Proposed IDEA Rules Target Testing, Accountability
Emphasizing high-quality academics and testing for students with disabilities in regular education classes, the Department of Education issued proposed new rules last week for the recently amended Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
The regulations clarify portions of the new law, most of which took effect when it was signed by President Clinton in June. Following a 90-day comment period and subsequent revisions, the Education Department plans to have final rules out by April, in time for the 1998-99 school year.
Changes to the law included adding requirements for the individualized education plan that each disabled student must have and the inclusion of disabled students in academic assessments.
The proposed rules set guidelines in those areas, as well as for communicating with the parents of children with disabilities, administering services to students with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and restricting home instruction. They would not, however, change Education Department policy on the disciplining of children with disabilities.
Some state officials said last week that they were surprised at the complexity of the 109-page document. "I was not expecting the regulations to be quite as comprehensive as they are," said Stevan J. Kukic, Utah's director for at-risk and special education services. Mr. Kukic and representatives of several education groups in Washington said last week that they had not had time to read through the regulations and could not comment on them substantively.
The department's proposed regulations emphasize several priorities, including: educating disabled students in regular classrooms when appropriate; conducting academic assessments of all students with disabilities; and holding states accountable for the progress of special education students.
Under the new law, all disabled students must be included in state or district assessments, or be given an alternative exam. States must set performance goals for such students. The Education Department proposed last week that the goals address disabled students' performance on assessments and dropout and graduation rates, and that public reports be provided on progress toward those goals.
In addition, the revised IDEA says schools must report to parents on the progress of their disabled children. The department, in turn, proposed that each state issue a progress report on its disabled students and report on their participation in assessments to federal officials every two years.
Making sure that disabled students' work is linked to the curriculum in a general classroom is a departmental priority, said Judith E. Heumann, the assistant secretary for the department's office of special education and rehabilitative services. "It's not good enough to place kids in general education ... without the accommodations and support," she added.
In a news briefing last week, Ms. Heumann said that the department's goal is to make sure that students with disabilities are included in assessments and that they receive an appropriate education in a general classroom. Only about half of all disabled students are now included in assessments, she added.
Thanks to the reauthorization, states will be held accountable for the performance of those students, said Ms. Heumann, who is a strong proponent of inclusion. The regulations also propose limiting home instruction to a small number of students, such as those who are medically fragile.
Sally McConnell, the government-relations director for the National Association of Elementary School Principals in Alexandria, Va., said the proposal was too limiting and did not follow the intent of the law.
The proposed rules would extend the means for offering services to students diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Students with the disorder, most of whom are already classified through the "other health impairments" category within the IDEA, may receive special education services if their condition is determined to be a chronic problem or adversely affects their educational performance, the proposed regulations state.
Education Department officials also said the proposed rules won't change department discipline policy, which states that disabled students may not be suspended for more than 10 days in a school year without receiving educational services. ("Ed. Dept. Clarifies Policy on Special Ed. Suspension," Oct. 1, 1997.)