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Monday, October 7, 2013

New IDEAs for a Brighter Education

IDEA was originally enacted by Congress in 1975 to ensure that children with disabilities have the opportunity to receive a free appropriate high quality public education, just like any other children in the United States. The law has been subject to revision many times throughout the years.

This reform was made to shed light on special education, and help with the problems they face every day. The new law promotes excellence in special education with reforms based on academic results for students, early intervention, parental choice, and paperwork reduction.
NASP, National Association of School Psychologist has been highly involved with the new reform by helping policymakers develop new state regulations, advocating for provisions that will improve the lives of children with disabilities, and promoting the significant contributions the school psychologists make in the school system.

The most recent amendments were passed by Congress in December 2004, with final regulations published in August 2006 (Part B for school-aged children) and in September 2011 (Part C, for babies and toddlers). So, in one sense, the law is very new, even as it has a long, and powerful history.

IDEA 2004 continues to follow the problem solving models of early intervention and disability identification that have been in place for the past twenty years. However, there is a stronger support in the law for the use of a process that determines whether the child responds to scientific, research based intervention as part of the evaluation procedures. Also, states no longer require districts to consider an IQ/Achievement discrepancy criterion. These changes in the law present new challenges and opportunities for school personnel working with special needs populations. With the implementation of the new regulations, new roles and responsibilities have started to emerge for the school professionals; especially for the school psychologists.
• Taking in consideration the above mentioned changes in the law, can you discuss some of the strategies developed to help implement them?
• We often see how working “straight from the books” differs significantly from working in the applied field. How do you think the IDEA 2004 changes affect the practice of special education?
• As a school psychologist one of the main focus of training to help identify a learning disability is cognitive testing. What are your thoughts on the new law that allow educational agencies to eliminate the IQ/Achievement discrepancy requirement? Do you think it is detrimental to the school psychology practice?

Under IDEA, no state or local educational agency personnel can require a child to obtain a prescription for a substance covered by the Controlled Substances Act as a condition of attending to school, receiving an evaluation under subsection (a) or (c) of section 614, or receiving services under this title.
• Do you agree with this? Also, do you think teachers and school psychologist should be able to tell a child or his/her parents that the child should take medication in order to succeed academically?

The new IDEA reform requires that local educational agencies “take measurable steps to recruit, hire, train, and retain highly qualified personnel to provide special education and related services.” The reform focuses on early intervention to prevent over- identification of the students who may need additional academic and behavioral support to succeed in general education from the students in need of special education services.
• Do you think over-identification and false diagnosis have been a problem? Do you think that early intervening services can help?

Chapter 12 of the Practical Handbook of School Psychology focuses on functional behavior assessment (FBA). The text defines FBA as “a systematic process for identifying variables that reliably predict and control problem behavior. Functional behavior assessments came to the forefront in 1997 after the inception of Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1997 (IDEA). IDEA requires schools to review or conduct FBA before a child with a disability is disciplined. FBA’s are important because two different children can display the same behavior, but the function of the behavior may serve two different purposes. For example, two children scream and yell out consistently in class despite the teacher’s requests for quiet. One student may be screaming because they do not like the teacher or they are trying to impress their friends. Another student may be yelling because he or she has Asperger Syndrome (AS) and is having difficulty communicating. When something like this occurs, it is important for the teacher to be aware that the student has a disability and to let the school psychologist know about the behavior.

Even though there is not a universal framework or model to conduct an FBA, the text provides a framework that seems useful. It includes the following steps:
1. Clarify the purpose of assessment.
2. Define the problem.
3. Develop a progress monitoring system.
4. Identify variables that are functionally related to targeted responses.
5. Design interventions.
6. Evaluate interventions.

• How do you feel about FBA? Do you believe it is effective? Why or why not?

This Blog was created by Florencia Torres, Craig Barriale and Lawrence Carter.


Rifka Zacharia said...

I see that with the successive modifications to IDEA, children are given more services before they are referred for full psycho-educational evaluations and the learning consultants and CST team already has a working knowledge of the child and their abilities as the child is presented for an assessment. This creates a more cohesive and successful opportunity for the child and his/her family to get the services they need in a less stressful environment. For example, math and reading literacy skills are provided for students without the benefit of full scale psycho-educational evaluation. If it is determined that the child has not progressed sufficiently with these services, or there are other issues (ie behavioral) then a full psycho-educational assessment is done and the LDTC has benchmark information to assist in their findings.
I don’t think this has threatened the role of the school psychologist, rather it has enabled the school psychologist to participate on other levels of service. The school psychologist is involved in determining the services needed for RTI or PSM as a case manager. The school psychologist is part of a team which decides the level of service a child will receive and brings an important perspective.
I don’t think that teachers and school psychologists should be making referrals/recommendations that children/students receive psychotropic medications. That should be the domain of a medical doctor working with the child’s neurologist, the information should then be shared with the school psychologist and certain aspects should be shared with the teacher as well.

