The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (page 2)
On December 3, 2004, President Bush signed IDEA 2004 into law. The bill had almost unanimously passed both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S Senate. Figure 5.3 depicts the process that resulted in passage of the new law. Appendix A contains a table that depicts the major changes of IDEA 2004.
The primary goal of Congress in passing IDEA 2004 is to align IDEA with NCLB, thereby increasing accountability for improving student performance. Thus, IDEA 2004 includes measures to increase academic results for students with disabilities such as requiring the use of scientifically based practices. The law also defines highly qualified special education teachers in line with the definition in NCLB. Additionally, Congress sought to reduce the paperwork burden on teachers, expand options for parents, and reduce litigation.
Congress stated that the IDEA has successfully ensured access to educational services for millions of children and youth with disabilities. Nevertheless, implementation of the IDEA had been impeded by low expectations and an insufficient focus on applying scientifically based research on proven methods of teaching children and youth with disabilities. Specifically, Congress stated that having high expectations for students with disabilities and ensuring their access to the general education curriculum would assist them to be prepared to lead productive and independent lives. Moreover, IDEA 2004 sought to support high quality, intensive preservice preparation and professional development based on scientific research. Congress, in passing IDEA 2004, also sought to encourage schools to develop schoolwide approaches to reduce the need to label children as disabled and to provide assistance to all children who need it. Indeed, one of the major purposes of IDEA 2004 is
providing incentives for whole-school approaches, scientifically based early reading program, positive behavioral interventions and supports, and early intervening services to reduce the need to label children as disabled in order to address the learning and behavioral needs of such children. (IDEA, 20 U.S.C. § 1401(c)(5)(F))
In IDEA 2004, Congress made significant changes to the law. Some of the areas affected include the IEP, discipline, assessment, attorney’s fees, “highly qualified” teachers, scientifically based instruction, and funding. Readers should note that these are changes in the federal law. When this book was completed, regulations implementing IDEA 2004 still had to be written by the U.S. Department of Education, and states still must pass legislation or write regulations regarding these changes.
The Individualized Education Program
In IDEA 2004, Congress attempted to alter the IEP process so it (a) is easier for IEP teams to navigate, (b) involves less paperwork and meetings, and (c) increases accountability.
Changes in the IEP Development Process. The IDEA requires that the IEP team must, at a minimum include (a) the student’s parents; (b) the special education teacher; (c) a general education teacher (at least one, if a student has multiple general education teachers); (d) a representative of the local educational agency (i.e., school) who can provide, or supervise the provision of, special education services; (e) an individual who can explain the instructional implications of the evaluation results; and (f) others at the discretion of the student’s parents or the school. IDEA 2004, however, allows a member of the IEP team whose attendance is not necessary because his or her area of curriculum or related services are not being modified or discussed at the meeting to be excused from attending the IEP meeting or other meetings if the student’s parents and the local education agency agree that the person’s presence is not necessary. To be excused the team member must submit a request in writing to the parents and the IEP team, and the parents and IEP team must agree with excusing the team member. This change may make it easier to schedule meetings.
Changes in the IEP Document. The federal law no longer requires that benchmarks or short-term objectives be included in the IEP, except for students with severe disabilities who take alternate assessments. Rather, IDEA 2004 emphasizes the importance of writing measurable annual goals and then measuring progress toward each goal during the course of the year. Teachers must inform students’ parents of their progress toward each annual goal at least every 9 weeks. If students are not making sufficient progress to enable them to reach their goals by the end of the year, instructional changes must be made to their instructional program.
Changes in the IEP Modification Process. According to IDEA 2004, programming changes are proposed to a student’s program after the annual IEP meeting has been held. The IEP team and a student’s parents could agree to make the changes in a written document rather than reconvening the IEP team to make the changes. These modifications would then become part of the IEP. This is a significant change because previously an IEP team had to be reconvened to revise a student’s special education program. Congress believed this would allow teachers to spend less time having to schedule, prepare for, and attend IEP meetings.
Three-Year IEPs. IDEA 2004 allows up to 15 states to develop and implement 3-year IEPs. If the states applied to the U.S. Department of Education and were accepted for the pilot program, they could offer parents the option of developing a comprehensive 3-year IEP designed to coincide with natural transition points in their child’s education (e.g., preschool to kindergarten, elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school). Parents had to agree to this option. States that did not apply for this pilot program are still required to develop and implement 1-year IEPs.
IEPs for Transfer Students. When a special education student transfers from an in-state or out-of-state school district to a new school district, the accepting school is required to continue to provide the student with a FAPE. In other words, the new school must continue to provide services comparable to those described in the student’s previous IEP. Moreover, the accepting school is required to consult with the student’s parents regarding the services. If the student is from out of state, the new school is required to conduct an evaluation and, if appropriate, develop a new IEP.
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