NASP Recommendations on IDEA Reauthorization
February 22, 2002
On behalf of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP),
we thank the Department of Education for the opportunity to share our
thoughts and recommendations for strengthening the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (IDEA).
NASP represents approximately 23,000 school psychologists in schools
and communities across the country. The NASP mission is to promote educationally
and psychologically healthy environments for children and their families
by implementing research-based, effective programs that promote healthy
behaviors, enhance independence and promote optimal learning. This is
accomplished through state-of-the-art research and training, advocacy,
ongoing program evaluation, and caring professional service. We are particularly
active in programs and services for school and community‑based violence
prevention efforts, including behavioral interventions and strategies
to remove emotional, behavioral and academic barriers to learning.
School psychologists work within many contexts of IDEA regularly. We
provide accurate and comprehensive assessments. We provide education
and professional development for other educators and staff. We develop
and implement individualized education programs and behavioral intervention
plans. We provide community and school-based mental health and psychological
services, consult with parents and teachers on strategies to improve academic
success, and link students and families to resources within the community.
School psychologists often act as the bridge between special education
and general education programs, school and community-based programs and
services, and parents and the school community. Most importantly, we
are specifically trained to link mental health and learning deficits to
successful academic interventions. For these reasons, we are integral
players in successful and effective application of IDEA principles and
NASP has received many comments from our members on both the positive
aspects resulting from the prior authorization and suggestions for improvements.
We would like to highlight a few of these now, and we look forward to
continued dialogue as IDEA reform plans are developed.
NASP members believe that the core components of IDEA statute represent
good public policy in that the law seeks to ensure free and appropriate
education for students with disabilities. IDEA ’97 places strong
emphasis on positive results based on the individual needs of students.
We fully support this language and urge that it be maintained and enhanced.
While we agree that there is always room for improvement and that certain
changes to the law could refocus attention on outcomes rather than process,
we believe that we need better, more uniform implementation of the ’97
reforms before we can know for certain where further reforms are needed.
School districts have had less than two school years to implement the
law since the final regulations were released in March 1999. Most schools
are just beginning to make the law fully operational in practice. NASP
believes that more specific guidance and technical assistance to local
and state education agencies are necessary to effectively implement
the ‘97 amendments and can help avoid even greater stress on school
NASP applauds the Department’s ongoing efforts to improve implementation
through various information and research projects. NASP has valued its
involvement in the IDEA Partnerships and the ASPIIRE Project and hopes
to continue working with OSEP on the development and dissemination of
resources for recommended practices and implementation. We strongly encourage
the Department to continue these efforts and seek increased funding for
Part D to conduct further research on the effectiveness of IDEA services
and programs, particularly in the area of how support services remove
barriers to learning and increase student achievement.
NASP also applauds the approach the Administration is taking to focus
on early identification and intervention of reading and other learning
problems. NASP strongly supports every effort to intervene as early
as possible to avoid more costly and extensive services down the road,
or even the need to refer to special education at all. We all know that
the “wait and fail” model serves no one. School psychologists
play a key role in this type of early identification and problem solving.
We also support the Administration’s position that schools can and
should address many needs of students within the general education curriculum,
without having to place them in special education. This approach can
only succeed, however, if adequate services are accessible in the general
education setting. We know that the paradox of IDEA is that you must
place in special education students who need additional help in order
to get them needed services. If concerns surround the growing numbers
of students in special education, then services -- and the resources to
provide these services -- must be offered and available outside of special
Mental Health & Behavioral Services
NASP believes this is particularly true for mental health services.
Interventions and services that address emotional and behavioral barriers
to learning serve not only to improve the well being of the student, but
also to improve academic achievement. Mental health services should be
understood as an educational necessity rather than only a medical necessity.
A mentally healthy student leads to a successful student. NASP believes
that the reauthorization of IDEA provides a perfect opportunity to strengthen
the provision of school-based mental health services for all students,
and that such services should be more regularly considered when evaluating
students, developing IEPs, and providing school-wide interventions.
