Autism Article: IDEA 2004

What Parents Need To Know About IDEA 2004 And Their Child's IEP is an article to inform parents about the final regulations for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, which Congress reauthorized in 2006, written by Dixie Jordan, PACER project coordinator and national speaker.

A family member has attended several workshops presented by Ms. Jordan in New York to better understand special education law and IDEA to advocate for our autistic loved one.

What parents need to know about IDEA 2004 and their child's IEP

By Dixie Jordan

The dust is beginning to settle. With final regulations for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA 2004) issued several months ago, parents and professionals have a more defined picture of what the changes in the nation's special education law mean to children with disabilities.

Congress reauthorized IDEA, with amendments, in late 2004. The regulations, or interpretation of the statute (law) by the U.S. Department of Education, became effective last October.

In most instances, the regulations closely track the IDEA 2004 statute. Changes in the law align it more closely to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). They also affect how Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) are developed, implemented and reviewed. Because the IEP defines the specialized services that a child with a disability needs to be successful, changes in the IEP process are important for parents to know. Some of the changes include:

Bringing State standards into IEP planning

Under NCLB, all children, including those who have disabilities, are required to participate in statewide and district wide assessments or testing. Each state must have assessments that are accessible to the broadest range of children possible and most include alternate assessments for those students who are not able to participate in the regular assessments. Children with disabilities must be provided with reasonable accommodations, when necessary, to accurately measure academic achievement.

The IEP team may not exempt children from taking state assessments. The role of the team is to determine the manner in which a child will participate in these assessments. The role of the team is to determine the manner in which a child will participate in these assessments, including whether alternate assessments are needed. Statewide academic achievement assessments will help parents, schools, and the state to understand whether children with disabilities are achieving to high standards. Parents can help prepare their child for state assessments by talking about the purpose of the testing and making sure that their child attends school on test days.

Any accommodations or modifications that a child needs to receive appropriate day-to-day education must be written into that child's IEP. The IEP team must also consider what accommodations the child may need for standardized testing. If a child's IEP team, which includes the parents, determines that the child cannot participate in the regular assessment, the child may be provided with an alternate assessment. In this instance, the team must include a statement in the IEP document that explains why the child cannot take the regular statewide assessment and why the alternate assessment chosen by the team is appropriate.

Concerning assessments, parents need to know:

  • what assessment options may apply for the child.
  • whether any alternate assessment provided aligns with their state's academic content standards. There are several kinds of alternate assessments. The first is alternate assessment that means the state's academic content standards. Many states, including Minnesota, also permit a small group of students to take alternate assessments that are aligned to alternate standards rather than the regular state standards.
  • how the IEP team can help a child to reach grade level in reading, math, science, and writing. These strategies should be included in the IEP.
  • the accommodations the child needs to progress toward his or her IEP goals and to participate effectively in statewide assessments. The accommodations will be the same for both purposes. The IEP must include any accommodations to be provided.

Changes in IEP team meetings

Under the new IDEA regulations, a member of the IEP team may be excused from attending an IEP meeting—if both the parent and school agree. If the team will discuss issues from the team member's area of expertise, he or she must submit written information to the parent and the team before the meeting takes place. The parent must agree, in writing, to excusing the team member.

The new regulations also permit different ways for IEP meetings to take place, such as through conference calls or video conferencing. Once the annual IEP meeting is conducted, a parent and school district may agree to additional changes in a child's IEP without having another meeting. If parents agree to make changes to the IEP without a meeting, it is important for them to request and obtain a copy of the new IEP changes. Any changes to the document must be recorded as amendments to the IEP.

A previous IDEA requirement that IEP teams develop short-term objectives for each child's annual IEP goals no longer exists under federal laws. (Many states still require the short-term objectives under state law.) Under IDEA 2004, short-term objectives are required only for children who are taking alternate state assessments aligned to alternate achievement standards. Minnesota special education rules are in the process of being revised, but current rules contain a requirement for short-term objectives for all children with disabilities. Parents will want to check their state rules to determine their state's position on short-term objectives. IDEA does require a statement of how progress toward the annual goals will be measured.

Educational placements

When a child transfers between school districts, services comparable to those in the IEP must be provided by the new district. The services must continue until the previous IEP is adopted or a new IEP is developed and implemented. If a child transfers to another state, comparable services must be provided until eligibility in that state is established and a new IEP is developed. These new provisions will help ensure that children with disabilities do not go without services while new assessments are being considered or implemented.

Progress reports

Parents must receive progress reports on the achievement of their children with disabilities at least as often as the parents of children who do not have disabilities receive reports on their children's progress. The IEP team will also review the IEP at least once per year to determine if the annual goals for the child are being met and to revise the IEP as needed. According to IDEA 2004, it is no longer required to report whether the progress is sufficient to meet the goal by the end of the school year. Current Minnesota law does require a report on sufficient progress.

Dixie Jordan is a PACER project coordinator and national speaker. An expert on special education law, she has coordinated PACER Center's emotional-behavioral disorder program, the Families and Advocates Partnership for Education project, and the American Indian Parent Network. In addition, Jordan has written national curricula on IDEA 2004 and NCLB for PACER.

Article published in Pacesetter Summer, by Dixie Jordan
© 2007 - Vol. 30, Issue 2

Used with permission from PACER Center Inc., Minneapolis, MN, (952) 838-9000. All rights reserved.

Return to Autism Articles page

Return to Home page