National Association of School Psychologists|IDEA Reauthorization: Summary of Issues for Conference

 

 

 

 

Throughout the reauthorization process, NASP concerns have remained the same. Generally speaking, we want effective policies to best serve students with disabilities and to provide prevention and intervention efforts to more students prior to referral and within special education. We want school psychologists to be recognized as the highly qualified providers of critical interventions and services throughout general and special education, in practice, research, and professional development. We want greater recognition and support, both policy and financial, for the needs of children with not only learning and developmental disabilities, but emotional and behavioral disorders as well. We oppose efforts and proposals that would impede or hinder effective support and interventions for all of these students.

What does this look like within the current IDEA reauthorization? Which issues will need to be reconciled by the House-Senate Conference Committee? This summary highlights some of the key points that NASP has made to Congress and has included in NASP and coalition letters.

Disciplining Students with Disabilities. There continues to be wide differences between House and Senate versions of the IDEA discipline provisions. Thus far, a compromise has not been reached. NASP remains concerned that House-proposed language would open the door for schools to indiscriminately expel students with disabilities for demonstrating certain behaviors. It removes the protections set forth in IDEA for due process and eliminates the requirements for manifestation determinations, functional behavioral assessments, and other key protections to ensure continued services. As we know, these procedures address the behavioral needs of students, particularly those most at risk of academic failure, dropout and delinquency.

Rather than remove protections that ensure behaviors are being appropriately addressed with research-based interventions, we support changes to IDEA that promote early identification of emotional and behavioral problems and the implementation of interventions and services to reduce such behaviors. A growing body of research on effective programs indicates that many student discipline problems can be significantly mitigated with the use of positive behavioral supports, social skills training, and other prevention and early intervention programs that school psychologists provide. The provisions in the House version of H.R. 1350 do nothing to advance a proactive approach to discipline problems, nor do they ensure appropriate services for students removed from the classroom.

While we support streamlining the IDEA discipline provisions to improve implementation, NASP believes that the House has gone too far in eliminating important procedures in effective prevention and discipline. Thus, NASP strongly supports the discipline provisions of the Senate bill, including:

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, Sec. 614(d)(3)(B)(i). While H.R. 1350 retains current law, the Senate strengthens the language within IEP development “Consideration of Special Factors – The IEP Team shall – (i) in the case of a child whose behavior impedes the child’s learning or that of others, provide for positive behavioral interventions and supports….” School psychologists should continue to encourage the use of these interventions before a discipline infraction occurs, in order to better prevent them and improve student learning.

A modified Manifestation Determination (Sec.615(k)(1)(C)) that examines whether the conduct in question resulted from the failure to implement the IEP or develop and to implement behavioral interventions, as required by section 614 (d)(3)(B)(i) (as referenced above) – but only in cases that do not involve weapons or drugs.

Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA). Sec. 615(k)(1)(F)(ii) ensures that students receive a functional behavioral assessment (but only if the local educational agency did not conduct such an assessment before the violation occurred) designed to address the behavior violation so that the violation does not recur. School psychologists should continue to promote the use of research-based assessments in designing the most effective behavioral intervention plans.

The Senate bill (Part D) adds a program (Subpart 4--Interim Alternative Educational Settings, Behavioral Supports, and Whole School Intervention) that would provide grants to “…to establish or expand behavioral supports and whole school behavioral interventions by providing for effective, research-based practices… to improve interim alternative educational settings.” We strongly support the inclusion of the program authorization in the final bill.

Personnel Standards. While there is no specific mention of school psychologists in current or revised IDEA, “school psychological services” are clearly defined as a “related service” (Sec. 602, paragraph 22). Thus, school psychologists are related services personnel. As such, any mention of related services personnel can and should apply to all school psychologists.

The shortage of qualified personnel, including mental health and other related services personnel, has hampered the full implementation of IDEA for over 25 years. In the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, Congress asserted that every child should have a highly qualified teacher. It is critical that the same standard be applied to related services personnel. Without such assurances, we cannot expect improved academic, behavioral or social-emotional outcomes for students with disabilities.

Unfortunately, the elimination of the “highest requirement” provision for related services providers in both House and Senate bills opens the door for states to lower standards to deal with shortages or hire less expensive staff when quality and high standards were never more important. At least S.1248, Sec. 612(a)(14)(B), recognizes a unique and distinct personnel standard for related services personnel. We are asking the conferees to defer to the Senate language.

