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Special Education

Special Education and IDEA
Special Education and IDEA
Socio-Cultural Aspects
Sources used
History of Special Education

Laws That Protect Our Youth

Supreme Court, Washington DC

An important development in special education occurred when the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, IDEA for short, was made a United States law in 1975 (IDEA 97). It was in 1975 that the federal government stated that, “{The Federal Government} has an ongoing obligation to support activities that contribute to positive results for children with disabilities, enabling those children to lead productive and independent adult lives” (IDEA Section 650).

 Before IDEA, the United States did not have a definitive guideline for children with disabilities, and nearly one million children were without the special services they needed (IDEA 97).

The introduction of the Individuals with Disabilities Act has helped countless children since it’s ratification. Now children are being given the specialized care that they need, there are more children than ever growing up and moving on to graduate high school and college. According to the Department of Education,  compared to the statistics from 1975, three times the amount of adolescents with disabilities are continuing their education in college. Twice the number of persons twenty and older are also currently employed, a huge increase since 1975 (IDEA 97).


Most recently amended in 2004, IDEA is a law that is designed to make sure that students are receiving a proper and “appropriate” public education, regardless of special needs or disability.  IDEA is unique in that is distinctly defined what exactly a disability was.

IDEA defines a disability as any disability that might cause a disruption in the child’s learning process. These include mental retardation, learning disabilities, speech, hearing or visual impairments or autism ( IDEA is in place to make sure that all children attending public school are able to get the best education possible, by identifying their specific needs and meeting them.

A child’s specific needs are addressed by creating an Individualized Education Plan or IEP for short. An IEP is defined as a, “written description of an appropriate instructional program for a student with special needs” (Wikipedia). It is used as a guideline as to what can help the student receive an equal education, and how to implement these beneficial techniques.

An Individualized Education Plan is created for a student by a series of specialists, usually including parents, school social workers and the child’s teacher, in order to create a personal plan for the child’s schooling. A typical IEP will include subjects impact by the child’s disability, current performance in the classroom, parental concerns and what accommodations are being made in the classroom for the student (Wikipedia). Generally, there are seven steps that need to take place before a child can have their own Individualized Education Plan. These seven steps, as defined by Wikipedia, are pre-referral, referral, evaluation, eligibility, development of an IEP, implementation of an IEP, as well as an annual review.

A pre-referral is a step in the IEP process which can help identify a special needs child. A pre-referral is a basic review of the child’s behavior and school work, as well as discussion as how to solve any problems the child might be having. This is a good time for teachers to bring up concerns with parents, without labeling the child. This preliminary review of a child can help identify whether or not they are a special needs child, and how to implement a plan to help them do well in school (Wikipedia).

After making decisions in a pre-referral, the next step in creating an IEP is the referral. If it is determined that a child has needs beyond the average classroom, a referral is made. It is important to note that in order for a referral to be made, the teacher must have pressing concerns or the student must exhibit a significant academic or behavioral problem for the IEP to continue. This is important because the services provided through IDEA are only necessary to a child should they actually have a learning or physical disability, to avoid being held back in their schooling (Wikipedia).

After being referred to special education, a child is then evaluated. An evaluation can provide useful information to parents, teachers and the child. The idea behind an evaluation is to assess what exactly the child is struggling with, and identify reasons for their struggling. After a through evaluation has been completed, a child can move on o the eligibility step in the IEP process, to see exactly what services they are qualified to receive (Wikipedia).

During an eligibility hearing, all members of the Individualized Education Plan are present; parents, school social workers and teachers. Everyone who was involved in the creation of the IEP evaluated what the referral and evaluation have found, and make decisions based on this information (Wikipedia).

The most important step in creating an IEP is the development stage. It is in this stage of creating a child’s IEP that a guideline is set up for the child’s education. In the developmental process, a rough draft is drawn up. This rough draft often includes the child’s current class standing, short-term goals for the child to reach (usually within the span on one year), the exact special needs services that the child requires, the length of time the child is expected to require special services, mention as to how the child is progressing, as well as specifically outlining the least restrictive environment the child will be placed in (Wikipedia).  It has also been proven helpful to word the IEP in a positive instead of negative manner. This provides a goal for the child instead of another rule to follow. Positive reinforcement can be key in helping a child maintain their positive attitude. The child’s parents are also involved in this process, seeing the IEP along every step of the way, bring up questions and concerns, should their be any.

The final step in creating an IEP for a child is the annual review. An annual review is designed to help both parents and teachers keep up to date on the child’s progress within their classroom. This scheduled yearly review of the child’s Individualized Education Plan is highly suggested, but often it is advisable to make changes to an IEP as soon as certain warning signs become available. For example, if the child is clearly struggling in their class, it is advisable for the teacher to get in contact with the child’s parents so a revision can be made (Wikipedia).

An important note about a child’s IEP is that it can be changed. An IEP is designed to help the child, parents and teachers and ensure the child is receiving the best education possible. A system of checks and balances is in place, and is required to have a parental signature before any of the IEP changes go into effect in the classroom. Parents are also allowed thirty days to review or make changes to the IEP (Wikipedia). Therefore, if a parent or teacher believes an IEP may be outdated or ineffective, a meeting may be called to review and make any necessary changes. This type of open communication between school officials and parents maintains constant contact, and is helpful should any questions or concerns arise in either party.

 The primary goal in creating and maintaining a child’s Individualized Education Plan always puts the child’s education first, and therefore any changes in the child’s progress should come to the attention of the IEP board at once, should any changes be necessary. 

It’s not only students who are feeling the positive growth effects of IDEA either. The statistics are astounding.

*Nearly one million children who would have previously been educated in separate learning institutions have saved approximately ten-thousand dollars per child, by attending a public school.

*Children currently being educated under IDEA are twice as likely as their predecessors to be employed, and nearly half of all adults with disabilities have completed college (IDEA 97).

It is clear that in this day and age, our government is doing everything possible to ensure the best education possible for our youth. With such programs as IDEA in effect, the results have been extensive and impressive. With more special needs children than ever growing up and completing college, it is clear that the benefits of a system such as IDEA are vast and numerous.


IDEA section by section:

General Overview of changes made in 1997:

Step by step breakdown to IEPs:

Illustration: In the schoolyard