Rosean Briza said...

I agree with the decision under IDEA that no local educational agency personnel can require a child to obtain a prescription for a substance covered by Control Substance Act as a condition for attending school or receiving services. It is the parents right to decide whether or not they want to give their child medication. I think that if medication is recommended by the doctor and the parent opts not to give the child medication the school psychologist can inquire with the parent the reasons he/she does not want to give their child on medication. Sometime parents need to be educated about how their child can benefit both socially and academically with medication.

I feel that an FBA is beneficial to determine the functions of inappropriate behaviors. It helps us getting a better understanding of why a student is doing the things that he or she is doing. More importantly once the function of the behavior is determined we can help the student with more socially acceptable ways of getting what he or she wants. I think a FBA can be an effective tool to assist with decreasing/ extinguishing negative behaviors.

Fabio Simao said...

The changes outlined in IDEA 2004 don’t necessarily dictate sweeping changes, nor does it require a wholesale deviation from the status quo. Instead, the new IDEA is meant to encourage new approaches and guide the profession towards more effective, empirically based, and data-driven solutions. It would be foolhardy to mandate comprehensive changes across the board by reversing procedures and practices that have been in place for decades. This approach would not only be impractical, it would undoubtedly leave the field in turmoil; not to mention the children it seeks to help.

As is true of any progressive movement, success hinges on a systematic implementation of principals coupled with a concerted effort to “sell” the idea. That is, we must not promote a new approach (e.g. problem-solving method [PSM] and response to intervention [RTI]) at the expense of alienating the established school psychologist and system as a whole. IDEA 2004 must therefore suggest new practices while falling short of requiring them. It is the hope that this shift from a traditional psychometric, gatekeeper role towards a “edumetric” individual performance model will gradually become the new norm, not due to binding legislation but rather because of verifiable results. Any change is bound to come up against a degree of resistance, especially by those who have known no other way, so prudence dictates a bend and adapt approach over an across-the-board edict.

So what does this shift to PSM and RTI really mean to the school psychologist and special education? At first the proposed new responsibilities and priorities may seem daunting and unrealistic, yet it requires a change in vision of what the purpose of both the profession and specialized service encompass. Yes, we must still effectively use cognitive assessment tools to guide educationally relevant decisions but we do so under the umbrella of an ecological approach as opposed to a paint-by-numbers achievement/discrepancy based delineator. We use these tools to better refine the solutions we develop for each individual student and not as a sole determinant of his or her potential.

Likewise, we must begin to look for deficits and discrepancies within the system and its professionals rather than the children we serve. This shift requires the school psychologist to be a knowledgeable scientist and effective communicator, for it is our responsibility to implement an effective, proactive system which identifies problems, isolates them, and mitigates their potential deleterious effects before the need of assessment tools being required for classification. Special education will therefore be less tasked with needless draining of limited resources, focusing instead on those children who truly need the services.

At its core, the new IDEA is the start of the goal to reallocate the time and energy of school psychologists towards prevention and early intervention instead of determining who is eligible for special education and related services. It aims to serve the school as a whole in an effort to not only reduce the eventual need for said services but, and perhaps more importantly, provide a more favorable and inclusive environment for every student. It will require a certain dedication and rewiring of old schemas but any change worth enacting always does. In the end, the benefits garnered from a PSM and RTI approach will be the ultimate determinate that mandates this change, not the legislation that it was predicated on.

Lawrence said...

