and the people supporting them also need to think about how their course of studies will impact their educational outcomes--what skills and abilities they need to acquire during their remaining school years. Likewise, with their parents' help, students with developmental disabilities must begin thinking about which other agencies will be available when they no longer receive special education services. Time passes by so swiftly, and the middle school and high school years are critical periods in the process of becoming a successful adult who has a high quality of life.
Many changes in the new law affect students whose behaviors may lead to disciplinary actions. The burden of proof of whether the child's disability affects the ability to understand actions (their effects and consequences) now will shift to the child's parent. Prior to this, a school district had to prove that the behavior was not manifested by the student's disability (a manifestation determination). Parents must now be vigilant in anticipating their child's behavior if there is the potential for the behavior to become an issue. Parents must monitor their child's educational plan and ensure that the appropriate supports are in place to provide immediate intervention, if needed. Also, parents will need to state their concerns at the IEP and make sure their concerns are documented therein.
New language has also been added that removes the "stay put" requirement* for a student pending an appeal for violating school code. This could severely limit a student's right to FAPE (free, appropriate public education). There are also new procedures for filing for due process, which make the process much more difficult for a parent to navigate. On a potentially more positive note, the new requirements mandate a resolution session before pursuing due process proceedings. I am hopeful that this, along with facilitated IEPs and alternative dispute resolution, will have the outcomes intended--fewer cases taken to court and, as a result, lower legal fees for everyone.
Only time will tell how all of the new requirements will affect students. I attempt to remain optimistic while wading through the changes. I do understand that now, more than ever, parents must join with the other members of their child's IEP team to put in place what is necessary for their child to succeed in school. There can no longer be the "us" and "them" on the team.
The education of individuals with disabilities has improved vastly over the last thirty years. We have moved from just having a right to attend school to the expectation that students will actually be able to demonstrate that they have benefited from their education. We must maintain the protections that ensure continued progress toward a high quality of life for all students. I am confident that my grandchildren will receive the education they are entitled to. However, I do know that, unless parents take the steps to become informed and empowered, their children might not know the same success. We parents must make it a priority to understand what rights under IDEA are guaranteed to our children and then be diligent in joining as active partners with educators. We must all remember that we are all working towards the same thing: a successful outcome for students with disabilities.
*If you file a due process hearing to dispute a decision concerning your child's identification, evaluation, or placement, your child must remain in the "then current educational placement" and continue receiving all services currently provided for in the IEP, including all related services. This is known as the "stay put" requirement.
California public schools regularly find themselves searching for outside sources of funding to fill gaps left by budget crunches. In many schools, grant writing has become as much a reality for teachers and administrators as curriculum planning. However, for the five sites recently awarded the CalSTAT Leadership grant,* the refrain is different. Each of these schools has made tremendous strides toward creating a positive environment for students and staff, one that is conducive to learning and teaching and one that has yielded both anecdotal and statistical evidence of success--even while experiencing funding challenges. Most importantly, each site has developed a model that is replicable, its success not simply an isolated case.
Mesa Verde Middle School is "not doing the same old discipline." Budget crunches cost the school its assistant principal--the person who was its primary dispenser of discipline. School psychologist Bob Harvell saw this loss as an opportunity to change. He began by presenting to the staff research to demonstrate that the old punishment approach--sending students to the office, for example--just didn't work. "About twenty kids were waiting there at any given time, and they were the same kids that had been there before for the same infraction." Instead of trying to build off of an ineffective model, Harvell helped the school implement positive behavior support as an alternative. Rather than manage behavior by issuing detention, Saturday school, or infraction points, staff at Mesa Verde now supports desirable behavior by trying to understand why students misbehave in the first place.
According to Harvell, students act out for two reasons: to get something or to get out of something. But, in his experience, punishment does not necessarily get at the root of the problem. At Mesa Verde now, rather than dish out punishment for negative behavior, school staff reward students for positive behavior. And, in instances of negative behavior that can't be ignored, school staff follow a basic, two-tiered framework of behavioral support: change the environment so that it supports and rewards those behaviors that are desirable; and teach behaviors that are alternatives to those negative behaviors students have been punished for in the past.
The application of the framework was first applied at the classroom level: teachers were encouraged to cultivate relationships with all their students and learn the different needs of each. This changed the environment of the classroom drastically, turning it into a place where the teacher accounted for the individual needs of each student. This made applying the second part of the framework--teaching alternative behaviors--easier because the teacher already had a good idea of what strategies were effective for each student and which ones weren't.
