Skip Office Navigation
OSERS: Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
Current Section
Thirty-five Years of Progress in Educating Children With Disabilities Through IDEA
Archived Information

First 25 Years of IDEA Progress (1975–2000)

To achieve national goals for access to education for all children with disabilities, a number of special issues and special populations have required federal attention. These national concerns are reflected in a number of key amendments to the Education for the Handicapped Act (EHA; P.L. 99-457) and IDEA between 1975 and 2000.

The 1980s saw an increasing national concern for young children with disabilities and their families. Whereas P.L. 94-142 mandated programs and services for children ages 3 to 21 that were consistent with state law, the 1986 amendments to EHA (P.L. 99-457) mandated that states provide programs and services to children with disabilities from birth.

Through such sustained federal leadership, the United States today is the world leader in early intervention and preschool programs for infants, toddlers, and preschool children with disabilities. These programs prepare young children with disabilities to meet the academic and social challenges that lie ahead of them, both while in school and in later life. (See sidebar: Examples of Early Childhood Accomplishments Due to IDEA.)

Examples of Early Childhood Accomplishments Due to IDEA

IDEA has supported the development, validation, and widespread use of:

  • State-of-the-art models of appropriate programs and services for young children with disabilities (birth–5 years) and their families.
  • Individualized Family Service Plans to identify and meet the unique needs of each infant and toddler with a disability and his or her family.
  • Effective assessment and teaching practices and related instructional materials for young children and their families.
  • National network of professionals dedicated to improving early intervention and preschool education at the state and local levels.
  • Collaboration among federal, state, and local agencies to avoid duplication of efforts in providing early intervention and preschool education.

At the other end of the childhood-age continuum, IDEA has supported the preparation of students for competitive employment through new and improved transition programs. The 1983 amendments to EHA (P.L. 98-199), the 1990 amendments to EHA (P.L. 101-476), which changed the name to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the 1997 amendments to IDEA

(P.L. 105-17) supported initiatives for transition services from high school to adult living. Because of these mandates, each student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) must include transition plans or procedures for identifying appropriate employment and other post-school adult living objectives for the student; referring the student to appropriate community agencies; and linking the student to available community resources, including job placement and other follow-up services. The IEP must specifically designate the person responsible for each transition activity, and transition planning should begin at age 14.

The nation also has been concerned, since the passage of P.L. 94-142, with expanding the opportunities for educating children with disabilities in the least restrictive environment. In the early 1980s, IDEA supported research institutes and model demonstration projects that developed and validated effective approaches for integrating children with significant disabilities with their nondisabled family members at home and their nondisabled classmates at school. For example, the Badger School Program in Madison, Wis., demonstrated an effective system to teach such children the skills they needed to lead independent and productive lives. Through such efforts, today, millions of children with significant disabilities are attending their neighborhood schools and learning the life skills they will need for full, active participation in integrated activities with their family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers.

IDEA has supported the provision of culturally relevant instruction for diverse learners in inclusive environments. Throughout the 1980s, IDEA-supported research institutes and projects documented that culturally and linguistically diverse students with disabilities make, at best, limited progress in school programs that employ “watered-down” instruction in segregated environments. Building on and extending this work, IDEA has supported the development and validation of culturally relevant assessment and intervention practices. (See sidebar: Culturally Relevant Instructional Principles.) For example, the Juniper Gardens Children’s Project at the University of Kansas has demonstrated instructional practices, such as class wide peer tutoring and cooperative learning, that help African-American students, English language learners, and other diverse students become more actively involved in their academic assignments. Increased academic engagement leads, in turn, to improved learning and higher achievement.

Culturally Relevant Instructional Principles

  • Link assessments of student progress directly to the instructional curricula rather than to abstract norms for standardized tests.
  • Examine not only the individual child, but also his or her instructional environment, using direct observational data.
  • Create classroom environments that reflect different cultural heritages and accommodate different styles of communication and learning.
  • Develop and implement family-friendly practices to establish collaborative partnerships with parents and other caregivers, including those who do not speak English.

Source: 19th Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of IDEA

From the beginning of federal legislation for special education and early intervention, families of children with disabilities have been considered important partners in educating and meeting the individual needs of children with disabilities. IDEA includes key principles to guide families and professionals to work together to enhance the educational opportunities for their children. IDEA also requires active parent participation throughout the educational process, including the development of the child’s IEP. In addition, IDEA mandates that schools report progress to parents of children with disabilities as frequently as they report to parents of nondisabled children. The overall goal of these mandates is to maintain an equal and respectful partnership between schools and families.

Katie’s STORY

Katie, a fifth-grade student in Mrs. Blake’s class, was identified as having a learning disability, primarily in reading, at the end of the 2003–04 school year. Though Katie had average intelligence, she struggled with words and her reading ability was far below that of her peers.

From the beginning of the school year, Mrs. Blake met weekly with the special education teacher to learn about appropriate instructional practices, developed and validated through IDEA investments, to help Katie meet the state standards. As she implemented these various strategies, Mrs. Blake was pleased to see not only that Katie’s reading ability improved but also that many of the other students were benefiting from the techniques.

As the time for the annual assessment approached, Katie’s Individualized Education Program team met to discuss appropriate test accommodations for both reading and mathematics. They decided that Katie would be given additional test time for the reading test to ensure that she had time to use the reading strategies, and that the mathematics test would be read aloud to Katie because it tested computation ability.

Katie’s test scores helped the school, district, and state evaluate their progress in ensuring that all students, including students with disabilities, were achieving at school and meeting high standards for their learning. They also validated Katie’s learning and helped her teachers understand where to focus their instruction moving forward.

Finally, since 1975, EHA and IDEA have supported states and localities in meeting their identified challenges for personnel preparation. For example, throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, IDEA supported local communities that were developing and implementing early childhood programs; schools serving students with low-incidence disabilities, such as children who are blind or deaf or children with autism or traumatic brain injury; and schools in rural or large urban areas, where financial and other resources are often scarce.

IDEA systems change grants continued to support state and local capacity-building throughout the 1990s. For example, IDEA supported the California Department of Education in developing a statewide network of model schools that demonstrate how to provide effective programs and services to children with significant disabilities and their families. These demonstration sites, in turn, serve as centers for training and technical assistance to personnel across the state. Similarly, Vermont’s personnel preparation program helps prepare teachers to meet the needs of students with low-incidence disabilities in rural public schools and other community settings. These and other IDEA-supported projects around the country are innovative models that other states and localities should consider replicating as part of their own programs of personnel preparation.

    Previous set of pages  10 | 11 | 12 Next set of pages
Last Modified: 11/22/2010