Fabio makes a lot of good points in his comment. The new I.D.E.A is meant to encourage new approaches and guide the profession towards more effective, empirically based, and data-driven solutions. This idea of 'selling' the I.D.E.A is crucial for getting all teachers and school psychologist to trust the new reform and get behind it's policies and regulations one hundred percent. They need to not only implement the policies to their children, but also believe what they are implementing is the best, and most effective set of approaches and solutions to date. Once everyone is truly 'on board', the reform can fully take effect for many years, which can create mass appreciation and recognition for school psychologist nationwide. To us, implementing PSM and RTI will be the natural and logical thing when dealing with students because we are originally being taught the benefits of personalized interventions, and the negatives outcomes of cognitive assessments before examining the problem to find solutions. We are more aware, more culturally intelligent, more research oriented, and more problem investigative than school psychologist of the past due to the new laws and reforms. Some school psychologist may have become accustomed to their routine of cognitive assessments and gate-keeping, which can make the idea of I.D.E.A daunting and vexatious, and an added load of tedious investigative hard work. However, school psychologist are very smart, and these few who may have this kind of outlook will too realize that these reforms are scientifically based, and are ultimately for the better of the field. Once they are fully convinced and believe in the new system, the cohesion and effectiveness I feel, will create a golden era for school psychologist and its paradigm.

Florencia Torres said...

I read Rivca, Fabio, and Lawrence's comments regarding IDEA 2004. It seems that we all realize that the new IDEA modifications set the stage for new levels of intervention that aim to help the students at a "prevention-early intervention"level. Consequently new roles for the CST and for school psychologists emerge. These changes are not detrimental to the school psychology practice but rather they represent new challenges and opportunities for more comprehensive, scientific-based and outcome oriented assessment roles.
I won’t go to in depth into this topic as I think you all are doing a great job at it.
My follow up question to you and the rest of the class is,
The IDEA Reforms took place in December of 2004, almost 9 years ago, yet the majority of the school settings are struggling to make the shift to PSM and RTI. Why do you think this is? What is holding this back?
Fabio made a good point when he said that the progressive movement to PSM and RTI “requires a change in vision of what the purpose of both the profession and specialized service encompass”.
Do you think there are certain aspects that should be addressed in order to help schools and the CST change their visions and transition smoothly into the so proposed “endumetric/ecobehavioral” model? For example to provide the CST training in more instructionally relevant and ecologically based procedures…

Florencia Torres said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
drkitzie said...

Olivia Mounet says:
I would like to attempt to answer the question which states: “what are your thoughts on the new law that allow educational agencies to eliminate the IQ/Achievement discrepancy requirement? Do you think it is detrimental to the school psychology practice?”
To start I think it is important to note that IDEA was originally founded to protect the rights of children (and parents of children) with disabilities, which, from the recent amendments, I believe it is still trying to accomplish though it may be falling short of expectations. To put it in terms we can all relate to, lets take the SAT. The SAT’s goal is to be a predicative measure which shows colleges and universities how a student would perform at a higher education institute. The infamous SAT, however scrutinized it may be, is still being used as a primary way to rank applicants. Many teachers have been angered by having to “teach to a test” and a plethora of students each year make strong cases to support their belief that the SAT simply does not represent how much information they know or how well they will do in their future studies. So why then does this notorious test continue to be used? The answer is because it is all just a business. Try as we might to convince ourselves that universities are there purly to inspire young minds, we will eventually have to recognize that universities are also a business. As such, a business receiving tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of applicants each year needs a way to weeds out those who simply don’t meet the bar. By eliminating IQ-test requirements, IDEA, I can see, is trying to promote a more individualized approach to special education. Imagine if the SAT didn’t exist and everyone could have several personalized interviews and every member of the admissions team cared deeply about what you wrote in your application essay? What would it be like if every child had multiple interviews, one-on-one evaluations, home visits, and an in depth exploration of their limitations or disabilities? Every child would get exactly what they needed and there would be less under or over diagnosing based solely upon tests with less than a perfect success rate when it comes to predicting future abilities.
But is it practical? Are we as school psychologists being set up to fail?
Last time on this blog we discussed accessibility and practicality of testing. We mentioned that not all schools have the same access to tools and as such they may rely more heavily upon cognitive testing in order to assess the needs of children with disabilities. Just as universities would like to spend hours upon hours assessing the credentials of potential students I am sure all dedicated school psychologists would prefer to spend a significant (and sometimes unrealistic) amount of time assessing the needs of our students. Sadly, we cannot all do this. One local school district comes to mind; it has over 50 schools in the district and only one school psychologist for the entire district! In situations like these, cognitive testing is a large part of determining which resources need to be allocated to whom. If cognitive testing were not implemented then children may go undiagnosed and as school psychologists we would not adequately be doing our job. One could argue that IDEA is simply saying that the testing is not “required” and as such can still be administered in circumstances in which they are suited. However, would that not open up doors for scrutiny? If one district is giving one-on-one assessments and interviews while another is giving cognitive tests, then the one giving the IQ tests and the like, are most likely going to be looked down upon. Thus to summarize, I think it is a nice idea that IDEA has made amendments such that these tests are not required, but ultimately it could being doing a disservice to children in districts with less resources as well as causing some school psychologists to lose reputability for reasons over which they have no control.