Sec. 614 IEP development: Under “consideration of special factors,”
mental health needs should be considered when determining what services
are needed. We recommend that the IEP team determine whether the child
under consideration requires school-based mental health services in order
to specifically address emotional and behavioral barriers to learning.
This consideration supports the provision that the initial evaluation
of students should be in “all areas of suspected disability,”
and would ensure that students receive services that will enable them
to learn more effectively. This critical provision ensures that students
receive the most appropriate special education and related services, based
on their individual needs rather than on a disability label. Determination
and delivery of appropriate services is necessary for students to benefit
from their education.
Functional Behavioral Assessments (FBA) are currently used only after
a discipline infraction is committed. We believe this is an ineffective
use of this intervention tool. Making the FBA part of an initial assessment
and evaluation when mental health and behavioral issues are suspected
is a more effective means of addressing a behavior and/or establishing
a behavioral intervention plan (BIP). According to IDEA Statute, evaluations
should involve “a variety of assessment tools and strategies to
gather relevant functional and developmental information.”
Preventive behavioral supports are more cost-effective for the school
than dealing with discipline problems later. They are more beneficial
to the school environment and classroom management capacity and help teachers
and students to focus on academic achievement. Moreover, it is more cost-effective
to society in the long term to prevent behavioral problems and address
mental health needs early, than it is to ignore problems and issues that
can later lead to juvenile delinquency, social maladjustment, and adult
crime or violence.
Although NASP asserts that schools must play a stronger role in mitigating
negative behaviors before they worsen, we understand that schools cannot
and should not do it alone. We believe the Department could do a better
job of emphasizing systems of care and the implementation of interagency
agreements and coordinated services (Sec. 300.142 Methods of Ensuring
Services). States and school districts should be encouraged to enhance
this coordination/collaboration and states must indicate how local education
agencies will implement these agreements. It is important that the Department
identify and disseminate models of best practices to states and LEAs.
Additionally, mental health and juvenile justice agencies should be explicitly
included in coordination efforts.
New provisions in IDEA ’97 allowed school districts to use funds
provided for school-wide programs under Title I of the Elementary and
Secondary Education Act for both students with and without disabilities.
This provision of “incidental benefit” provides the mechanism
for coordination of education programs and service delivery. We urge
that this provision be maintained and enhanced. We also hope to reinforce
that these benefits are not merely “incidental” but an intentional
result of services, reaching more students in the most cost-effective
NASP strongly opposes cessation of services. Ceasing educational and
other services for students as a means of disciplining them does not improve
school safety or effectively address the behavior. Any student with violent
or disruptive behavior must have their needs addressed through the provision
of appropriate and effective services, such as positive behavioral supports.
When education and services are denied, students are more likely to become
involved in illegal activities. School dropout rates and delinquency
will increase and communities will be less safe. Furthermore, loss of
educational progress due to lack of services is particularly difficult
to recoup for students with disabilities.
Schools need a greater ability to provide positive behavioral supports
and other effective behavioral interventions to prevent behavioral problems.
As mentioned above, when possible, functional behavioral assessments should
be conducted before a discipline infraction takes place. There
must then be consideration of a behavioral intervention plan (BIP) and
follow-up to provide educators with tools for classroom management.
Administrators, teachers, and other staff must have more training to
recognize mental health needs. In order for teachers and other staff
to have realistic expectations, they need to understand that effective
behavioral training takes time. Again, individual needs should be considered.
Students with behavior disorders and emotional disturbance will not necessarily
require the same services, nor should they be provided services together.
This can actually have negative results considering the different manifestations
of behavior and emotional vulnerability. Further, we strongly suggest
that the definition of Emotionally Disturbed (ED) be reexamined in light
of the current estimates of need. As highlighted in the Surgeon General’s
report on children’s mental health, only one in five children who
need mental health services actually receives them.
In preparation for the Reauthorization IDEA, the NASP and partner organizations
comprising the National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities (NJCLD)
were invited to provide recommendations for revision of current regulations.
