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Thirty-five Years of Progress in Educating Children With Disabilities Through IDEA
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Continued Progress Over the Past 10 Years (2000–10)

Significant progress has been made toward protecting the rights of, meeting the individual needs of, and improving educational results for infants, toddlers, children, and youths with disabilities.

The first decade of the 21st century has witnessed a continued national commitment for access to a free appropriate public education intertwined with a renewed national concern for accountability and assessments that help improve results for each child with a disability.

The 2004 amendments to IDEA (P.L. 108-446) sharpened federal mandates to increase state and local accountability for educating children with disabilities and expanded methods to identify students with specific learning disabilities. This law also continued federal commitment and support to ensure that special education and early intervention personnel are highly qualified.

IDEA mandates for strong accountability are closely aligned with the ESEA, as amended in 2001 (P.L. 107-110), which holds schools and districts responsible for the performance of students, including students with disabilities. The accountability provisions in the 2004 reauthorization of IDEA called for states to establish targets for the participation rate and proficiency rate for students with disabilities in assessments. These laws have established high standards and strengthened the importance of rigorous research that drives investments in knowledge production. These laws are strengthening knowledge utilization through mandates for local decision making to increase sustained practice improvement and to increase access to and progress in the general education curriculum. Strong mandates and high standards also are helping to ensure that both the producers and users of scientifically based practices are held accountable, with shared responsibility for improving learning and achievement for all students.

Anthony’s STORY

Anthony lived in a large urban area on the east coast. Anthony, who lost his sight in 2003 at the age of 10, enjoyed leisure activities with his peers, such as riding a bike and playing basket ball. He was a popular, outgoing student who enjoyed challenging academic courses.

Though his state had rigorous graduation standards, Anthony’s teachers reported that he was a good student who would easily pass his high school exit exam. His course work included advanced courses in English literature, mathematics, history, and science.

Anthony’s excellent academic performance was supported by assistive technologies, developed and validated, in part, by IDEA research. He read school textbooks and worksheets that were translated into Braille with an optical character recognition program. A special talking software program on his laptop read aloud his written schoolwork and crucial content from the Web. He also used a tactile scientific calculator, which enabled him to better understand advanced math concepts, including fractions, decimals, and graphical representations of data. These tools gave Anthony an opportunity to excel in his courses.

Anthony participated in a summer internship as a legal aid for a local attorney. According to his supervisor, Anthony was one of the best interns the program had ever produced. With continued access to a challenging curriculum and the support of assistive tools, Anthony believes he can accomplish whatever goals he sets for himself. Anthony is now enrolled in college and considering a career as a lawyer.

Today, IDEA-funded centers and projects support educators in learning how to include students with disabilities in statewide assessments, including issues specifically related to appropriate accommodations, and how to administer and score alternate assessments. They prepare personnel; demonstrate relevant technologies; provide technical assistance to states, districts, and schools; and educate parents. Notable examples of these investments include the University of Minnesota’s National Center on Educational Outcomes, which provides national leadership in designing and building education assessments and other school reform initiatives that contribute to improved educational outcomes for all students; the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Early Childhood Outcomes Center and the University of Oregon’s Post-School Outcomes Center, which are developing rigorous systems for assessing and measuring outcomes for, respectively, young children and youths with disabilities; and the University of Kentucky’s National Alternate Assessment Center, which gathers and disseminates information on high-quality, technically sound alternate assessments.

The 2004 amendments to IDEA also allow states and localities to employ a response to intervention (RTI) framework and consider a student’s response to scientific, research-based interventions when identifying students with specific learning disabilities. The IDEA-supported National Center on RTI at the American Institutes for Research defines RTI as an instructional framework that integrates assessment and intervention within a multilevel prevention system to maximize student achievement and reduce behavior problems. (See sidebar: Four Essential Components of Response to Intervention). With RTI, schools identify students at risk for poor learning outcomes, monitor student progress, provide evidence-based interventions and adjust the intensity and nature of those interventions depending on a student’s responsiveness, and identify students with learning disabilities. RTI can be used to positively impact the achievement of all students, especially struggling learners.

Four Essential Components of Response to Intervention

  1. A schoolwide, multilevel instructional and behavioral system for preventing school failure;
  2. Universal screening to identify students at risk for poor learning outcomes or challenging behavior who may benefit from more intensive instruction;
  3. Progress monitoring to determine when a student has or has not responded to instruction at any level of a prevention system; and
  4. Data-based decision making for instruction, movement within the multilevel system, and disability identification, in accordance with state law.

Source: National Center on RTI, 2010

Finally, the 2004 amendments to IDEA have continued the long-standing federal commitment to provide an adequate supply of qualified teachers. Thousands of professionals specializing in early childhood and special education have been trained with IDEA support. These professionals include early intervention staff, classroom teachers, therapists, counselors, psychologists, program administrators, and other professionals who will work with future generations of children with disabilities and their families.

IDEA currently supports centers and projects that demonstrate how states and localities can successfully meet challenges to staff recruitment and retention. For example, the University of North Carolina’s National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center has helped build national commitment and capacity for hiring qualified early intervention staff and providing family-centered, community-based, coordinated interagency services for young children with disabilities and their families across the country. Vanderbilt University’s IDEA and Research for Inclusive Settings (IRIS) Center for Training Enhancement creates free course enhancement materials for college faculty who are preparing the next generation of general education teachers, school leadership personnel, school counselors, and school nurses. IRIS course enhancement materials are designed to equip these school personnel with the knowledge and skills necessary to effectively teach children and youths with disabilities in inclusive school settings.

Additionally, IDEA is providing support for State Personnel Development Grants that are helping individual states develop effective strategies for improving practice and making progress toward measurable and rigorous targets for student performance. These federal investments are complementing and extending similar state and local investments in school reform and improvement. Thus, federal, state, and local agencies are partnering together to support the widespread use of scientifically based practices in individual schools and classrooms across the country.

Access to education is the civil rights issue of our time, and so it is appropriate that we celebrate the anniversary of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act this year. In adopting this landmark legislation, Congress opened public school doors for millions of children with disabilities and laid the foundation of the country’s commitment to ensuring that children with disabilities have opportunities to develop their talents, share their gifts, and contribute to their communities.

In the past 35 years, classrooms have become more inclusive and the futures of children with disabilities brighter. Significant progress has been made toward protecting the rights of, meeting the individual needs of, and improving educational results for infants, toddlers, children, and youths with disabilities.

Since 1975, policies and practices that meaningfully include students with disabilities in general education classrooms and accountability systems have proliferated. Today, 57 percent of students with disabilities are in general education classrooms for 80 percent or more of their school day. Early intervention services are now provided to nearly 350,000 infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families, and more than 6.6 million children and youths receive special education and related services designed to meet their individual needs. While tremendous progress has been made over the years, we must continue the hard work and address the challenges that still exist.

In light of these accomplishments, it is necessary to broaden the commitment and responsibility for providing appropriate educational opportunities for all children. Children with disabilities must be regarded as general education students first. IDEA legislation should complement, support, and expand on the ESEA provisions that address the education of all children and not be viewed in isolation or as the sole legislative provision supporting children with disabilities.

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Last Modified: 11/22/2010