Fabio Simao said...

Flor’s follow-up questions of how school systems might be struggling to implement PSM and RTI models and what supports need to be given to change the vision of the profession falls nicely in line with what Olivia mentioned in her comments (i.e. the disparity between districts and it impacts the practical implementation of progressive models set forth in the new IDEA). The two issues are surely interconnected, and to a certain extent, symbiotic in nature.

First, after a nearly a decade since the passage of IDEA 2004 we should have sufficient data necessary to determine the efficacy of the programs intended goals. Much like school psychologists use data to determine whether a plan’s goals are being met, what areas need improving, and what students need more support, the data gained throughout the decade on PSM and RTI should be interpreted and applied to the three preceding questions. The finding should then provide the guidance to alter IDEA and its vision as deemed necessary. We should, in essence, apply the same principals and protocols used on the micro level (whether its within a school, classroom, or individual) to the macro level (district, state, and federal protocols and legislation).

Second, the new legislation must go beyond mere suggestions and encouragement. It should make specific goals, set benchmarks and practical means of achieving such, and provide the fiscal means to accomplish said goals. Of course, it’s this last inconvenient variable that is the limiting factor. It all comes down to resource allocation and ideologies. In order to provide the support needed to properly implement an effective PSM and RTI approach and vision, school systems must have the economic means and trained personnel to be successful. But in order to attain the necessary budgetary resources, politicians must be convinced these contemporary methods not only work but also agree with their guiding political agendas.

School psychologists, on the micro level, are entrusted to steer schools down the empirically based, data-driven road to effective academic and behavioral plans that benefit all students. They must advocate for each and every student, and must do so in a proactive and preventative manner. Moreover, they must be the agents of change that benefits students, the schools, and the community as a whole by selling what is deemed to be scientifically effective practices. NASP and other community organizations must now do the same on the macro level. Is it something that will be accomplished overnight? No, of course not, but neither is the shift from the traditional to the contemporary.

Florencia Torres said...

I agree with Olivia. Many standardized tests have become a business and that’s painful to see. However, I do believe that standardized tests help predict academic success to a certain degree. Graduate schools not only rely on the standardized tests to make their decision. They take a broader look and they inspect different elements such as GPA, letters of recommendation, resume and personal statement.
IDEA reforms encourages the school system to do the same. IDEA does still allow local educational agencies to continue to use the discrepancy model and they support the appropriate use of IQ tests, however, they “hope” that evaluators do not rely solely on a simple test score but place the result within the larger context of the child’s individual abilities. They encourage the school psychologist to engage in comprehensive assessments before classifying the students. Even though the IQ/Achievement discrepancy is no longer required it is still an useful tool when used appropriately.
In an ideal situation I would agree with Fabio. The second legislation should provide with more specific goals and guidelines and provide with the means to achieve them. I believe the 2004 Committee was smart at being cautious with their statements. When someone establishes specific goals and guidelines that “someone” needs to make sure that the proper circumstances are given in order for those goals to be reached. In other words, if the IDA Committee establishes specific benchmarks for the school system they are responsible for providing them with the means for success. Like Olivia said, lack of financial resources may prevent the school psychologist to succeed on implementing the 2004 reforms. We know that the law authorizes $2.3 billion increase per year, however those numbers are falling short. Specific goals and benchmarks with no funding could turn into chaos.
I think the IDEA reform gave some steps in the right direction. Although there is still much room for improvement.
I also agree with Fabio when he says we need to interpret the data we have accumulated during the years to interpret the efficacy of the results of the RTI and PSM programs. If this data shows a significant improvement in academic progress, not only for the special education students but also at a system level, then this will became evidence. School systems would be more likely to “let their guard down” and start implementing the RTI and PSM models based on the new evidence. Changing an already established structure is not easy. This new evidence will give the school system confidence to start making the shift on solid ground.
Proper training and time are necessary for a successful shift.

Alicia Balkjy said...