Specifically, NASP was asked to address the identification process and
eligibility criteria. The following summary statements on Identification
Process and Eligibility Criteria were synthesized from the input provided
by NASP members and leaders and submitted to the NJCLD roundtable workgroup.
These summaries are intended not only to approximate consensus, but also
to maximize consistency with NASP position statements and with rigorous
research in the field of learning disabilities.
Recommended Identification Process, Learning Disabilities
Multidisciplinary teams need to use multiple methods of assessment, selected
on an individualized basis, that relate to referral concerns and that
are linked to potential intervention strategies, both instructional and
non-instructional (behavioral, motivational, social-emotional). Curriculum-based
assessment and other functional and authentic assessment methods should
routinely be included.
School psychologists should selectively and judiciously use standardized
measures of cognitive skills that generate educational information of
value. Specific objectives in using cognitive measures include:
- Evaluating for disabilities other than LD (e.g., mental retardation);
- Identifying strengths and weaknesses on marker variables (e.g., phonological
processing, verbal short-term memory) known to be related to reading
or other academic areas;
- Establishing general expectations for academic achievement, with
the understanding that other factors also influence these expectations.
Current research falls short of identifying marker variables that predict
learning disabilities in all areas of academic achievement throughout
the entire developmental range. Nevertheless, "marker variables"
(e.g., phonological processing, short-term memory) that have been identified
as predictive of, and related to, acquisition of academic skills (e.g.,
reading) should be core components of assessments—especially brief
assessments that are repeatedly administered to identifying students in
need of supportive instruction in early grades.
Future research is likely to better distinguish and define types of LD
and to identify indicators for better assessing deficit areas. For example,
there is already mounting evidence to suggest that the definition of LD
be expanded to include deficiencies in verbal fluency.
Recommended Changes in LD Eligibility Criteria
Eligibility must be interdependent upon instructional supports and other
interventions provided through general education. First and foremost,
IDEA should ensure that high-quality, research-based instruction that
accommodates individual differences is provided for all students. This
would require a substantially new emphasis upon pre-service and in-service
training of school personnel.
Early intervention: In the primary grades, students who
are achieving at a low level and who demonstrate deficits on periodically-administered
assessments of critical pre-reading and reading skills should be provided
with intensive, supportive instruction. (Torgesen , in the final
draft of his full LD Summit paper, suggests providing early intervention
for the lowest 20 percent in order to eliminate most false negative errors.)
Given the similarity in their educational needs, there is no reason to
differentiate between low achieving students and students with "real
learning disabilities" (i.e., having an intrinsic disorder). As
indicated by research, most students who have failed to develop essential
early literacy skills will benefit from the same type of instructional
intervention, and may experience long-term failure if it is not provided
in a timely manner. Services for this group could be provided by mandating
this specific use of the developmental delay category, or some similar
classification (e.g.,"early learning delay"), for students up
to age 9. This expansion of special services would require increased
funding for IDEA, combined funding measures, or some alternative funding
method (e.g., Medicaid).
Emphasis on response to intervention: At age 9, students
continuing to qualify or newly qualifying as having a disability would
have to meet more stringent criteria. In addition to the requirements
of low achievement and (where established by research) deficits on marker
variables, eligibility determination would also require that the student
is failing to achieve at the level expected given his/her cognitive abilities,
instructional history and other environmental factors such as attendance,
language background and motivation. This requirement of achievement below
expectations would not be established through a discrepancy formula, but
rather through the collaborative clinical judgment of the multidisciplinary
team based on a comprehensive array of data. Thus, it would be relegated
to similar status as the qualifying condition of “adverse effect
on educational performance" in the federal definition of emotional
disturbance. Another requirement would be, as per current federal regulations,
that the student needs specialized instruction.
An instructional support team, or early intervention (aka "pre-referral")
model, using a systematic individualized data-based problem-solving process,
would be a required component under IDEA. This might be tied to the flexible
funding for the early literacy services described above; that is, only
school districts that universally implement a pre-referral model would
qualify for special funding to provide instructional intervention on a
non-categorical basis in the early grades. Specific principles or standards
could be established for pre-referral systems. Their effectiveness could
be monitored by tracking such data as the percentage of requests for assistance
that are successfully resolved without referral to special education.