While we will not pursue a highly qualified definition of related services personnel, as various loopholes already opening for highly qualified teachers could eventually be applied to us. Rather, we were able to obtain the following Senate report (108-185) language: “The committee urges the U.S. Department of Education to work with States to assist school districts in implementing strategies to improve the recruitment of and retention of fully qualified personnel in fields where such shortages exist.” (Note use of the words “fully” rather than “highly qualified.”)

However, we remain concerned that states may lower standards or that school administrators may misinterpret IDEA and NCLB requirements and require providers to meet requirements for highly qualified teachers in addition to the state requirements for their respective disciplines. We are requesting Conference Report language that will clarify that 1.) nothing in IDEA is intended to diminish state standards for personnel and 2.) that compliance with the IDEA and NCLB highly qualified personnel requirements do not mandate any change in the credentialing of related services personnel if they already meet credentialing requirements in their disciplines.

Since IDEA statute still leaves it up to the states to determine standards, school psychologists must be vigilant to ward off attempts to lower these standards. Elevating the stature of the NCSP is one way to do this, as is restating the importance of your training and expertise in relation to student academic progress and IEP goals. Federal, state and local policy makers need to understand this.

Identification of Learning Disabilities. It is clear that the House and Senate language that gives local educational agencies the option to eliminate the IQ-discrepancy requirement [“a local educational agency shall not be required to take into consideration whether a child has a severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability…”] and allow for a problem solving method, will remain in the final version of the bill. “In determining whether a child has a specific learning disability, a local education agency may use a process that determines if the child responds to scientific, research-based intervention as part of the evaluation procedures described in paragraphs (2) & (3).” Paragraphs (2) and (3) refer back to the beginning of Section 614 (b), which defines evaluation procedures in current law. (See IDEA Reauthorization: Legislative Changes in the Evaluation of LD.)

It is important that school psychologists refer school leaders to this requirement for a comprehensive evaluation and work with them in designing any new processes for determining eligibility under IDEA or early-intervention services. It will also be important that school psychologists work within the state to ensure uniform guidance on best practices and exemplary problem-solving models. NASP will continue to highlight research and replication of effective problem-solving models.

Prereferral/Early Intervening Services [Sec. 613(f)]. NASP strongly supports the early identification of and intervention for students who need academic and behavioral supports to succeed in the general education setting. NASP prefers the Senate language, which allows early intervening services to be provided to students “who do not meet the definition of a child with a disability under section 602(3) but who need additional academic and behavioral support to succeed in a general education environment,” versus the House language that reserves services for students not yet “identified as needing special education or related services.” This distinction clarifies that students in need of academic and behavioral services will receive them from the expertise already available in the school building or system, not excluding those provided by related services personnel, and should further encourage collaboration between special and general education staff.

We also support Senate language that includes “other school staff” in professional development activities under this section. However, we recommend that “related services personnel” be named specifically, as they are integrally involved in providing interventions and services for this population of students.

Part D, Research and Professional Development. NASP believes that whenever teachers, administrators, and/or paraprofessionals are explicitly mentioned in Part D, related services personnel should also be specified, including the State Professional Development Grants (Subpart 1) and Personnel Development (Senate: Sec. 664; House: Sec. 665) programs. In addition, NASP supports the Senate’s inclusive definition of “personnel” at Sec. 651(b) and Sec. 664(k).

National Assessment [House: Sec. 666(b)(3)(C); Senate: Sec. 665(b)(3)(C)]: Both bills require an assessment of the implementation and impact of professional development activities for teachers on improved student achievement. NASP urges the conferees to include related services personnel, since these professionals play an integral role in helping students with disabilities achieve academic success.

National Center for Special Education Research [House: Sec. 663(c)(4); Senate: Part E, Sec. 177(a)(4)]: H.R. 1350 allows the Center to “investigate scientifically based related services and interventions,” while S. 1248 states that the Center shall “identify scientifically based related services and interventions.” NASP believes that these provisions should be combined to read: “shall identify and investigate scientifically based related services and interventions.”

NASP supports high quality research on related services to ensure best practices are available to address the educational needs of all students with disabilities. All personnel involved in educating students with disabilities, including related services personnel, must be included in each of these important components, to ensure that students with disabilities can achieve to the best of their abilities.

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