This Annual Report to Congress marks the 20th anniversary of the passage of P.L. 94-142. Since 1975, educational services for students with disabilities have changed dramatically as a result of this legislation. Substantial progress has been made toward meeting the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act's (IDEA's) goal of providing a free appropriate public education for all children with disabilities. But access to a free appropriate public education and procedural safeguards do not guarantee positive educational results. The Goals 2000: Educate America Act, the School-to-Work Opportunities Act, the Improving America's Schools Act, and the Department of Education's proposal for the reauthorization of IDEA focus on improving educational results for all students, including students with disabilities. A major goal during IDEA's third decade will be to build upon the successes of the past 20 years and to achieve improved educational results for students with disabilities.
Before IDEA was enacted, one million children with disabilities were excluded from school, and many others were housed in institutions that did not address their educational needs. Today, one of the basic goals of the law--ensuring that children with disabilities are not excluded from school--has been largely achieved. Almost 5.5 million children and youth with disabilities are currently receiving special education services. All States and jurisdictions now provide services to preschoolers with disabilities, and all States and jurisdictions now assure full implementation of the Part H program for infants and toddlers with disabilities. During the past 20 years, results for children with disabilities have improved dramatically. Graduation rates are higher. More students are going to college. Today, half of all adults with a disability have completed some college or received a degree, compared with only 30 percent in 1986. More than half of all youth with disabilities (56 percent) are competitively employed within 5 years of leaving school. The number of children served in costly State institutions has declined significantly; today, just over 1 percent of all children with disabilities live in institutions.
Research and understanding of how to improve educational results for children with disabilities have also improved significantly. As a result of more than 20 years of research, demonstration projects, information dissemination, and technical assistance, an important knowledge base exists on effective teaching and learning strategies for children with disabilities. For example, as described in Chapter 3 of this Annual Report, the Department of Education recently sponsored 5-year grants in 16 States to increase the physical, social, and academic inclusion of students with severe disabilities. Other States, school districts, and schools are also translating the accumulated knowledge base into improved practice and improved results for students with disabilities.
While significant progress has been made toward providing a free appropriate public education to students with disabilities and improving results for those students, several challenges remain. Two of these challenges are highlighted in this report--inclusion in regular education settings and providing services to students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds in urban areas.
First, a central purpose of IDEA is to ensure an effective and individualized education designed to address each child's unique needs in the least restrictive environment. IDEA requires that students with disabilities be educated in the regular classroom with appropriate aids and services, with their nondisabled peers in the school they would attend if not disabled, unless the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with use of supplemental aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily. States and school districts have made and continue to make progress in meeting this goal. States report that an increasing proportion of students are served in regular classes. Where students with disabilities are appropriately educated in inclusive environments, research shows that students--both those with disabilities and those without disabilities--benefit academically and socially.
Second, significant challenges exist to providing special education services to students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, particularly in urban settings. These students are often inappropriately identified and served. Patterns of disproportionate representation--overidentification of some groups and underidentification of others--have been observed in some States and school districts. These issues are currently a focus of Federal and State efforts to ensure that these students are identified and placed appropriately.
This year's Annual Report describes the Department of Education's efforts to work in partnership with States to maximize results for students with disabilities. These efforts include monitoring and technical assistance activities which are tailored to individual State needs. The Annual Report consists of five chapters. Current and historical service patterns for school-age students with disabilities are discussed in Chapter 1 and for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers in Chapter 2. Chapter 3 describes the progress made toward achieving full participation of students with disabilities in their schools and communities and the results achieved by these students. Chapter 4 outlines the challenges to providing special education services to students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, particularly in urban settings, and provides information on some services and programs found to be effective in serving these populations. Finally, Chapter 5 focuses on OSEP's efforts to ensure continuous progress in achieving educational results for children with disabilities while maintaining procedural compliance with IDEA.