In this model, much of the data required to establish eligibility would
be collected in the course of testing out interventions within general
education. When a student who appears to have a disability fails to makes
progress despite the implementation, adaptation and monitoring of multiple
interventions—or when the interventions that prove to be successful
are so specialized or intense interventions that they cannot reasonably
be provided within general education—a referral to special education
should be initiated. [Note: defining which interventions are so intense
or specialized is a potential task for the NJCLD organizations working
The instructional support team model could also serve students in the
primary grades that are receiving intensive instructional intervention,
as described above, but not making adequate progress. Although the student
is already receiving special services on a non-categorical basis, the
outcome of this process may be referral to the IEP team to consider the
need for additional IEP services or components.
Support for noncategorical models: IDEA currently allows
implementation of noncategorical models of service delivery as long as
students are identified as having a disability according to regulations.
There is a growing body of research indicating positive outcomes for such
models when they incorporate Problem Solving and Instructional Support
Teams. In its reauthorization, IDEA should encourage states and districts
to expand the use of noncategorical models. This would reduce the considerable
amount of professional time that is unproductively spent on efforts to
apply specific eligibility criteria to LD and other high incidence disabilities,
and redirect these precious resources to educational outcomes. Further,
funding should be available (through a grant process) to encourage evaluation
of noncategorical models.
Other Points of Concern
Personnel preparation is another area of critical importance that deserves
greater federal investment and attention. The shortage of special education
teachers is only one symptom of the personnel shortage problem. Incentives
must be offered to assist in recruitment and retention of special educators
and related services personnel, such as school psychologists. Furthermore,
ongoing professional development is crucial for these professionals, as
well as general educators and administrators. An effective IEP has limited
value if the general education teacher does not understand the types of
modifications or accommodations that should be made, or how to make them,
or the types of behavioral interventions that can be used to strengthen
According to our members, one of the most beneficial aspects of the
1997 reauthorization is the flexibility to waive the formal requirement
for triennial evaluations when "no new data are needed." Often
a student does not require formal collection of new information because
existing data and careful review of the IEP provide adequate documentation
of disability, current progress and ongoing needs for service. At any
point when concerns about progress or placement arise, or at transition
points, such as moving into middle school or high school, teams should
consider the need for gathering new and more formal data in order to determine
the most appropriate services to insure continued progress and development.
Another benefit of IDEA mentioned by our members is the increased involvement
of parents. All interventions are more successful with the active
support of the student’s parents. School psychologists can and
do play an important role in explaining the nature of a disability to
parents and the expectations for particular services. They can also strengthen
the trust between parents and schools. However, a greater effort needs
to be taken to ensure parents understand the documents and procedures
that are involved in the process.
To ensure adequate resources for effective implementation of the law,
NASP supports full funding of Part B of the IDEA, as well as significant
increases in funding for Part C and the Preschool program. In addition,
Part D personnel preparation grants, which have been cut or level-funded
over the last five fiscal years, should be increased. Personnel preparation
grants are crucial to ensuring an adequate supply of qualified, trained
related services personnel and to reducing excessively high caseloads
and staff-student ratios.
Finally, NASP strongly supports the Administration’s focus on promoting
greater accountability for education spending that ensures maximum focus
on academic achievement. However, we assert that recognition of student
well-being has a dramatic impact on student achievement. By addressing
mental health and behavioral needs, removing barriers to learning, and
enhancing classroom management, the provision of mental health services
will result in higher graduation rates and improved educational performance
– not to mention social and safety outcomes.
Again, thank you for the opportunity to share our thoughts with you
today. We look forward to working with you throughout the reauthorization
process and will be providing more specific recommendations in the near
|Susan Gorin, CAE
||Libby Kuffner Nealis, MSSW
||Director of Public Policy