A Difficult IDEA To Understand

Larry Price
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Wednesday - February 14, 2007
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There’s little question that our public education system is really working hard to live up the public’s expectations. This is particularly true with the rank-and-file who run the schools and are saddled with complying with all - and especially the newest - regulations.

It’s pretty obvious that the public school bureaucracy is under close scrutiny from both federal and state regulations, some of which are difficult to understand, like IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act.

Since Congress was kind enough to revise and reauthorize IDEA in 2004, the president obliged and signed the bill in December 2004. The IDEA changes took effect in July 2005, and its final regulations were released in August 2006 and took effect the following October. It is testimony to just how slow a bureaucracy can move. It took two years for IDEA 2004 to be promulgated.

It’s now 2007 and the big question locally is: How will the Hawaii state Department of Education (DOE) respond to the current statutory and regulatory requirements of the new and improved IDEA 2006? Perhaps the more important question is: When will the DOE implement the responses to IDEA 2006? Naturally, everyone expects it will be in an efficient and effective manner.

There are so many aspects of IDEA 2006 you have to wonder which will interest the general public the most. It appears to me it will be Special Education (SPED) eligibility, more specifically, Specific Learning Disability (SLD). Of the students who are SPED-eligible, those who hold SLD eligibility comprise nearly half of this population. The big question is how Specific Learning is going to be determined under the new regulations? What makes this all so interesting is the new regulations are written like someone looking to file a lawsuit; they take up 59 pages and are difficult to read.

Currently, Hawaii uses the “severe discrepancy formula” to determine SLS eligibility. While this is quite a complex process, suffice it to say that test, or assessment, data reveal a severe discrepancy between children’s learning potential and actual academic achievement. IDEA 2006 allows a local education agency (LEA) to replace the discrepancy model with a response to scientific research based on intervention, commonly know as a response to scientific research intervention (RTI). RTI uses a process based on systematic assessment of the student’s response to high quality, research-based general instruction.

The entire state of Hawaii is now considered a LEA; it seems now it has opted to implement the discrepancy method. There are naturally pros and cons with both models, and with so much information to disseminate it would take volumes to explain. Given the choice, parents and teachers are going to need to decide which model would be appropriate for the DOE to implement. What if the DOE were allowed to use either model to determine SLD eligibility? We could expect an instant SPED population. Would schools use whichever model suited to their purpose to give SLD eligibility to children?

Most people would probably agree that this is pretty confusing stuff for the DOE to disseminate to the public. There are some other factors to consider. The discrepancy model is sometimes called the “wait to fail” method, as if does not always lead to closing the achievement gap for most students in special education. On the other hand, RTI requires documentation from teachers regarding how students respond to “intervention” used to improve their academic progress. Naturally, it would be easier to use the discrepancy model. It’s faster; it’s the status quo. RTI may create more work for teachers and may not achieve the desired results of assisting students in academic progress.

What’s the answer? Perhaps it’s best for everyone to leave this dilemma to the professionals in the DOE.

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