I would like share my opinion on the topic of child medication that is mentioned in IDEA. I agree that state and local educational agency personnel shall be prohibited to require a child to obtain a prescription for a substance covered by the Controlled Substances Act as a condition of attending school or receiving an evaluation. I think that this should remain in place because educational personnel are not required to have the knowledge of different types of substances to use, side effects of substances, and interactions of substances. It is also against the students right for a free public education and the services that come with it.

I do not think that teachers should be able to tell a child or the child's parents that they should take medication in order to succeed academically. Teachers may suggest this thought to the school psychologist. The school psychologists could have more leverage with suggesting to parents that their child may need medication, that is if all other interventions for the student has failed or have not dramatically improved. School psychologists would have to be familiar with generic substances and uses, although not recommending a particular substance with the parent because they are not medical doctors. The school psychologist could offer information that other interventions have not worked for the child. The school psychologist could refer a parent to a neurologist, psychiatrist or other medical doctors for the child.

Lawrence said...

To comment on what Olivia was saying, I do believe that it is useful for Universities to use a cognitive abilities test as one of their ways of determining eligible candidates for their institution. I think in this case, cognitive assessments are great, and are being used ethically, reasonably, and effectively. However, when it comes to school psychologist, I feel differently. I think school psychologist should be involved with their kids; finding out their problems, intervening, and searching for the proper solutions. Isn't that the gratification we are all looking for? What do you guys think? Do you think it is the school psychologists' job to be hands-on with their children? Get their hands dirty and get in there? I feel it is. When school psychologist don't really get involved, they are wasting away a lot of the knowledge they've gained, and years they've spent in school. The school districts might as well hire some random person, teach them how to administer a cognitive assessment, and tell them, "If they get higher than this, they're good. If they get lower than this...special education." This will save them some of the money they are desperately trying to save.

I do believe it is necessary for the school psychologist in the school district with 50 schools to administer test because it is unrealistic to spend quality time with each child when you simply don't have it. However, it shouldn't be like this. One school psychologist shouldn't be working for 50 schools, this is way too many. In order to make it more personalized and back to more PSM and RTI, the school district needs to hire more school psychologist if the district has that many schools. Proper hands-on evaluations and interventions are possible for every child, we just can't have school districts that are trying to save money by only having one school psychologist who is forced to cut corners. What if she doesn't want to cut corners? Or use cognitive assessments with every student that walks in her office so she can get through her list? But she is forced to, because if she takes too long with each child her job will be in jeopardy and may be pushed to the side for a school psychologist who would love to cut the corner. How do you feel about this? Do you think their are school psychologist out there who want to do more for their children but can't because of pressures put on them by their school or school districts? Do you think they should step up and speak out, or just continue as they are to avoid controversy? Since the school district felt that having one school psychologist was acceptable for all of these schools, I am inferring that this school district is of high socioeconomic status and doesn't have that many issues involving a school psychologist per school building. With this said, I still feel the district should hire 9 more school psychologist, or at least 4 more depending on the average amounts of incidents that occur per school. I agree with what Fabio said about the legislation setting specific goals and benchmarks for schools, and practical ways of achieving them. Do you think legislation should limit how many cognitive assessments a school psychologist can give out per year? Or how many schools a school psychologist can work for? If so, should the number be different if all the schools were of low socioeconomic status?

Craig Barriale said...

Re: Alicia

I agree with Alicia and the view of IDEA that state and local educational agency personnel shall be prohibited to require a child to obtain a prescription for a substance covered by the Controlled Substances Act as a condition of attending school or receiving an evaluation. Conversations pertaining to medicating students have come up during my shadowing experience. Like Alicia mentioned, the school psychologist could refer a parent to a neurologist, psychiatrist, or other medical doctors, but the school psychologist is not well-versed or qualified enough to firmly recommend or not recommend a certain drug. Even though we will research intervention methods that may include the pharmacological route it is still not responsible for us to recommend a medication we are not qualified to recommend. That being said, the school psychologist I am shadowing has described situations when students have greatly benefitted from the use of medication. She explained that even though she cannot require a child to obtain a prescription she can still talk to the parents about the options and possible outcomes of medicating the child. Moreover, she explained that it is important as a school psychologist to keep up with the medications that the students are on. This is important because if you are going to begin speaking with parents about medication then you need to know the latest research pertaining to the medication being considered. Additionally, I have a very good friend that is a pediatric psychologist and occasionally deals with school psychologists. I asked for his view on the matter and he explained that he finds it helpful when the school psychologists that he deals with have some sort of understanding of the medication he is prescribing to the children.