How Will Changes in IDEA Affect Children With Learning Problems?
First, parents should understand that changes in federal law are never intended to reduce needed services to students with disabilities. Children already served will not be tossed out of special education. If your child has an IEP, the important thing is to determine if your child is meeting his or her goals, or if your child's progress is such that services are no longer needed or need to be changed. In fact, periodic reevaluation of children with disabilities is, in a sense, an RTI model, because the reevaluation and IEP review are primarily looking at how well the current program works. In other words, how well does the child respond to this program? It no longer matters very much how the child was labeled to start with. What matters now is whether the child is learning. Changes to the IEP should be made based on student needs, not labels.
Second, for parents of children who are struggling with reading or math but who have not been referred to, or evaluated for, or placed in special education services, the new law should not be cause for panic. RTI may be one—but not the only—process used to determine if students need special education services. Your child should still receive a comprehensive assessment by the school team. Your child should also benefit from procedures that attempt to find effective instructional strategies—if the intervention is successful, that means your child is learning! And if your child can learn well in general education, that’s great news! If your child does not respond sufficiently to intervention efforts, that information will be very helpful when the special education team considers his or her eligibility for special education, and when the team writes an IEP. If the team is well versed in effective instructional strategies and methods of measuring student progress, then the new procedures should result in a Win-Win situation.
The challenge for everyone will be to ensure that school personnel – from classroom teachers to special educators—are well versed in effective instructional strategies for a wide range of student problems, are trained to use reliable means of measuring student progress and determining appropriate expectations for “response to instruction,” and are skilled in making decisions as part of a multidisciplinary team. These are not simple skills and often they have not been taught adequately at the level of college preparation. Schools and states will need to provide training for their personnel, as well as programs to introduce the new procedures to parents so that they can better participate in their children’s learning.
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