By eliminating punishment and helping students work out their problems, Mesa Verde has improved the school's climate. And its success shows in the students' academic performance, as well as its behavioral statistics: while behavioral referrals are down, test scores continue to climb.
The staff at McKinleyville Middle School were "rejuvenated" by collaboration. "I felt I was alone struggling to support kids," general education teacher Teri Waterhouse recalls. "Now, we're helping all kids." By collaborating with each other--general education teachers and special education teachers all working together--teachers like Waterhouse do not need to struggle to help students who need extra academic attention, but who do not qualify for special education services. In the classroom, general and special education teachers collaborate by team teaching and sharing each other's strengths. Outside of the classroom, teachers have partners with whom they discuss the challenges of specific students, plan strategically to address the challenges, and learn how to help similar students in the future. At the beginning of each school year, teaching teams try to schedule their prep periods together so they can coordinate and collaborate during the school day. However, when that is not possible, they meet before and after school.
The collaborative effort of teachers has resulted in an amazing transformation for the students as well. Because general and special education teachers work together, the classroom is integrated, translating to a rejuvenated student body. "When [students with disabilities] walk into the classroom, no one knows they're learning disabled. They're getting the support they need, [and they] can walk down the hall with their heads up," resource specialist Mindy Fattig enthusiastically noted. The community the students have formed directly reflects the environment collaboration has created. The fact that teachers are no longer labeling students has, consequently, taught students not to label one another; in the process, they learn to accept and respect each other's differences. When resource specialists and general education teachers co-teach, they model for students that they too can collaborate with and support one another. And the tremendous effort the staff puts forth has translated to the students working harder to reach new academic heights.
Teachers are now energized because they are no longer working alone. While there was an initial concern from both parents and school staff that the general education students would get short-changed, or that the special education students couldn't get the attention they need, academic success on all fronts has dismissed those worries and provided ample evidence that collaboration--at all levels--works.
When the staff at Pine Hollow Middle School saw "standardized testing coming down the pike," explains Principal Marcie Brown, they knew it was time to collaborate. "We needed to address the needs of special ed and general ed the same way because we knew they had to take the same tests." Taking the same tests meant that all students needed to be exposed to the same curriculum. As a natural extension, teachers saw the need to give all students the help they need, regardless of labels. As they saw it, standardized testing was a gift because it helped the staff see that some students were not getting the help they needed. Now, not only do students with disabilities receive the general curriculum along with the extra support needed to understand and apply the concepts presented, but students who have not been identified as needing special ed services can also receive extra support, which had not available before the school's collaborative program was in place.
While usually denoting general and special education working together, collaboration in practice at Pine Hollow is an even more encompassing practice. Teachers from different departments collaborate and form "interdisciplinary teams," ensuring a breadth of knowledge and multiple avenues of support for both staff and students. Team members rotate each school year to give students a variety of voices and experiences.
Collaboration extends beyond these teaching teams, too. Administrators, teachers, parents, and the students are all part of a school team that works to make collaboration successful and strives to create a better environment for everyone. When Pine Hollow considered switching from the special education pull-out model to a collaborative model a decade ago, the discussion involved everyone teachers, other school staff, parents, and students, making sure that all parties involved understood the implications of the change. To this day, the school team still meets with collaborating teachers throughout the year for feedback about what's working and what's not. Parents also continue to participate in school events, including parent workshops on topics like retention and bullying. Students are encouraged to attend these workshops as well, again showing that Pine Hollow includes the entire school community.
Collaboration at Pine Hollow reaches even beyond the school. Because of its work at the middle school level, high schools in the district are changing the way they provide services so that the students experience consistency as they move from middle school to high school. As Principal Brown reiterates, "Education of all the students is the responsibility of everyone."
Collaboration at Valley View Middle School started when staff members noticed that students with disabilities were successful in hands-on classes like science. Through the initiative of members of the English department, staff put politics and precedence aside and talked about what needed to be done to help all students, regardless of labels and the status quo. When the English teachers started to collaborate, they provided the support for the science teachers, and eventually the whole school, to realize that they "felt like they could support the [special ed] kids [in a general ed setting]." They started the "honest conversation" with the rest of the school out of a commitment to supporting student success across the board, paving the way for bringing general education and special education students together in every subject.
And, while the school staff was "pleasantly surprised" at how well all students performed academically, the biggest surprise was how collaborative classrooms contributed to a significant change in attitudes, and how teachers who were apprehensive about bringing general and special education together became the biggest proponents of the approach. For one thing, teachers saw special education students gain in confidence because they were treated like every other student. "Students love coming to school and being more successful," observes Principal Nadine Rosenzweig. In addition, the general education students developed "a lot more compassion for students with difficulties."
