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IDEA 2004: What You Need to Know

As most parents and professionals may already know, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was re-authorized by the United States government in late 2004. IDEA 2004, formally known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, was passed by both houses of Congress and then signed into law by President Bush on December 3, 2004. Most provisions of the new law went into effect on July 1, 2005, with final regulations developed and published by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) after that. The following is a brief review of some of the major provisions of IDEA 2004, especially as they apply to students with dyslexia and related learning disabilities.

Eligibility and Identification of Specific Learning Disability
In a major overhaul of the IDEA’s longstanding reliance on the IQ-Achievement discrepancy model of LD identification, IDEA 2004 states that schools “shall not be required to take into consideration whether a child has a severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability” in determining the presence of a specific learning disability. In doing this, the law has taken note of the many problems with the IQ-Achievement discrepancy model that have previously been demonstrated by researchers, educators and diagnosticians. These problems, already known to many professionals, include: the IQ scores of students with learning disabilities often lose validity due to their tendency to decline over time (“The Matthew Effect”), and waiting for a child to exhibit a significant IQ-Achievement discrepancy essentially means that we must wait for the child to fail before providing him or her with appropriate services.

Instead of IQ-Achievement discrepancy, IDEA 2004 states that schools “may use a process that determines if the child responds to scientific, research-based intervention as a part of the evaluation procedures …” This new process, which goes by the name of Response to Intervention (RTI), essentially involves providing children with high quality, scientifically supported teaching techniques in a carefully organized and monitored manner; those children who do not learn in response to such teaching are presumed to be those with a learning disability. The RTI model has received the support of many prominent researchers, though how it will be implemented on a practical level is still to be determined.

Evidence Based Practices
As the RTI model suggests, IDEA 2004 puts increased emphasis on the use of high quality, scientifically supported instructional practices in the classroom. For example, the law authorizes the establishment of a National Center for Special Education Research, and it calls for the use of “scientifically based instructional practices” and “scientifically based early reading programs.”

Individual Educational Plans
Unlike the previous version of the IDEA, the new law allows parents and schools to agree to change an IEP without convening a formal IEP meeting, and, under certain circumstances, an IEP team may formally meet without all members present. Also, 15 states are authorized to participate in a pilot program to develop three-year, rather than annual, IEP’s.

Alignment with No Child Left Behind
In an attempt to add consistency to federal education laws, IDEA 2004 contains a number of references to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). For example, the new law requires that disabled children be included in the assessments that are mandated under NCLB.

Highly Qualified Teachers
As part of its alignment with No Child Left Behind, IDEA 2004 requires all special education teachers to be certified in special education, and special education teachers who teach core academic subjects to disabled children must demonstrate mastery of the subject matter that they teach. Unlike the other provisions of the law, which took effect July 2005, this provision took effect in December 2004, with President Bush’s signing of the law.

For further information on how the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 may affect your child, please contact me at steve@nextstepsedconsulting.com or (516) 625-0824.

Revised and reprinted, with permission, from Spotlight (volume 22, Spring 2005), the newsletter of the Long Island Branch of the International Dyslexia Association.

In providing services, Next Steps: Stephen Migden & Associates, does not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender, citizenship, ethnic or national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

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