IDEA Rules Await White House Review, State Special Ed. Officials Told
The U.S. Department of Education is following its own internal timetable for completing final regulations for the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, but the final approval of the rules may be bogged down in a bureaucratic logjam at the White House budget office, a federal education official told state special education administrators here last week.
John H. Hager, the assistant secretary in charge of the Education Department’s office of special education and rehabilitative services, said that the White House Office of Management and Budget is focused on preparing the fiscal 2007 federal budget proposal and dealing with hurricane-related issues. Those concerns, he said, have bumped the required OMB review of the special education rules to a lower priority.
“Our goal is to have them done at the end of the year, although we’ve got this little agency called OMB to deal with, and they’ll probably slow us down in the end,” Mr. Hager told the annual convention of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education here on Oct. 25.
The OMB reviews all proposed federal regulations. The IDEA rules expand on such issues within the special education law as highly qualified teachers for special education students and due-process procedures. ("Ed. Dept. Seeks Comment on IDEA Rules," June 22, 2005.)
A separate OMB review has also delayed the Education Department’s final regulations related to testing flexibility under the No Child Left Behind Act for special education students.
The department in April informally gave states the option of testing as many as 2 percent of their students by using alternate assessments based on modified standards. The flexibility is intended to provide an option for students who can make progress toward grade-level standards but may not reach them at the same time as their peers.
That flexibility is separate from another department policy that allows 1 percent of students—those with severe cognitive disabilities—to take alternative assessments and be counted as proficient under the No Child Left Behind law. Together, the policies affect about 30 percent of students with disabilities.
Such provisions are significant because schools must show that students with disabilities and other key subgroups, not just students overall, are making adequate yearly academic progress to comply with the NCLB law.
“The timing is something that has been frustrating,” Mr. Hager said about the 2 percent flexibility regulations.
“I would have thought it’d be out by now,” Mr. Hager added, offering an estimate of another six to eight weeks for the rules on testing flexibility under NCLB.
After his session, however, Mr. Hager said that he understood the workload issues of the White House budget office.
“I’ve learned to be much more mellow. I’ve become much more understanding,” he said. “After a certain point, it’s out of our hands.”
‘Response to Intervention’
The meeting here brought together education officials from as far away as Hawaii and the Federated States of Micronesia, a United Nations trust territory under U.S. administration in the North Pacific. Attendees also heard presentations on the challenges of working with youths who have disabilities and who are homeless, in the child-welfare system, or in jail; a national technology standard that is intended to get school materials more quickly to students who are blind; and the work of the special education directors’ group with states to ensure that charter schools are serving students with special needs.
The best-attended session was on “response to intervention,” an instructional method that was written into the 2004 version of the IDEA. Instead of waiting for a child to fall far behind his or her classmates academically before entering the special education system, schools are encouraged by the law to try different instructional approaches.
Finding Time, Money
Though response to intervention is not a new idea for teaching students, it is still different from what some states and districts have done in the past. Finding the time, money, and expertise to put a useful RTI program in place is a challenge, some directors said during small-group sessions.
But response to intervention “is not about diagnosing children with specific learning disabilities. RTI is about improving instruction,” said W. David Tilly, a presenter and the coordinator of assessment services for the Heartland Area Education Agency, based in Johnston, Iowa, in a comment that drew applause. The agency provides educational support to 55 Iowa school districts.
The point of response to intervention, he said, is to bring together special education and general education in a way that benefits all students. “RTI is not just a special education approach,” Mr. Tilly said.
“Our goal is to have [the IDEA rules] done at the end of the year, although we’ve got this little agency called OMB to deal with. ...”
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