The personal and academic progress of all of these students has motivated Valley View to expand its collaborative effort. Recently, the school started integrating its special day class (SDC) students in general education science classes, along with the students who were formerly in (RSP) resource specialist classes. Given the typical severity of the disability of SDC students, and the fact that they are often taught in a separate facility altogether, Valley View's efforts take inclusion a step further.
While integrating SDC students in general education classrooms seems like a big change, the staff and students are prepared to take this step. The honest conversations they had early on, and which they continue to have, has created a solid foundation of common goals and beliefs that support this approach. The message is clear: the school takes care of all students.
Marine View Middle School holds an ambitious goal for each one of its students: everyone will leave middle school with proficient or advanced skills in language arts. With this in mind, and guided by California's content standards, Marine View takes off running. It uses STAR assessment results as a screening device for students who may require academic intervention; the SRI (Scholastic Reading Inventory), a computer based comprehension assessment that all students take at least three times per year; and, the Johns Reading Inventory to students who actually do need academic intervention. However, Marine View does not treat their students like data. Instead, after assessments, students are individually scheduled into courses that will accelerate mastery of reading skills and that will support their move from below basic to basic, or basic to proficient, and eventually proficient to advanced.
To this end, the school employs a blended services model, which ensures that all students receive academic instruction based on need, regardless of their "label." According to Principal Elizabeth Williams, the staff members formally ask themselves and other members of the team at monthly roundtable meetings, "What can we do to help each and every student each and every day?" and, "What specific interventions are needed to support success for this child?" Every effort is made to ensure that time isn't lost in placing a student placement in a needed support class. The team takes responsibility for all students and works with one another on effective instructional practices.
This reputation for taking care of all of its students makes it a place where people want to be: Marine View often receives volunteer help from former students and parents. And feeder schools are eager to work with Marine View to ensure that approaches and instruction are consistent.
This kind of willingness is a direct result of the relationship that Principal Williams works to develop. At least once a year she visits fifth grade classes of each feeder school in an effort to get to know the students--and to give them a chance to get to know her. All assistant principals also visit the feeder schools. In addition, Marine View opens up its campus to all incoming fifth graders for Discovery Day, hosted by former Marine View students who have since advanced to high school. The event includes games, "getting to know you" activities, and campus tours. Because of this effort to build relationships, "parents of incoming students know the value of this school." And the school understands the value of each student.
Though funding is a critical issue in almost all California schools, these five sites demonstrate that it is not always the primary issue. Even with fiscal challenges, innovative service delivery systems can take shape and education can flourish. In addition, while these middle schools have been rewarded for exemplary work in specific areas, these areas, in practice, are not mutually exclusive. For instance, to enact a successful literacy campaign at a school, all the stakeholders (i.e., staff, parents, and students) must participate; hence, collaboration. Or, when a school is successful in its efforts to support positive behavior--an effort that requires collaboration--it will see an improvement in academic performance.
In the end, the goal is not to be successful in only one area, but to build a school that is strong in every aspect. As Marine View's principal, Elizabeth Williams, explains, "It's really about spreading the passion. [The success] is really doable. We just need a way to share [our methods]. That doesn't mean it's easy, but it's doeable."
*In December 2004, CalSTAT selected a group of five schools that are models in one of the following: collaboration, behavioral supports, and literacy, three of the seven core messages of the State Improvement Grant (SIG). The goal of the SIG is to communicate common, or core, messages to the field about these three selected topics, in addition to family partnerships, transition, least restrictive environment, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. These messages articulate critical research findings and essential components of effective application. All core messages have been identified by experts in the field and have been approved by the California Department of Education, Special Education Division.
Courtesy: Valley View Middle School
Courtesy: McKinleyville Middle School
10. Recognize when you having a bad day and turn it around (see 2-9)
9. Make sure that every student knows that you care about him
8. Share and welcome different opinions
7. Remind each other that you're all there for a common goal: success of your students
6. Have non-school related conversations and activities
5. Give and get a lot of chocolate
4. Utilize other teachers around you for support and encouragement
3. Share curriculum and responsibilities for--students (teamwork)
2. Eat lunch together
1. Laugh with students and colleagues everyday
Courtesy: Parents of Valley View Middle School
Courtesy: Valley View Middle School
Courtesy: Marine View Middle School
Courtesy: Valley View Middle School
Courtesy: Cottonwood Elementary School
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