Amending § 1415 of the IDEA: Extending Procedural Safeguards to Response-to-Intervention Students
Steinberg, Genna, Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems
In 2004, Congress amended the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to ameliorate the over-inclusion of students diagnosed with "specific learning disabilities" (SLDs) in special education. To achieve this goal, the amendments permit the use of "response to intervention" (RTI), which is both a diagnostic tool used to identify students with SLDs, and an early-intervention pedagogical tool for general-education students at risk of academic failure. RTI addresses the problem of over-inclusion by improving the diagnostic reliability of SLDs, enhancing general-education services, and reducing referrals to special education. Although evidence indicates that RTI is serving its intended goal, there are inconsistencies associated with its implementation that arise from the denial of procedural safeguards to RTI students. These safeguards, set forth in § 1415 of the IDEA, protect the rights of children with disabilities to a "free appropriate public education." This Note argues that the denial of these safeguards conflicts with the goals of § 1415 and standards-based education policy reform. Accordingly, Congress should amend § 1415 of the IDEA to extend all § 1415 procedural safeguards to students receiving RTI services.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the primary source of federal education rights for children with disabilities.1 It guarantees such children the right to a "free appropriate public education"2 (FAPE) and protects that right through a unified set of procedural safeguards.3 These safeguards, set forth in 20 U.S.C. § 1415, enable parents to effectively advocate on their children's behalf throughout the ongoing evaluation and placement processes.4 Among other protections, § 1415 ensures parents access to school records, participation in meetings, and a system through which to challenge the appropriateness of their children's services.5 Section 1415 requires the prompt and effective communication of these rights to parents,6 and mandates that, in the absence of an active parent, a surrogate advocate be appointed on the child's behalf.7
Congress enacted the IDEA in 1975 to provide educational rights to children with disabilities.8 In the last decade, however, there has been substantial growth in the special-education population, particularly among students diagnosed with "specific learning disabilities" (SLDs),9 as defined in the IDEA.10 Attributing this growth to unreliable diagnostic measures, Congress amended the IDEA in 2004 to permit the use of "scientific, research-based intervention" in the general-education setting.11 Unlike prior classification methods, which based SLD diagnoses on an unexpected discrepancy between aptitude and achievement levels,12 research-based intervention serves not only as a diagnostic tool to identify students with SLDs, but also as a pedagogical tool for students in general education who are at risk of academic failure.13
The most widely implemented intervention method to emerge since the 2004 amendments is "response to intervention" (RTI).14 Through graduated intervention levels and progress monitoring within general education, RTI seeks to properly distinguish students with learning disabilities from those who are merely underachievers in need of more intensive instruction.15 RTI not only attempts to resolve the over-inclusion of students in special education, but also supports the most recent effort by the educationpolicy reform movement to reconfigure the public-education system.16 This reform movement advocates a unified system of general and special education, characterized by universal achievement standards applicable to most students.17 Underlying this movement is the idea that the bifurcation of general and special education is unfounded, arbitrary, and contrary to the best interests of children, particularly those with high-incidence disabilities such as SLDs.18
RTI promotes the goals of this reform movement by implementing specialized instruction in general education for students historically classified with SLDs, and by holding such students to the same standards as their peers. …