[url="http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/04/education/04education.html?th=&emc=th&pagewanted=print"]http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/04/educa ... nted=print[/url]
August 4, 2006
U.S. Issues New Rules on Schools and Disability
By DIANA JEAN SCHEMO
WASHINGTON, Aug. 3 — For more than 25 years, federal law had required that schools nationwide identify children as learning disabled by comparing their scores on intelligence tests with their academic achievement. This meant that many students had to wait until third or fourth grade to get the special education help they needed.
In regulations issued today after changes to the law, the federal Education Department said states could not require school districts to rely on that method, allowing districts to find other ways to determine which children are eligible for extra help.
It was the final step in the federal government’s repudiation of the old approach, which had come under severe criticism from advocates for children with disabilities, testing experts and eventually federal officials themselves. Advocates for those children applauded the change.
“If you talk to principals and special ed directors, there is pent-up demand for better ways to serve struggling kids than waiting until they crash and burn in third and fourth grade,’’ said James H. Wendorf, executive director of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. The new rules also require schools to alert parents as they begin exploring whether children may need special education, another change that won praise from advocates for children with disabilities.
The regulations come after Congress updated laws covering special education for some six million schoolchildren nationwide in late 2004.
Comparing intelligence tests with academic achievement, known as the discrepancy model, came under intense criticism in the debates over the law and over special education.
Federal officials and advocates for children with disabilities contended that the practice of waiting for children to fall behind on tests in third or fourth grade before getting them extra help consigned them to failure, and opened the way for the disproportionate numbers of poor and minority children to be labeled as needing special education.
The 2004 law abandoned reliance on that approach. And the new regulations favor alternative methods of identifying children who need services, like evaluating the response of struggling children to extra help before the third grade.
The 2004 law also streamlined procedures and reduced the paperwork involved in providing children special education services, and relaxed burdens on schools when children with disabilities had behavioral problems.
A draft of the regulations published in June 2005 prompted an outpouring of 5,500 letters and comments to the Education Department from advocates for children with disabilities, as well as parents, teachers’ unions, and state, district and local education officials.
The department posted the final regulations on its Web site today, along with answers to each of the comments it received. The final regulations will be published in the Federal Register on Aug. 14, and will take effect 60 days later.
In unveiling the new rules, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said her priority was “that we not lose our vigilance for educational attainment for every child.”
Advocates for children with disabilities said they were disappointed that the regulations did not address some problems they saw in the 2004 federal law.
For example, the law says that instead of reviewing each disabled child’s educational plan every year automatically, schools could review them only once every three years, provided parents agree to the change. The regulations do not help ensure parents are properly notified, advocates said.
“But who is going to make sure that parents now know what they’re giving up if they agree to that?” said Ricki Sabia, associate director of the National Down Syndrome Society Policy Center. “The department could have made clear what constitutes that agreement.”