Teachers Get a Better IDEA: Changes in the Law Open New Doors for At-Risk Students: Think IDEA Legislation Is Just for Special Education Teachers? Not Anymore

Article excerpt

Last year, Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA), changing the playing field for both special education and general education teachers. By allowing schools to use up to 15% of their IDEA funds to help keep at-risk students out of the special education system, this new legislation has the potential to introduce a new era of special education: one based on collaboration, early identification, and individualized intervention.

IDEA allows schools to look at a child's response to scientific, research-based intervention as part of the special education evaluation process to determine if that child has a disability. This intervention model is now commonly referred to as "response to intervention," or RTI. The objective of this model is to ensure that those children at risk for failing early grades--up to 40%, according to the President's Commission on Excellence in Special Education--receive scientific, research-based intervention as soon as possible.

As the U.S. Department of Education works to define what RTI models should look like, a California elementary school has found a model that is making a difference in its classrooms: one using LeapFrog SchoolHouse products. Since last school year, Ellerhorst Elementary has implemented both The Literacy Center curriculum and the LeapTrack[R] Assessment & Instruction System, resulting in substantial gains in letter knowledge, phonological awareness, and overall reading ability among its special-needs students. The school is now expanding these programs into additional classrooms to address the needs of many students. "These LeapFrog SchoolHouse programs are so effective for our special-needs students," says Ellerhorst Elementary principal Grethe Holtan, "because they instruct and motivate students with tools that are fun and engaging. They are teacher-friendly by virtue of their computerized tracking system and ability to generate actionable assessments and reports. We're planning to use the LeapTrack system schoolwide for all low performers because teachers can quickly and continuously assess students' skills, pinpoint areas for improvement, and create an individualized learning experience for every student. …