Office for Civil Rights
Annual Report to Congress FY 2004

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Putting Reading First

In No Child Left Behind , the president and Congress set a goal that all children will read on grade level by the third grade. The Department has determined that, to reach this goal, reading instruction must be based on sound scientific research. Research shows that reading difficulties and behavior problems are among the most common reasons for referring students for special education. Pre-referral interventions focusing on reading problems have been demonstrated to reduce the number of children who are placed in special education programs.

“We will no longer accept or excuse schools that do not effectively teach the basics. We will insist on high standards and accountability because we believe that every school should teach and every child can learn.”

President George W. Bush
Radio Address to the Nation, Jan. 3, 2004

OCR's experience, including previous investigations, and survey data have shown that minority and limited English proficient students in particular may be misidentified in certain special education categories. Students inappropriately identified and then placed in special education programs often do not receive the same curriculum content as regular education students and may face barriers in their later efforts to obtain a regular high school diploma, pursue postsecondary education, or prepare for employment.

In April 2003, OCR launched a nationwide initiative to conduct compliance reviews in school districts around the country on the issue of the misidentification of minority students in special education. The initiative also focused on ensuring that national origin minority students are not referred for evaluation or placed in special education programs based on their limited English proficiency.

Therefore, OCR emphasized the importance of implementing high quality research-based reading programs to reduce the number of students who are misidentified and inappropriately placed in special education. Through its investigative outreach and technical assistance activities, OCR helps ensure that all children have equal access to high quality education.

Additional reviews on these issues were initiated in FY 2004. The reviews focus on school districts' possible misidentification of minority students and ELL students as disabled and whether their placement in special education programs is appropriate.

For example, in some of our reviews resolved in FY 2004, school districts were found in noncompliance with applicable requirements of the Section 504 and Title II implementing regulations with respect to pre-referral interventions, evaluation, and placement in the least restrictive environment.

In a resolution agreement, the district agreed to provide staff training and resource support for interventions, implement a system of record-keeping, and actively monitor the intervention process in the schools. It further agreed to develop guidelines, monitor and provide training in the areas of referral, evaluation, and eligibility determination. The district agreed to review the placements of all students currently identified as Educable Mentally Handicapped (EMH) and Emotionally Handicapped (EH), reevaluate if appropriate, and exit with transition services those students who do not meet eligibility criteria. The district also agreed to develop guidelines regarding least restrictive environment and relevant placement criteria and to assess the variations among the district's schools. It will review placements of all EMH and EH students currently in separate special education classes for more than 50 percent of the instructional day and, where appropriate, initiate changes in placement.

During FY 2004, OCR also provided technical assistance to state departments of education and local school districts on reducing referrals to special education by implementing research-based reading programs. For example, OCR met with representatives of the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE), the New York University Equity Assistance Center, and the Northeast Regional Resource Center to provide technical assistance on misidentification of minority students to five school districts identified by NJDOE.

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Last Modified: 11/01/2007